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Humor as an Antidote for Caregiver Stress

Emotional concerns and family tensions create a far greater problem for caregivers than the tasks they perform for the people they look after. Researchers discover caregivers cope with the stress of taking care of older individuals with humor and the realization that other people are worst off than them.

The finding that emotional stress rather than physical needs, are the key concerns for people caring for someone over 75 is the topic of the research presented in the November Journal of Clinical Nursing.

Humor as an Antidote for Caregiver StressNurse researcher Alison Jarvis from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, explored the caring experiences of 172 caregivers. She discovered that although the emotional consequences and family tensions were a primary concern, most health and social care professionals focus purely on practical issues, when they should be dealing with caregivers in a more holistic way.

“Our study shows that caregivers get satisfaction from the quality of care they provide and use humor and practical solutions to resolve problems” says Ms Jarvis. “But many feel angry about their situation and find it hard to cope with the actual and potential family tensions created by their caring role.”

79 percent found humor helpful and 74 percent felt they were better off than others. Three-quarters of caregivers also found it helpful to keep some free time for themselves, maintain interests outside caring and keep the person they cared for as active as possible.

Two-thirds (67 percent) said that they tried to get as much help as they could from professionals and service providers, but only two percent advocated attending a self-help group.

16 percent found relaxation and meditation techniques helpful.

Questionnaires were sent to caregivers identified as part of a larger survey carried out in a Scottish practice – which comprises five family doctors and 5,000 registered adults aged 16 or over.

69 percent of patients took part in the initial screening survey and 70 percent of patients who said they cared for someone aged 75 or over took part in the latest study.

Key findings include:

  • About a third of respondents said that caring put a strain on family relationships (34 percent), that the person they cared for could be difficult (33 percent) and that caring restricted their social life (32 percent).
  • More than one in five (22 percent) felt angry about their situation and 30 per cent said that their emotional well-being had suffered as a result of caring.
  • However eight out of ten people did get satisfaction from seeing the person they cared for happy or from doing something that gave their loved one pleasure. They also felt that it was important to maintain the dignity of the person they cared for and felt it was one way of expressing their love for them.
  • Just under a third (32 percent) said caring had helped them to grow as a person, 13 percent said it gave their life purpose and 16 percent said it had given them the chance to widen their interests and contacts.

“This study shows that it is the invisible consequences of care giving, such as family tensions and lack of time, that seem to be most stressful, even at an early stage” says Ms Jarvis. “These chronic stress factors may accumulate and the last stressor, which may appear to be relatively minor, could trigger a crisis.

“Professionals have a tendency to see solutions to problems in purely practical terms and avoid complex or painful emotional issues, despite talking about “needs led” rather than “service led” assessments.

“They need to develop a better understanding of the often invisible difficulties that caregivers face and how they really feel about their role. This will help them to understand why some people appear to manage the stresses of caring while others struggle with less demanding loads.”

Source: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Humor as an Antidote for Caregiver Stress

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Humor as an Antidote for Caregiver Stress. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 21, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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