Is there a place for humour in nursing?

30 April 2020 By Michael Bowyer

As International Nurses Day is fast approaching during the midst of the current COVID-19 crisis, we look at the subject of humour in nursing, and how this can help alleviate some of the stress nurses are currently feeling. We’re all familiar with a wide range of nurse jokes, and everyone loves a funny nursing story, but is humour in the hospital appropriate and how can it help nurses do their jobs?

What are the benefits of laughing for health?

Is laughter the best medicine? Many studies suggest that laughing can have a positive effect on a patient’s health. It obviously can’t cure a broken leg or a disease, but it can significantly improve a patient’s comfort, mental fortitude and positively contribute to some physical ailments.

Health benefits of laughter:

  • Relieving pain: laughing can trigger your brain to release chemical endorphins that creates happiness, temporarily relieving pain.

  • Relaxing the body: laughing can help tensed muscles relax and alleviate symptoms of stress.

  • Boosting the immune system: Laughing can reduce stress symptoms allowing your body to increase white blood cell production which will help you combat infection and illness better.

  • Improving blood circulation: laughter increases blood flow and improves circulation which can help reduce the risk of heart attacks.

  • Defuses tension – how can you stay angry at someone when you are both sharing a laughter at one or more things. Humour for anger is surely one of the fastest ways to calm the build-up of negative feelings

Are there any benefits from humour in nursing?

Just as laughing can reduce stress in patients, so too can it reduce stress for nurses too. When combined with shift work and frequent sleepless nights for those who work the nightshift, this can cause a huge strain on your mental health. Humour has the added benefit of helping nurses reduce the risk of being overwhelmed and burning out. Being able to crack a joke or enjoy a humorous situation promotes the feeling of support and community with your colleagues.

Mark Chalfant, artistic and executive director of the Washington Improv Theatre in Washington, DC explained:

“Laughing releases tension and creates a feeling of camaraderie and connection among people. When people feel closer to one another, it's a lot easier and more pleasant to work together. Plus, if you make everyone laugh, maybe they will forget that you took the last glazed doughnut at the team meeting.”

It’s important to remember that a lot of nurses are dealing with patients who are dealing with incredibly bad prognoses. Of course, this weighs heavily on the patient and their family, but it also takes its toll on the nurse. Being able to find humour despite these challenging situations – in the breakroom or with a colleague – can help you regain a positive attitude, enabling you to care for other patients.

A guide to humour in nursing:

There are so many different forms of humour that inserting some light-heartedly comedy into your working day can seem like a daunting task. As we have seen though, it’s beneficial for all!

What kind of hospital humour is acceptable?

Humour should always be light-hearted, fun and uplifting for everyone. It should always be inclusive, always ‘laughing with’ and never ‘laughing at’ someone. Funny anecdotes and observations will help you build a rapport with patients and bring joy and laughter to their day.

However, it’s probably a good idea to keep your laughter quiet and respectful, some patients or their family members may misconstrue loud raucous laughter as disrespectful, causing upset.

What kind of humour is inappropriate?

There are some obvious topics that should always be avoided when being humorous: sex, religion and politics are always going to be difficult topics that will, more likely than not, upset a patient. Self-deprecating humour and sarcasm also tend to leave people feeling more uncomfortable than relaxed and at ease so they’re to be avoided too.

Thank you on International Nurses Day

Nurses are amazing, providing care and compassion throughout the year to those most vulnerable. We'd like to take International Nurses Day as an opportunity to say thank you to you all. During the outbreak of COVID-19 we're seen the very best of humanity in the work and dedication shown by nurses around the world.

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