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Please put on your best dress. The doctor is taking us out! What did one tonsil say to the other tonsil? The chuckle or laugh that this silly little joke might trigger can relieve stress and prompt relaxation, essential factors in many of the healing effects of humor.

Does Laughter Help Healing?

Humor can boost the immune system, stimulate your heart, lungs, and muscles, benefit digestion, decrease inflammation and pain, and improve sleep. 

What is it that Humor Does in Healthcare?

Humor and laughter facilitate healing and coping for both patients and healthcare staff.

For the patients:

  • Stress Relief – Taking a humorous look at a scary or uncertain situation often helps relieve stress. Before going into surgery or facing a possibly fatal disease or disorder, a funny comment or joke can help the patient reduce anxiety, fear, and tension by relaxing muscles. Try a joke like this one:

The anesthesiologist said he used to play the flute a little. The family joke is that now he knows two ways to put folks to sleep.

  • Pain management – Laughing unleashes natural painkillers known as endorphins released into the body by the brain. Endorphins perform like anesthetics, temporarily attenuating pain perception, heightening pleasure, and giving you a lift.
  • Perk up the immune system – Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your disease resistance.
  • Heart and Lung Protection – According to the Mayo Clinic, laughing exercises your pulmonary, respiratory, and cardiovascular systems, even lowering your blood pressure. When you laugh, your diaphragm, chest, and abdominal muscles tighten and then relax, making the lungs force more stale air out, getting fresh air more profound into the lungs. The American Lung Association recommends laughter to combat respiratory illness and even provides comical TikToks on their website.
  • To approach a complex issue or procedure – You can lose the patient’s attention by going directly into an accurate, honest, but baffling explanation with medicalese. The patient will engage and listen if you start with a simple, relaxing joke, such as these: 

What did the nurse say when the patient asked, “Does an apple a day really keep the doctor away?”

“Yes, if you aim it nicely.”

Where’s the best hideaway if you don’t want the doctor to find you?

The apple orchard.

Not only do the patients benefit from laughter, but the staff also does just as much. A little healthy laugh goes a long way to: 

  • Establish relationships, friendship, and group solidarity.
  • Cope with social conflict.
  • Relieve tension. Besides relaxing the body, laughter eases interpersonal stress in high-pressure teamwork. One hospital supervisor puts on a big bow tie and immense clown sunglasses and casually traipses down the hall when staff members are uptight.
  • Let go of negative emotions like anger, fear, or frustration.
  • Help reassert control. By learning to poke fun at your problems and circumstances, you can stay on top of situations that otherwise threaten to undermine your image and authority.
  • Open up to options in problem-solving by helping you and your team think about things from another perspective.

However, humor is not always appropriate.

Do’s and Don’ts for Humor in Healthcare

  • Laugh together, but not at anyone. When the staff and patients laugh together, they become closer and like each other much more. This is a happy, not stressful, way to raise patient satisfaction scores.
  • Laugh at yourself. Focus the humor on yourself and your role, not on the patient, who might feel that their situation is being taken too lightly. Nevertheless, please avoid joking about your nursing skills, as that might make your patient doubt your professional capacity.
  • Follow the patient’s lead. If the patient tries a joke or funny comment, laugh, and try to build on it. However, if it is demeaning or way out of line, you can gently say something like, “That just doesn’t seem funny to me.” Don’t scold the patient, who may be unaware that the joke was offensive.
  • Especially with patients from cultures other than yours, please wait until the patient initiates humor because it can easily be misunderstood or mean something entirely different in different cultures.
  • Consciously avoid any joking or banter that is even slightly racist, sexist, ageist, sarcastic, or demeaning to anyone.
  • Be sensitive to the patient, and do not try to be funny when the patient needs to cry, if any patient in the room is in an acute crisis, struggling to come to grips with an emotional reaction, or if they are trying to tell you something serious.

Learn to Laugh and Be Funny  

Even if you aren’t much of a joker, you can learn to make people laugh and lighten the mood. Did you know that Johns Hopkins offers a course on stand-up comedy? 

Discover and sharpen your sense of humor by having more comedy and funniness in your life.

  • Read funny books
  • Do the comedy commute, listening to humorous podcasts on your commute rather than the news. Find out what kind of humor tickles you: funny stories, jokes, observational humor, wordplay, puns, satire, slapstick, or impersonations.
  • Collect jokes and funny stories. Like and follow comical sites on social media, and follow Nurse Blake.
  • Send comical cards (humor is contagious—you might get a few backs!)
  • Look for the humor in everyday life, your daily routines, or the unexpected mix-ups, and practice telling the story.
  • Learn to improvise. Listen and follow the patients’ lead. 

Laughter makes you and others feel better. Humor is a valuable and welcome addition to treatment for almost any condition—with the exception, perhaps, of urinary incontinence! Nursa wants you to relax and feel good, so start laughing!  

Written by Miranda Booher, RN

SEO Content Marketing Administrator Miranda has been a registered nurse since 2007 and has a healthy background in travel nursing, healthcare IT, and digital marketing. She brings an interesting combination of stellar SEO content management and copywriting skills and first-hand nursing experience to the table. Miranda understands the industry and has an impeccable ability to write about it. And speaking of travel - Miranda currently lives in Bolivia, though she maintains an active Registered Nurse license in the state of Ohio and stays current on the latest healthcare news through her writing. When she is not creating killer copy, or serving others through her work as a nurse, you can find her spending time with her family traveling in the Andes Mountains.

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