Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Best Medicine for Caregivers

About 28 percent of the U.S. population serves as unpaid caregivers for someone, generally a relative.  That figure is from a 2010 report by Emblem Health and the National Alliance for Caregiving.  I find that to be a shockingly high figure.

Debbie Wilburn wrote a piece in the Gainesville Times about this, pointing out that the stress of being a caregiver can make for an exhausting, even humorless life.  To counter that, she suggests deliberate use of humor.

I'll use any excuse to laugh, but, until I looked into Debbie's comments, I didn't realize what good medicine laughter actually is.  Here's some information from the  Mayo Clinic:

  • Laughter stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles.
  • It increased the endorphins released by your brain.
  • A big laugh fires and then cools down your stress response, increasing relaxation.
  • Laughter improves your immune system.
  • It causes the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
About.com's article on Stress Management and Laughter says laughing reduced the level of the stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), dopamine and growth hormone.  Laughter as a stress management tool is also "free, convenient and beneficial."

So fire up that DVR and record your favorite funny shows. Buy a bunch of funny books. And take a laughter break if you haven't laughed hard by 5 p.m.  About a third of the U.S. population needs it!

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