It IS a Laughing Matter: Using Humor to Cope with Kidney Disease and Dialysis

This blog post was made by Jeff Parke on January 10, 2019.
It IS a Laughing Matter: Using Humor to Cope with Kidney Disease and Dialysis

And we should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. And we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh. — Friedrich Nietzsche

Why do people use humor in medical encounters? A diagnosis of ESRD is incredibly stressful, and dialysis treatments are arduous. Humor may help to ease our pain, show the human side of our health care teams, and help everyone cope. Whether we use humor to lighten the mood of a difficult consultation with our physicians, or health care workers use it to help cheer each other through the day, humor and laughter can be valuable tools for us.

We all know that ESRD is no laughing matter, but it is through laughter that we are able to cope with the bad stuff. Humor, and laughter have a way of helping us to develop solidarity, build community and empower ourselves in a situation where we can otherwise feel powerless. While there are some conflicting theories regarding laughter and healing, most of us would agree that laughter is a natural stress-reducer and symptom-reliever that has been related to improved health, increased life expectancy, and overall well-being. Whether you get a deep belly laugh from watching a cat videos on YouTube, or listening to a 7 year old explain what life is—it’s all good; laughter does something to us. Something positive.

According to an article in Psychology Today by Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, there is now therapy called Humor, and it is both complementary and becoming mainstream medicine. Research on the positive effect of humor on health and perceptions of wellness has helped to identify why laughter helps us cope. Since the late 1980s, a number of studies have supported the idea that laughter stimulates our immune systems and counteracts the effects of stress hormones, although results are mixed about exactly how. In brief, there’s agreement that laughter is another way to arrive at the relaxation response.

But then there’s this question—what if nothing seems very funny and you can’t find anything to laugh about? Apparently, we humans have another shot at getting laughter’s benefits without relying on Netflix streaming the next episode of Parks and Recreation. We can actually “fake it ‘til we make it”: just pretending to chuckle, giggle, and snort starts the process of full-blown laughter. So, put down your cell phone, take a break from jumping to your next web destination, and just find time to laugh.

Several scientific studies have linked laughter to positive effects on our bodies. For example, laughter can:

  • Reduce pain

  • Improve blood vessel function

  • Release chemicals that relax our muscles and produce feelings of pleasure

  • Stimulate our immune systems.

Laughter also appears to have positive effects on our minds: it may improve our memories and problem-solving abilities, and spur creativity. Perhaps the greatest benefit of laughter, though, is its power to boost our mood and feelings of wellbeing. Laughter can provide a sense of perspective when we are faced with challenging circumstances and help us release pent-up emotions. It also helps reduce depression and anxiety and increases self-esteem, energy, resilience, and hope.  Anyone who has shared a laugh with friends and family during a potentially awkward or tense time knows, humor can lighten a mood and bring people together like nothing else.

In summary, laughter has the power to create an important sense of familiarity and trust between people, strengthening relationships and laying a foundation for more serious discussions in the future. And this is true for friends and family as well as doctors, nurses, and other medical staff.


  1. Photos by Pexels

  2. Folkman, S., & Lazarus, R. S. (1988). Coping as a Mediator of Emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology – Google Scholar

  3. Francis, L. E. (1994). Laughter, the best mediation: Humor as emotion management in interaction. Symbolic Interaction Google Scholar


  • Debra Null

    Jan 11, 2019 12:47 AM

    Thanks for a great reminder. I love to laugh and do find it improves my state of being in all aspects. At last month's clinic appointment, my room was full of nurses, a dietician, a social worker and my nephrologist. My neph was teasing me about chocolate. He told me I could just mix renvela with Hershey's chocolate syrup and pour it on everything. It was one of those "you had to be there" moments. But everyone in the room was laughing so hard we had tears in our eyes. One of the reasons I love my neph.
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