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How humour helps in tough times

“Laughter is the best medicine.”

You might be tempted to roll your eyes when you hear that – especially when dealing with actual tragedy and real sickness. But there’s also a reason Facebook is 50 per cent positivity memes – because it’s the little things that get us through. When dealing with grief, pain and the various struggles of illness and loss, it’s OK to laugh.

“Grief is complicated. There is no one way to experience grief. Feelings, thoughts, reactions, and challenges related to grief are very personal,” notes the Canadian Mental Health Association. So it’s not out of the ordinary to engage in gallows humour to ease tension, lighten the mood or simply invent an excuse to laugh when facing tough times, be they a major loss or chronic pain. (Comedian Tig Notaro famously revealed her stage two breast cancer diagnosis – the day she received it – during a stand-up set. Comics are known for being funny in the face of great personal struggles.)

A good laugh increases oxygen flow, reduces blood pressure, and releases your emotions. It stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles and releases endorphins. It activates your stress response, relaxing you. And it relieves pain. Humour is, in fact, a healer.

Children and young people with major illnesses that require long hospital stays or physically tough treatments like chemotherapy benefit from distractions in the form of games, balloons and colouring. At Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children there’s a well-rounded Creative Arts Therapy program featuring music therapy, for “supporting children who are having difficulty coping, exhibiting concerning behaviours (withdrawn or acting out), and those who are unable to communicate via other outlets.”

In fact, many hospitals across North America offer clown care, specially trained professionals with the goal of lifting patient spirits through humour. At Halifax’s IWK Health Centre, the resident clown is Buddington, who on his visits will “play games and blow bubbles and sing songs and make things with stuff and do magic tricks together. My friends also help me count numbers and help me remember my colours and ABCDs, and teach me about all kinds of stuff at the IWK that I don’t understand,” making it an interactive, engaging experience that’s both educational and entertaining.

If you don’t have easy access to a clown, but you still think you’d benefit from a guffaw or two, you could try laughter yoga. There are a few teachers in Halifax, offering students a way to laugh through mental, emotional and physical stress. (And when it comes to stress relief, a good workout never hurts either.)

While humour is all about content, timing and delivery – and all of those things can feel inappropriate or out of place in a hospital room, funeral home or doctor’s office – it’s truly an entirely appropriate reaction.

Your turn: Share how humour has helped you through a tough time in the comment section below.

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