Laughing really is good medicine. It relaxes the body, releases endorphins, and even burns calories. But what role does it play in patient comfort?
Motivational speaker and arthritis "survivor" David Jacobson is more familiar than most with the benefits of laughing. After being diagnosed with severe arthritis at the age of twenty-two, he was forced to put aside his career as an athlete. He found the only way he could successfully move forward in his life was with a strong sense of humor.
He shared his experience on how humor helped him recover and move forward with his life at the 2019 Annual meeting of the Association for Medical Imaging Management.
“Yes, I have to be in this painful body,” he said, “but it doesn’t mean I can’t live a life full of joy.”
Laughter really can be the best medicine
Researchers have found that laughter therapy programs can help the brain regulate stress hormones through the natural production of endorphins. Geneticist Kazuo Murakami, published research that suggests that laughter can actually influence gene expression in diabetic patients.
In their research article, "Laughter and Stress Relief in Cancer Patients: A Pilot Study," S.H. Kim, et al. found that laughter therapy programs are effective in reducing anxiety, depression, and stress in breast cancer patients undergoing post-operative radiation therapy.
As healthcare looks for alternate therapies to potentially addicting pharmaceuticals to manage stress and pain, medical centers are beginning to offer therapeutic laughter programs. One such example is Seattle-based Evergreen Health's program for patients struggling with Multiple Sclerosis.
Clinical and empirical evidence tells us laughing makes us feel good
For years, pediatricians have used humor to distract toddlers from their fear of getting shots. They know laughter helps defuse tension and bonds people. As Danish comedian Victor Borge said, “laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”
Humans use humor as a coping mechanism during times of war, natural disasters, and even death. Canadian researchers found that humor plays an essential role in healthcare. They found that humor helps promote team relationships and adding a human dimension to the care and support that staff provided to seriously ill patients and their families.
One interviewee who works with terminally ill patients, believes it’s crucial for navigating those unbearable human experiences - "If you have those fun moments and that connectedness even the worst hell can happen. You sail through it as opposed to walking out really wounded."
Dr. Ruth Dean from Manitoba weighed in with her own experiences. “Some people feel that [humor] is trivial and unprofessional in healthcare settings, but this study shows that it is neither...One member of staff referred to humor as the glue that holds human connections together.”
Putting Laughter into Practice
Putting laughter into practice is easier said than done, a fact that David Jacobson was quick to acknowledge. As he spoke to a room of administrators, managers, and supervisors, he provided a couple pointers on improving one’s own use of humor:
- Take a leap forward
- Build a humor library
- Find common experiences to laugh about
- Don’t be afraid to make fun of yourself
Take a Leap of Laughter
Taking a leap forward can be intimidating if you don’t have direction. A simple Google search will bring up a plethora of laughter programs and consultants.
The best part of laughter therapy is it's an easily accessible, noninvasive, non-pharmacological treatment that has been successfully used in various groups of participants and as a part of various programs all over the world.