ARTICLES / General /
Laughter: Medicine for the Heart /
“Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and
exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning
up to do afterward.” —Kurt Vonnegut
Laughter is like a breath of fresh air that we desperately need.
This seemingly simple act affects most of your body systems.
Laughter strengthens the immune system by stimulating your body to
increase production of immunoglobulin. It improves your heart rate
and circulation by boosting the oxygen supply to your brain.
Laughter controls pain by decreasing muscle tension, distracting
attention, and increasing the production of endorphins, natural pain
killers. Laughter is like giving yourself an internal massage as it
stimulates and soothes. It truly is medicine for the heart.
Sometime when we feel inept, like a duck out of water, in our
efforts to care for our loved one, the healthiest way to respond is
to laugh at our own imperfections. We are human and at times say the
wrong thing, spill soup down the front of the patient’s shirt, or
mess up at the most inopportune moment. But if we can’t laugh, all
we do is cry.
Humor, like prayer, helps us to rise above our circumstances. Seven
years ago the idea of laughter was difficult for me to apply to the
care of my terminally ill husband. Because I had worked as a
registered nurse for over forty years, I was much too intent on
fixing the symtoms of his illness and controlling his reactions to
the chemotherapy and radiation. I was increasing not only my stress
level, but also his.
Then as we turned on the TV and
radio to some of his old favorites —
“I Love Lucy,” “Abbot and Costello,”
“All in the Family,” and “Mayberry
RFD,” along with the music we grew
up with, we began to laugh. Tensions
faded, muscles relaxed, pain was
lessened and we reconnected.
Laughter reminded me that one is
much more than his or her illness.
We are all persons first, still
alive and able to enjoy levity. Joy
is still possible for the patient
and the caregiver.
Try keeping a journal of humorous
things you see, hear or read. Place
cartoons on your refrigerator or
bulletin board. They will be there
when you need them. Avoid negative
people. Don’t put yourself down.
Call someone today to arrange to
meet for a few hours to renew your
spirit. It truly will be medicine
for your heart.“
A sense of humor can help us
overlook the unattractive, tolerate
the unpleasant, cope with the
unexpected, and smile through the
unbearable.” —Moshe Waldoks
Maxwell is a Registered Nurse and
hospice volunteer. She has cared for
hundreds of patients over her
forty-year career, many with
terminal illness. She was a
caregiver for her husband and other
loved ones for several years. She is
the author of the book, “Lifelines