Humour: an Antidote for Stress – Part 2

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.

You can read Humour: an Antidote for Stress – Part 1 here.

Humour and the effect on the mind

A person’s interpretation of stress is not dependent solely on an external event, but also depends upon their perception of the event and the meaning they give it; i.e. how you look at a situation determines if you will respond to it as threatening or challenging.
Because different people respond differently to the same environmental stimuli, some people seem to cope with stress better than others. There are three “hardiness factors” which can increase a person’s resilience to stress and prevent burnout:

  • Commitment
  • Control
  • Challenge

If you have a strong commitment to yourself and your work, if you believe that you are in control of the choices in your life (internal locus of control), and if you see change as challenging rather than threatening; then you are more likely to cope successfully with stress. One theme that is becoming more prominent in the literature is the idea that a causative factor in burnout is a sense of powerlessness.
In this context, humour can be an empowerment tool. Humour gives us a different perspective on our problems and, with an attitude of detachment, we feel a sense of self-protection and control in our environment. As comedian Bill Cosby is fond of saying, “If you can laugh at it, you can survive it.”
It is reasonable to assume that if locus of control measures strongly as internal, that a person will feel a greater sense of power and thus be more likely to avoid burnout.

Humour and the brain

Study indicates that if you are encouraged and guided to use humour, you can gain a sense of control in your life. The use of humour represents cognitive control. We cannot control events in our external world but we have the ability to control how we view these events and the emotional response we choose to have to them.
Humour perception involves the whole brain and serves to integrate and balance activity in both hemispheres. It has been shown that there is a unique pattern of brain wave activity during the perception of humour. EEG’s were recorded on subjects while they were presented with humourous material. During the setup to the joke, the cortex’s left hemisphere began its analytical function of processsing words. Shortly afterward, most of the brain activity moved to the frontal lobe which is the center of emotionality. Moments later the right hemisphere’s synthesis capabilities joined with the left’s processing to find the pattern — to ‘get the joke’. A few milliseconds later, before the subject had enough time to laugh, the increased brain wave activity spread to the sensory processing areas of the brain, the occipital lobe. The increased fluctuations in delta waves reached a crescendo of activity and crested as the brain ‘got’ the joke and the external expression of laughter began. These findings shows that humour pulls the various parts of the brain together rather than activating a component in only one area.

Learning to Laugh

How does one go about laughing? Who can one get that humour perspective which can so effect your spirit, body, and mind? How do you learn to access the lighter side of yourself in an often-tragic world of nursing?
Laughing at yourself is not always easy. Frequently one is too immersed in a problem to find any humour in it. It can help to seek out people with that special flair for seeing the funny side of a situation; to use the talent available to aid in the quest for laughter and comic release.
There are many great resources for nursing humour.
One of the best was the Journal of Nursing Jocularity,  now only facebook is left of it. Another way to keep ourselves laughing is to stay in touch with our “inner clown”, that playful, childlike nature that we all have but perhaps fail to acknowledge due to the seriousness of our work. Many resources and training programs exist. One can even go so far as to actually become a professional clown.


Humour and laughter can be effective self-care tools to cope with stress. They can improve the function of the body, the mind, and the spirit. An ability to laugh at our situation or problem gives us a feeling of superiority and power. Humour and laughter can foster a positive and hopeful attitude. We are less likely to succumb to feelings of depression and helplessness if we are able to laugh at what is troubling us. Humour gives us a sense of perspective on our problems. Laughter provides an opportunity for the release of uncomfortable emotions which, if held inside, may create biochemical changes that are harmful to the body.
People can increase their beneficial laughter by adding exposure to humourous material. Caregivers can consciously change their behaviors to provide more laughter and cheer in their work settings. Humour resources are plentiful. Laughter training exists. We can become our own best medicine.

Please let me know in a comment below how you deal with stress.

Please also read these related blogs:

The essence of humour. (1/5 : Physical)
The essence of humour. (2/5 : Social)
The essence of humour. (3/5 : Psychological)
The essence of humour. (4/5 : Emotional)
The essence of humour. (5/5 : Cognitive)

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