Think about the last time you had a hearty laugh. How did it affect your mood? Did you feel better?
While nursing is filled with rewarding moments, it’s no secret that it has more than its fair share of challenging situations that can impact well-being. Humor is a powerful tool that can shift your mood in a single moment. And for nurses, this can be especially valuable.
Some nurses use humor as a release for work-related stress on and off the clock. But nurse humor can transcend a slight chuckle at a funny joke. The power of humor in nursing can make a difference in decreasing stress, enhancing relationships, and improving overall health.
Building connections with nurse humor
The connections nurses have with their colleagues can be considered one of the more important components of their work environment. When faced with complex and challenging work settings, having strong relationships with coworkers can make the workplace a more positive place to be.
Research has shown that the use of humor with coworkers can not only relieve symptoms of stress and burnout but can also make connections stronger, increase job satisfaction, and create a more enjoyable work environment.
“Humor is a way that we can connect,” said Cara Lunsford, RN, Vice President of Community at Relias. “With all the trauma and stress nurses are exposed to, you are just looking to connect with other people who see the world the way you see the world.”
While humor is an intervention for stress, it also helps nurses share knowledge. One study noted that when information and instructions were delivered in a humorous way, nurse respondents said they were able to retain information more easily.
“In my current work, I use humor often — it’s [part] of my personality,” said Lora Sparkman, MHA, BSN, RN. “I work with people who also have that in their nature, and it just makes work fun. We tease each other, but we also hold each other accountable and build each other up.”
It’s important to note that nurses can sometimes use humor to express frustration. In the profession’s current climate, nurses must navigate many obstacles amid staffing shortages and a continuously evolving COVID-19 pandemic.
Humor has a way of shining a light on some of these obstacles, according to Lunsford. “In some way, we think if we joke about our challenges enough, someone will see,” she said. “Someone will notice, and ask, ‘Is that real?’” Humor, while a resource for camaraderie, is also a tool that can spur potential change within the profession by revealing issues that nurses face and help to open a dialogue about them.
Mental and physical health benefits
Is laughter really the best medicine? The short answer is yes. Laughter is known to trigger positive physical and emotional responses within the body that improve overall well-being.
According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter has both short-term and long-term physical health benefits. In the short term, laughter can stimulate your organs, increase the release of endorphins, and improve your heart, lung, and muscle function. It can also reduce your physical responses to stress by decreasing your heart rate, relaxing your muscles, and lowering your blood pressure.
Laughter has also been shown to have long-lasting effects on the body as well. It can:
Laughter is also good for your mental health. It can improve your mood and increase your personal satisfaction, according to Mayo Clinic. In addition, it can enhance your coping skills, raise your self-esteem, and reduce symptoms of stress and depression.
Nurses at the bedside in particular can have difficulty finding moments of respite. Between patient care, charting, and other tasks, physical and mental health are taxed.
“My daughter is a nurse now, and she makes fun TikTok videos of her and her friends,” said Sparkman, Partner in Clinical Solutions, Patient Safety and Quality at Relias. “They’re appropriate, but they also depict the fact [that nurses] or their patients are in dire situations, and sometimes need a humor break.” Little things like dancing and being silly in videos can ease the mood and provide a mental break from the seriousness of their roles, she added.
Humor and patient care
For patients, even the idea of visiting a medical facility or being admitted to a hospital can induce feelings of anxiety, fear, or frustration. In these instances, nurses are committed to being compassionate and building trust to make the patient’s experience a positive one. Humor at the bedside can improve patient outcomes and enhance nurse-patient relationships.
Laughter illustrates a person’s physical joy — a giggle, a smile, or a boisterous laugh — which can have positive effects on others. In patient care, these physical responses can ease anxieties or fears, diffuse high-stress situations, and lighten the mood.
“I would use humor to disarm people,” said Lunsford. “Oftentimes, you walk into a room and feel the defensiveness, the mistrust, the insecurity, the vulnerability. And you have to break through that quickly.” The goal is to build trust with the patient, so they feel comfortable in telling you what’s going on, she added.
Humor in nursing can also provide a distraction for patients. Depending on the situation, some patients may feel worried or afraid. Incorporating light-hearted humor can be a way of shifting a patient’s thoughts to something other than their medical situation. For instance, you can share anecdotes like, “The funniest thing happened on my way to work,” or “I listened to the most hilarious podcast yesterday.” Sharing humor in this way can help patients relax and momentarily distract them.
With patients, however, it’s important to remember that humor has its caveats. And some jokes or stories may have racial and ethnic, social, religious, sex-based, or other cultural undertones that some patients could find offensive or not understand. When sharing humor with patients, make sure you’re keeping these things in mind.
Humor isn’t a bandage for all the challenges nurses experience. While there is more attention needed on areas like staffing and compensation, nurses deserve to find moments of joy and feel comfortable in the workplace. Humor can be just one way to boost well-being and make the workplace feel a little lighter.