For About and By Caregivers

Laughter: Medicine for the Heart
By Jane E. Maxwell


“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

Jane E. 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 for Caregivers.”

 Subscribe to our weekly e-newsletter