Abraham Lincoln was criticized when he laughed at something during the Civil War. In response he said, “If I didn’t laugh, I would surely cry.” Those of us who are caregivers, either professionally or for a loved one, know that can be true of us, too. If we’re able to see the humor in what might be seen as a sad or challenging, it can lighten the moment for both the caregiver and the person being cared for.
Unexpected actions can sometimes be the norm, so it’s important to let go of what we can’t control and try to embrace what can be funny about it. A personal example was often finding my father naked from the waist down. It’s important to remember to exercise some caution when employing humor as a coping mechanism. If our humor belittles or is perceived as being made fun of, then it can have a negative effect, and it won’t change behavior.
Putting too much pressure on ourselves to see humor where there might be none can add stress to an already stressful situation. Sometimes a caregiver support group is the best places to share your humorous stories. Almost every caregiver can be encouraged to share something comical about caregiving in a group with others who can relate.
Most of us have heard about the positive physical and psychological effects of humor and laughter. Research reveals many benefits, including:
- Decreasing stress hormones
- Improving respiration and increasing oxygen in the lungs
- Boosting our immune system
- Releasing feel-good hormones including norepinephrine, dopamine, and endorphins
- Increasing coping abilities when faced with life stressors
- Relieving guilt by knowing that humor and laughter are good for your body and spirit
Here are a few ideas to help you find or create humor in caregiving [from Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services]:
- Buy a plastic wand. When someone asks you to fix a problem you don’t own, can’t fix and don’t have the energy for, pick up the wand, swing it in the air with complete confidence and say, “All better.”
- Find a fun way to tell people that a task needs to wait until tomorrow. Sometimes laughter is more important than a real reason. “If you drill more holes in my boat, I’m going to sink.”
- Instead of yelling, you could say “I tried being perfect once, it was the worse two minutes of my life.”
- If your loved one spills oatmeal on the floor, stop and compare it to a Rorschach test—say what the shape looks like. Laughing through mistakes and mishaps makes moving forward easier on everyone.
Think back to funny or enjoyable times with your loved one. Create more of those moments by looking up creative ideas, jokes and activities you and your loved one can share. (See our blog How to Create Moments of Joy (dakotahomecare.com). Sharing humor with others can strengthen social bonds.
It’s common for caregivers to feel guilt over all the things they could have or should have done in any given situation. If we can replace guilt with humor and the feeling that we’re doing the best we can, it will make us and those we care for much happier.
As the primary caregiver for both my dad and my husband—both now disceased—I can still remembor many times when if I didn’t laugh “I would surely cry.” For example, when my father resisted brushing his teeth, even with help and said, “I’m 97. I shouldn’t have to brush my teeth anymore.” He grew to hate broccoli, even though he ate it and insisted we did, too, when we were kids. He reacted with anger if it showed up on his plate in the dining room. Even though he was diabetic, he gradually refused to eat anything but strawberry ice cream. All I could do was laugh.
My husband had a PhD. When, because of Alzheimer’s, common words became more difficult to find, he was able to use a more “highbrow” word instead. Quite pleased with himself, I would say “That was an interesting choice of words—not one I would use, but correct,” and he laughed along with me. When he was still physically able to dress himself, he could no longer complete a sequence of tasks. When instructed to put on his socks or button his shirt, I’d come back to find only one sock on or one button buttoned. When I pointed out that there was only a sock on one foot, even he could see the humor in thinking the job was done.
Laughter might not seem appropriate when someone is suffering from a life-threatening illness. However, it often eases tension, allowing friends and family to be more encouraging and supportive and laying a foundation for more serious discussions in the future. Giving yourself permission to laugh is as important as giving yourself permission to cry. So, when you do feel comfortable expressing humor, do it. You will give those around you permission to laugh and relax too.
As a caregiver, taking care of yourself is a big part of being able to find joy in serving others. If you stop doing any of the things you love, are not getting enough sleep, or eating a healthy diet, you will barely have the strength to get through a difficult day, let alone find humor in some of the could-be-silly things that happen.
Dakota Home Care offers in home services tailored to your needs and the needs of your loved one. Respite Care that allows you to leave home for a while could be especially helpful in relieving stress and reviving your sense of humor. We provide a free in-home consultation with our Client Services specialist, who will discuss services and options available to you. Call 701.663.5373 today for an appointment to learn more about our respite care in Bismarck, ND or the surrounding areas.
- SLCo Caregiver Update: Finding the Humor in Caregiving (mailchi.mp)
- The Alzheimer’s Journey: How to Create Moments of Joy (dakotahomecare.com)
- Managing Caregiver Guilt | Trusted In Home Assistance (dakotahomecare.com)
- Support for Personal Caregivers | Dakota Home Care
- Seniors At The Gym | Laughing With Mary
- 10 Tips for Finding Humor in Caregiving (pameladwilson.com)
- Finding a Reason to Laugh | Cancer.Net