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Family Ties: Humor can help caregivers laugh off their stress
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A 2010 report by Emblem Health and National Alliance for Caregiving indicates that roughly 29 percent of the U.S. population serves in an unpaid caregiver capacity. Seven in 10 of these caregivers are caring for someone who is 50 years of age or older. More than half of caregivers are relatively young, between the ages of 18 and 49 years. The vast majority is related to the recipient; 36 percent care for a parent.

The stress and strain of taking care of someone can make for a tiring and emotionally draining experience for the caregiver. Caregivers are at risk not only for physical problems, but also for burnout and stress-related illnesses. It may seem inappropriate to discuss laughter and humor in serious caregiving situations, but studies have shown that finding humor in everyday situations actually helps reduce stress.

Research has shown that caregivers are more likely to suffer from anxiety, bouts of depression and physical illness. The stress and isolation often encountered by the caregiver can lead to feelings of resentment, anger and grief. Using your sense of humor is one of the best methods for reducing risks and helping you have a healthier life (and it's free).

How do laughter and humor help? Finding the humor in everyday situations helps you ease tensions, get control and reduce embarrassment in awkward moments. When you laugh, your body relaxes and tension decreases. The combination of laughter and relaxation may give the caregiver relief from headaches, backaches, insomnia and panic attacks.

When you laugh, your whole body is involved. Laughter stimulates your heart and digestion rate and benefits the entire cardiovascular system because of increased oxygen in the blood stream.

It may be difficult to find much to laugh about, especially if your care receiver is a difficult patient. It's easy to get frustrated, but using your sense of humor can turn many difficult situations around and make you a better companion. Bill Cosby once said, "If you can find humor in it, you can survive it."

So how should you get started if you're struggling with your sense of humor?

n Lighten up. Find something to laugh at, no matter how serious the situation. Change the "disasters" into something funny.

n Smile! A smile not only helps others feel better, but also helps you feel better.

n Look for the funny side no matter how painful the situation may be.

n Keep a humor journal and refer to it when you need a lift.

n Look for humor in stressful situations.

Above all, start laughing. The sooner you begin, the sooner you'll start to feel better.

Source: Ohio State University Extension, Allen County.

Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Her Family Ties column appears in Sunday Life on the first Sunday of each month and on Contact: 770-535-8290.

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