Humour: an Antidote for Stress – Part 1

Daily Life, Humour, Theoretics

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Humour is a quality of perception that enables us to experience joy even when faced with adversity. Stress is an adverse condition during which we may experience tension or fatigue, feel unpleasant emotions, and sometimes develop a sense of hopelessness or futility. Nurses work in stress-filled environments that place demands upon their physical, emotional, and spiritual well being. Responding to these demands while protecting ourselves from their potential harmful impact will help us remain healthy.
Nurses are compassionate and caring individuals working with people who are suffering, and thus are at risk for job stress and burnout. We may have feelings of failure when our efforts are ineffective; anger and frustration arise when patients reject our care or are non-compliant with treatment; we feel grief when patients die. The constant experience of these emotions leads to stressful changes within our body.
Finding humour in a situation and laughing freely with others can be a powerful antidote to stress. Our sense of humor gives us the ability to find delight, experience joy, and to release tension. This can be an effective self-care tool.

Historical perspective on humour and health

The word humour itself is a word of many meanings. The root of the word is “umor” meaning liquid or fluid. In the Middle Ages, humor referred to an energy that was thought to relate to a body fluid and an emotional state. This energy was believed to determine health and disposition (i.e.”He’s in a bad humour”).  A sanguine humour was cheerful and associated with blood. A choleric humour was angry and associated with bile. A phlegmatic humour was apathetic and associated with mucous. A melancholic humour was depressed and associated with black bile.
In modern dictionaries, humour is defined as “the quality of being laughable or comical” or as “a state of mind, mood, spirit”. Humour then is flowing; involving basic characteristics of the individual expressed in the body, emotions, and spirit.
The word, to heal, comes from the root word “haelen” which means to make whole. Bringing together the body, mind and spirit can be healing. As Socrates once commented on the medical theory of his day: “As it is not proper to cure the eyes without the head, nor the head without the body; so neither is it proper to cure the body without the soul.”

Humour and effect on the spirit

The soul is the cradle of the spirit. Spirit can be defined as the vital essence or animating force of a living organism, often considered divine in origin. This energy is referred to as “Chi” in the Chinese tradition, as “Ki” in the Japanese tradition, It can be visioned using Kirilian photography, or felt during the application of healing touch. Spirit can influenced by the feelings of joy, hope, and love. The experience of laughter momentarily banishes feelings of anger and fear and provides moments of feeling carefree, lighthearted, and hopeful.
When the spirit is depleted, nurses can experience what is known as “compassion fatigue” — feeling that they have very little left to give.  Usually this occurs when the nurse’s self-care program has been inadequate. Finding humour in our work and our life can be one way to lift the spirit’s energy level and replenish ourselves from compassion fatigue.

Humour and Laughter effect the body

Stress has been shown to create unhealthy physiological changes. The connection between stress and high blood pressure, muscle tension, immunosuppression, and many other changes has been known for years. We now have proof that laughter creates the opposite effects. It appears to be the perfect antidote for stress.
Carefully controlled studies have shown that the experience of laughter lowers serum cortisol levels, increases the amount of activated T-lymphocytes, increases the number and activity of natural killer cells, and increases the number of T-cells that have helper/ suppresser receptors. In short, laughter stimulates the immune system, off-setting the immunosuppressive effects of stress. This research is part of the rapidly expanding field of psychoneuroimmunology which defines the communication links and relationships between our emotional experience and our immune response as mediated by the neurological system.

We know that, during stress, the adrenal gland releases corticosteroids (quickly converted to cortisol in the blood stream) and that elevated levels of these have an immunosuppressive effect. Activation of T-cells provides lymphocytes that are “awakened” and ready to combat a potential foreign substance. Natural killer cells are a type of immune cell that attacks viral or cancerous cells and do not need sensitization to be lethal. They are always ready to recognize and attack an aberrant or infected cell. This becomes very important in the prevention of cancer. Cells within our bodies are constantly changing and mutating to produce potential carcinogenic cells. An intact immune system can function appropriately by mobilizing these natural killer cells to destroy abnormal cells.

Receptor sites are important as a communication link between the brain and the immune system. Emotions can trigger the release of neurotransmitters from neurons in the brain. These chemicals then enter the blood stream and “plug into” receptor sites on the surface of immune cells. When this occurs, that cell’s metabolic activity can be altered in either a positive or negative direction. Many cells within the body have different receptor sites on their surface; of particular interest in this research are those on the immune cells.

Salivary immunoglobulin A is our first-line defense against the entry of infectious organisms through the respiratory tract. In a different research study revealed that salivary immunoglobulin A response level was lower on days of negative mood and higher on days with positive mood. When showing humorous videos to persons there was increase in concentration and when people have strong appreciation for and utilization of humour there was an even stronger elevation of salivary IgA after viewing a humourous video. All this helps us understand the body-mind connections. The emotions and moods we experience directly effect our immune system. A sense of humour allows us to perceive and appreciate the incongruities of life and provides moments of joy and delight. These positive emotions can create neurochemical changes that will buffer the immunosuppressive effects of stress.

Laughter can provide a cathartic release, a purifying of emotions and release of emotional tension. Laughter, crying, raging, and trembling are all cathartic activities which can unblock energy flow.

You van read part 2 and the confusion in 3 weeks time.

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