We often hear that laughter is the best medicine. Maya Angelou once said, “Every day offers you 10,000 reasons to cry, but if you can find just one reason to laugh then you will be all right.” I reflect upon those words during the COVID-19 pandemic and think of the daily news briefings updating the public about the recorded number of people infected, the number hospitalized, the number in intensive care, the number on ventilators, the number who died in the past 24 hours, and more positively, the number of those extubated, recovered, and discharged home. We have had many reasons to cry; the human suffering and toll on the nation is immeasurable.
We cry for those who were stricken with illness, for those who died and left behind grieving families, and for the many workers on the frontlines who embrace their courage and inner strength every day and return to their assigned responsibilities, no matter the risk to self. The states' stay-at-home orders generated stress and anxiety for many people. Having to practice self-isolation and social distancing for an extended period of time placed demands on some who did not have an adequate arsenal of coping tools for the long haul. Staying connected and having a little fun once in a while are mandatory for positive mental health; the day should start with getting out “on the right side of the bed.”
Good belly laugh
During states' stay-at-home orders, social media has provided an outlet to survive these restrictions and the different sites abound with opportunities to laugh via posts from your connections. I had my heartiest laugh watching a video from a father apologizing to teachers for his attitude and inaction to perceived excessive requests from teachers for “things” prior to the pandemic. He found it humbling to participate so intently in his children's educational process; his delivery of the apology was meant to amuse but his words carried a sincere message. I saved the post so I can have a good belly laugh every so often.
Benefits of laughter
A Mayo Clinic newsfeed for the general public lists some of the many health benefits of laughter.1 Laughter can help relieve pain, enhance your mood and decrease depression and anxiety, reduce tension and cortisol (linked to weight gain and memory loss), improve your immune system, and increase resilience. Laughter can also strengthen relationships by bringing you closer to others. Laughter can help you gain a new perspective on old problems, which might reduce the stress associated with certain situations.
Tremayne and Sharma discuss laughter therapy versus spontaneous laughter.2 Spontaneous laughter is triggered by an external stimulus and positive emotions; most people have little control over this response. Laughter, however, is not spontaneous in laughter therapy, which consists of physical exercise, relaxation techniques (including mindfulness), and simulated vigorous laughter. Benefits are the same as with spontaneous laughter, but the therapy is a planned and deliberate technique used in alternative and complementary health practice. The authors cite studies that were conducted with populations of poststroke patients, older adults with insomnia, postpartum women, and others. The benefits of laughter have been affirming in all conditions.
NPs should encourage patients (as well as themselves) to laugh as much as possible and to have a belly-shaking laugh at least once a day, provided there are no medical contraindications. As we continue our vigilance during these uncertain and challenging times, remember the words of Mark Twain, “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”
Jamesetta A. Newland, PhD, FNP-BC, FAANP, DPNAP, FAAN
2. Tremayne P, Sharma K. Implementing laughter therapy to enhance the well-being of patients and nurses. Nurs Stand