Laugh Away the Burdens of Caregiving

When it feels like everything is going wrong in your effort to care for someone with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), it’s important to sit back, take a deep breath and just laugh. How will that help? Find out!

By
Diana Bierman

Are you too overwhelmed with keeping rheumatologist appointments, cooking meals and doing household chores to even crack a smile, let alone sit back and start laughing? Have you replaced your sense of humor with strict rules for getting things done?

When caring for a loved one with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), it’s important to stay organized. But you should also find time to fit humor into your busy caregiving schedule. In fact, laughing may be the key to all things healthy.

So go ahead and add some levity to your and your loved one’s day. Here’s why.

Laughter is a stress healer.
Fretting about your loved one’s test results or medication side effects? Go see a comedy show or watch a funny flick. Even the mere anticipation of a humorous event can aid in reducing stress hormones including cortisol and epinephrine, say researchers at Loma Linda University in California.

Laughter is a pain reliever.
Sore, achy joints are the hallmark of RA symptoms—and University Oxford researchers say a hearty laugh can act as a painkiller by triggering the release of endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemical. What’s more, a study in the journal Complementary and Alternative Medicine found laughing acted as a great distractor of pain when participants soaked their hands in freezing water. If your loved one is having a flare, try breaking out a funny video, cracking or joke or just making a silly face to divert their attention.

Laughter is a bond former.
Have you ever heard that laughter is contagious? When others laugh, a positive brain response is triggered in the listener’s brain. That response provides involuntary smiling and causes you to mirror the laughing person’s actions, helping social interaction, an important role in strengthening the bond between individuals. How to bring on the laughter? Do some “laughter yoga” with your loved one. This mind-body technique combines laughter and yogic breathing exercises (deep and rapid breathing). Bonus: Yoga can reduce joint tenderness and swelling in people with RA, according to research funded in part by the Arthritis Foundation. Find a laughter club near you at laughteryogaamerica.com/maps.

Laughter is a health strengthener.
Laughter can boost the immune system, fight infection and lower cholesterol and blood pressure, according to several studies. A few guffaws can also fuel your heart and digestion rate, increase blood flow and boost oxygen in the bloodstream, which benefits your cardiovascular system.

Laughter is a mood lightener.
When you LOL, your body and mind relax and restore a negative vibe, helping ease tension and forget about a sensitive matter. That doesn’t mean laughing at someone’s expense, of course, but on days when an unpleasant situation occurs, getting yourself and your loved one to chuckle can help make it easier to deal with. For example, if your loved one is stuck in bed feeling achy, try out some of your best jokes or say something to cut the tension, like “At least we’re having tacos for dinner!” This can help normalize the situation and lift the mood.

Not feeling very funny?
That’s okay—your body can’t distinguish a fake laugh from a real one! Even a phony laugh can help offset sadness or anger. Try this: Look in the mirror, put your shoulders back and belt out the loudest I-don’t-know-why-I’m-laughing laugh. Or fake a smile, start giggling, gradually increasing to laughter, raising your volume as you go. You might be surprised at how quickly it can enhance your mood.

Published
April 2013