The signs of stress are all too familiar: the quickening heartbeat, tense muscles and explosive reaction to something small. Avoiding situations that test your patience may be impossible, but it is possible to reduce stress accompanying these unpleasant events. The secret, say the experts, lies in one crucial art: finding the humor.

Adapting this mindset begins with understanding that no situation is inherently stressful, says Allen Klein, author of “The Healing Power of Humor” and keynote speaker who discusses how to find the funny side of any situation.

“There’s no inherent meaning in anything,” asserts Klein. “We put the meaning there.” Even during the most difficult experiences, Klein says, he always asks himself, “Can I find humor in this?”

Learning to see the humor in a moment can deflate its stressfulness, says Klein.

Humor and laughter are not the same, explains Dr. Steven Sultanoff, Ph.D, clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Berkeley. “Humor is something that triggers laughter. Laughter is a physical response.” Although research has found that laughter can lessen the effects of depression and reduce stress levels, focusing on humor is the best starting point. Looking for the humor in a moment, says Sultanoff, changes how we think, feel and process difficult situations.

Americans are more stressed than ever. Humor-focused coping strategies could make all the difference. Here are five tips for combating tense situations with a little lightheartedness.

Find A Humor Buddy

Have a friend who’s the consummate jokester or shares your love of dad jokes? Make him or her your go-to for a little laugh therapy the next time things aren’t going well. “You might call your humor buddy and reminisce about something funny,” advises Klein.

Take A Joke Break

Many people take a walk or set aside meditation time to clear their heads. The same can be done with humor, says Sultanoff. Bookmark your favorite memes, joke sites, funny cat videos or short clips from your favorite sitcom to have on-hand the next time you’re feeling stressed.

Create Your Comic Vision

Sultanoff believes that integrating humor into our daily lives is like inoculating ourselves against the stressors of the world. And as we change our perspective, the stress of a given situation will be greatly reduced. According to Sultanoff, a comedic outlook is nothing more than thinking about life with a funny attitude. You can start by noting what amuses you and then include more of that into your life. Sultanoff, for example, has often carried a clown nose and put it on while waiting in line to ease his annoyance.  

Find A Humor Trigger

Whether a souvenir, photo or even phrase, Sultanoff recommends having an army of items that spark past events you found amusing. “If a word is associated with a particular memory, that would tickle you inside,” he says. Klein looks at a photo of his daughter after a cream pie was thrown in her face whenever he needs a good laugh.

Use Caution

Not every moment is served by laughter. Dr. Susanne Cooperman, Ph.D and neuropsychologist at NYU Langone Huntington Medical Group, says joking during marital disputes may take the edge off, but should be exercised with caution. “Humor is a tricky one because it can go off very quickly,” she warns. Cooperman believes it works best for couples who have developed this rapport over the years.

Sultanoff also notes that humor can be distracting. “It takes you away from the moment,” he explains. What’s more, it can actually increase tension. “If you’re angry you’re trying to communicate something,” he explains. “It’s more likely to work if it’s done after the greatest part of the tension has passed. Then the person will feel as though they’ve been heard.”

Instead, he recommends replaying the argument to yourself with humor after the fight has passed. This action retroactively reduces stress and allows you to think about where you can inject a little levity—and whether it’s actually a good idea.