Make ‘em Laugh: The Power of Humor to Help Care for Ourselves

This morning, I had the honor of giving a social work month lecture at a local hospital. I give a lot of talks—usually focused on patient education, survivorship, responding to cancer related distress or social work/medical ethics. But for this talk, I wanted to do something different…something special.

Social work is tough stuff. We are exposed to great amounts of suffering, trauma, sadness and vulnerability. We don’t like to toot our own horns. We are very rarely thanked for doing the hard (often impossible) things we are asked to do. Most of us, at some point in our career, experience compassion fatigue.

But, we keep going back to the work. It does make us feel good to be agents of change, guardians of autonomy…cheerleaders for the dignity and worth of all persons. We want to be the change we hope to see in the world. And in order to keep doing this, we MUST take care of ourselves.

Self care includes any purposeful actions you take to care for your physical, mental, spiritual and emotional health. Self care is unique for everybody: what works for one, may not work for another. Caring for ourselves keeps compassion satisfaction within reach. Compassion satisfaction is an overall recognition of the meaning of the work and its contribution to individuals, families, communities and the greater good of society.

Some common suggestions for self care include exercise and physical activity, meditation, journaling, travel, spending time with family/friends, spiritual connections, and hobbies. These things all take time, effort and some require money. But I want to challenge you to try a new self care technique. One that is readily available, free of charge, non-invasive and non pharmacological. It’s laughter.

Laughter can:

  • Relax the body
  • Reduce stress
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Elevate mood
  • Connect you to others
  • Foster relaxation and relationship
  • Make you feel good

The science is there. Studies have shown that laughter decreases the amount of cortisol and ephinephrine – common stress hormones. Laughter can also impact the activity of dopamine and serotonin which influences depressive feelings.[1] Laughter is a natural anti-depressant!

That being said, we can’t just be passive consumers of laughter via binge watching our favorite sitcoms. The experience of laughter as a self care technique is different if we are active participants in creating and generating the humor. We should laugh at ourselves, the work and the situations we see. The doesn’t mean laughing at our patients or humor at their expense. It means thoughtfulness, gravity and recognizing our own vulnerability, stresses, weaknesses, pain points and downright unbelievable moments. It’s okay to laugh with our teams, our peers and our clients. And often, it just feels good and right.

So, give it a try today. Here is one of my favorite social work meme’s to get you started using laughter as a self care technique.


What makes you laugh—and how can you be an active participant in creating humor that helps you care for yourself?


Learn more about self care for professionals on OncoLink.


[1] Yim,  J. (2016). Therapeutic benefits of laughter in mental health: a theoretical review. The Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine239(3), 243-249

2 thoughts on “Make ‘em Laugh: The Power of Humor to Help Care for Ourselves

  1. As a non-social worker who has known a few social workers, I would never look at someone that way upon finding out their career. I’d be more likely to struggle to find a way to express gratitude. You have one of the toughest jobs around, you don’t get a lot of pay, and yet you keep going, knowing you are making a difference for someone. And often you help those who have no one else to represent their interests. You hear those who usually have no voice. Thank you! Do take care of yourselves, because we need you more than ever, and you deserve better than you are getting. Thank you.

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