Although laughter may or may not officially be the best medicine, it’s something that can brighten the day of many residents of Santa Monica and elsewhere, including those receiving palliative care and those receiving traditional care.
The staff at Accredited Home Care is also united in their support of the power of laughter.
This doesn’t mean that we hire people based on their comic chops or look for an opening for a joke anywhere we can. We value nursing skills plus attitudes like compassion and kindness in those we hire, especially our LVNs.
We also know that some moments and situations require taking a more serious tone, and “cracking wise” any chance we can, may come across as offensive or inappropriate by our patients.
However, we have found that the opportunity to laugh when appropriate can be a very good thing – and there’s medical information on our side!
The Mayo Clinic tells us that laughter is a great stress reliever that has mental and physical benefits for the short term and long term, which can include:
- Creating endorphins, which are chemicals that reduce pain, lower fear and increase happiness. These are created in other situations, including exercise, good situations, and even scary situations.
- Help organs. Full laughter, such as a good belly laugh, can stimulate many of the organs in your body.
- It burns calories. One estimate is 10-40 calories a day, which isn’t bad for a few minutes of being happy. Think of it as mini-exercise.
- Relaxation. Laughter can cause muscles to tense and relax, similar to a massage.
- It lightens the mood. Even those battling depression can enjoy a few minutes of their spirits being uplifted.
- It boosts the immune system. Various studies have shown that chronic laughter can have body-wide benefits. One of the more prominent in modern medicine was that of Norman Cousins, who, after being diagnosed with a terminal illness, self-prescribed a regimen of funny movies, mostly classic slapstick. The more he laughed, the better he felt. At the same time, his symptoms were reduced and eventually went into remission. He went on to publish a book of his experiences and also advised other medical professionals.
The Larger Value of Laughter
Psychology Today points out that there are some broader benefits of laughter beyond basic day-to-day health boosts.
For instance, laughter is contagious, which is why it’s more fun to watch a movie or a funny show with a group of friends than by yourself. You get one person laughing and odds are that others around them will soon enjoy and join in the humor.
This may be seen in home health environments when the nurse or the patient can do something or say something funny and soon everyone will be laughing.
Laughter is also a defense mechanism and an antidote to frustration, fear and feeling out of control. Sometimes situations are too ridiculous so the only option is to laugh, which feels better than breaking down and sobbing or getting angry at things out of your control, Of course, there’s nothing wrong with doing all of them if you feel the need!
Being able to laugh at situations is also something that helps us feel connected to others, another area where it’s important when patients may feel isolated except for the occasional visit from a therapist or nurse.
Some Caution Needed
Nurses and medical providers know that every patient and their situations are different. In some cases, they may not feel like laughing right then due to physical or emotional pain, so efforts to crack jokes may backfire one day and be successful another.
In some cases, encouraging laughter can actually cause physical harm, such as someone with abdominal pain or recent surgery. Prolonged laughter has been known to hurt the heart or cause headaches.
Because humor is so personal and may get attached to other emotions, some people might enjoy any attempt to lighten the mood, or others might get angry, especially if someone starts to do clown-ish behavior, another area where people either like or dislike.
Generally, it helps to get to know the client first to feel out their attitude and outlook on life. It can even reveal “safer” topics to joke about. Do they find their health funny or take it seriously? Are they amused by what’s happening in the world or get mad about it?
LVNs or other nursing professionals wanting to bring light when appropriate to their clients can consider learning about National Humor Month. Here, all through April, site visitors are encouraged to visit and find different forms of humor they can use for their patients, their families as well as themselves.
After all, health care workers also need ways to keep their spirits up throughout their days, so it helps to keep a good perspective.
The site offers a range of inoffensive jokes that can make people chuckle. There are posters and books, and pranks that are funny and not mean.
There are even fun examples of what not to do, which can be fun to share with people worried about how funny to be or not to be.