Health and Humor

Daniel Leffingwell MS.RN

Updated April 24 2014




- Use of humor as a defense mechanism that allows someone to cope with difficult situations (use death and dying examples)

-Increasingly, health care professionals have studied humor as a therapeutic intervention.

- Norman Cousins attributed humor as responsible for curing his collagen disease in 1977 (The healing heart).


The effects of humor on physiological systems;

How does a good belly laugh affect you physically?

Ask the group…

1.     You’re Pulse? (answer=it raises it)

2.     Your blood pressure? (answer=it raises it)

3.     Your temperature? (answer=it raises it)

What if you told your doctor that you use humor to keep healthy and that it did all these things to you?

Initially the laugh raises all the above, but the sustained effect of using laughter is that your pulse, blood pressure and temperature all come down and stay down (sustained effect).

Catecholamine’s are released, and there is an initial rise in pulse, blood pressure and temperature generated by laughter (sympathetic response), followed by a relaxation phase (parasympathetic response).

Research with adult subjects has demonstrated a positive correlation between humor and increased concentrations of secretory immunoglobulin A (S-IgA),

It improves oxygen usage and energy levels

Stimulates skeletal, thoracic and abdominal muscles.

It releases endorphins (Cousins also believed this before research studied this effect), establishing a sense of well-being, which can
also allow one a heightened ability to deal with stressful situations

This is a similar role that exercise plays on the body. Use the gym and running examples.




AB - Human creativity uses what is already available, changing it in unpredictable ways. Creativity is an option to client, caregiver, and institution. It is likely to occur in the open mode of thinking, where alertness, relaxation, and playfulness coexist. Humor is a desirable avenue to creative thinking for health promotion. The release and relaxation of humor benefits client and caregiver both physiologically and psychologically. Tension eases for patients, while nurses gain a new sense of control through the use of their own sense of humor. Fifty preoperative patients were surveyed on the use of humor education as a form of stress reduction. After surgery, the patients were told one-liners prior to administration of potentially painful topical medication. All perceived less pain. Humor rooms are spaces in hospitals which encourage the therapeutic use of humor. This is a unique holistic option to promote creative thinking of the staff while it enhances the healing of the patient.

A.   GOOD AND BAD STRESS – The balance

Humor to break the ice COMMUNICATION

Discharges tensions associated with fear, anger and grief

Humor to establish the bond in therapeutic relationships

Humor to cope with stressful situations: A DEFENSE MECHANISM

Humor as a distraction

You will worry yourself sick


- The use of humor in therapeutic groups - one needs to know when it is appropriate or not. The main effects are cohesion and symptom relief.

- Humor can be a useful treatment technique in the hands of some psychotherapists. It may help the patient to see painful life events and situations from less threatening perspectives, and can take the anxiety and guilt out of many difficult circumstances and incidents.

Life review and the humor associated with it

-Comedy routines Who is your favorite comedian?

- Use of videos and films in the CDTP, Laurel and hardy, the Marx Brothers Etc. also reminiscence.....

George Burns and laughing with aging;

          -“I’m glad to be here at 80 – I’m glad to be anywhere at 80.”

          -Reporter to George; “George, you smoke cigars, drink and chase women. What does your doctor say? George responds “my doctor is dead!”

- Humor can have a message: use the Romeo example

Romeo, who is 85 years old, goes to the doctor because his left knee is bothering him. His doctor looks at him and states “Romeo, you are 85 years old, you have to expect this.”  Romeo replies “my other knee is 85 years old and it feels fine.”


- Mother- in- law example




- “I told you she could hear.”  Use the example of Debby’s grandmother in the hospital and seemingly unconscious and not able to hear anything.

-How stress can take its toll - use the example in the Alzheimer’s article:

A woman cares for her mother who has memory problems. The time comes where mother needs to go to the nursing home, as her daughter can no longer care for her. The social worker picks up the daughter and her mother to take them to the nursing home. Mom is sitting in the front seat and seems to be talking and making no sense in her verbalizations. The daughter, visibly distraught and seemingly in an attempt to validate that she can no longer take care of her mom at home, blurts our “see all she does is repeat herself all the time.”

The mother, in a period of lucidity, blurts back “you better be glad that I repeated myself or you would not be here!”



-As a method of communicating ones feelings

- To reduce stressful aspects of a case

-To deal with one’s own fears of illness and disability







-Humor and longevity: studies suggesting that those individuals who have an appreciation for humor may have a longer
lifespan. In the journal Psychological Reports (1995, June) a study was done where individuals used a Multidimensional humor scale to rate their
eption of humor appreciation compared to a deceased relative. They consistently rated their sense of humor appreciation higher than the
deceased relative

-Humor in the depressed: a study was reported in the Gerontologist (1995, April) which described situations where laughter or
humor occurred during therapy with depressed and suicidal patients

Humor was associated with five principles;

(1) a positive doctor-patient relationship includes
the freedom to be humorous

(2) the humor is life affirming

(3) the humor increases social cohesion

(4) the humor is interactive

(5) humor reduces stress

When is it appropriate to use humor?

Not during an acute crisis

As a "debriefing after a crisis

To laugh at the "system" (use the managed care social work joke).

How can we gauge that humor is appropriate?

When it is in good taste

Follow the patient's lead

Laughing with rather than at a patient

Explain the role of humor to the patient

Extreme humor in professionals may deal with the stress that each of us face in difficult situations

Humor and the self (use my examples when I was ill).