How to find humor in nursing: Laughter is the best medicine

Laugh at yourself more, it's healthy

The brutally honest preschooler who comes to visit your patient, the nursing meme someone posted on the coffee machine, a rumbling stomach during a blood pressure check: If you don't notice humor in everyday nursing, you're not looking very hard. And if laughter and smiles aren't part of every shift, you're missing an opportunity to improve your health and work life.

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Sharon Mawby, MSN, RN, NEA-BC can attest to the power of humor. As the vice president of Patient Care Services and CNO at Emory Decatur, she knows well how fast-paced and stressful the nursing work environment can be. "As a result, nurses, who are often at the very center of care with patients and families, can become overwhelmed and burned out," she says.

"We know that laughter relieves stress, so when nurses take the time to share stories and laughter with their colleagues they build a sense of community within their teams. After all, nursing is a team effort. As a CNO, when I round on units and hear laughter between the staff, I know that they are having a good day."

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The Mayo Clinic also attests to the health benefits of laughter. It's like blueberries, a daily walk and meditation rolled into one. "When you start to laugh, it doesn't just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body," Mayo notes. "Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain."

Laughing can also stimulate circulation, act as a relaxation method and improve your immunities long-term, according to Mayo. "Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. In contrast, positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses."

Get the laughs rolling

"Laughing releases tension and creates a feeling of camaraderie and connection among people," Mark Chalfant, artistic and executive director of the Washington Improv Theater in Washington, DC explained in Monster. "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."

Luckily for you, making people laugh is also a learned skill, according to Scott Christopher, co-author of The Levity Effect: Why It Pays to Lighten Up. "It's not something you have to be born with," he said in Monster. "If you're a brow-knitter or a jaw-clencher by nature, it's not too late."

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The first step is to making humor work for you is to make light of the "the obvious absurdities of life." From there, you can move to simple jokes. A good source is the Internet, but make sure you enter "clean" into the search engine, or you'll be riddled with jokes that could shock even the hardened nurse crew.

A few great places to start for straight-up jokes or amusing material to share with coworkers:

Free Will Astrology readings that are amusing

News of the Weird snips of current events

Short jokes that are easy to remember from Readers Digest. Sample: What kind of exercise do lazy people do?


Do laugh, but don't get carried away, says Mawnby. "It is important; however, that nurses always keep in mind, that our patients may overhear and misconstrue laughter as being disrespectful or uncaring when in the wrong setting."