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Don’t Be Too Quick to Dismiss Dark Humor

Dark humor: you see it in movies, on TV and you even use it to joke around with close friends. But dark humor when going through palliative care? Why not? It can help break the tension and lead to a positive spin on the situation, experts say. So if you’re facing a chronic illness in Alameda County and elsewhere, or a loved one is, don’t be too quick to dismiss using dark humor to relieve tension. Palliative care, while not quite as advanced as end of life care, is no doubt stressful as you grapple with a serious illness that may be cured or may not. Palliative care, in a  nutshell, means comforting someone while trying to manage troubling symptoms and ensuring the best quality of life possible.

If you are someone who uses and appreciates humor in all its many forms, dark humor could be a source of comfort for you. You’re dealing with enough, from chronic pain and nausea to constipation and shortness of breath. It stands to reason that a little humor — dark and otherwise — can lighten up the every-day doldrums of dealing with a serious illness. That said, you have to know your audience. If your loved one is sensitive to dark humor and takes offense, refrain from using it. But if you or your loved one uses humor as a rule to balance out the negatives in life, well, then have at it! Here’s why it can be helpful.

Laughter Can Help

According to a study by the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care appearing in Psychology Today, humor was present in 85 percent of nurse-based visits, with 70 percent of that humor being initiated by the patient. No, there’s nothing funny about dying, but the situations that go on before and after can present opportunities for laughter. Indeed, a huge part of being able to cope with life (and death) is being able to use humor as a buffer between the person, his or her family members, and friends — and the side effects of stress. In short, humor can make a difficult situation just a tiny bit more bearable.

Humor and laughter are a natural part of human interactions, points out ResearchGate. But chronic or terminal illness is rife with fear, anxiety, and sadness. Palliative care not only emphasizes the quality of life but also the importance of human relationships. It’s in this context that humor finds its way as a part of authentic one-on-one connectedness.

What is Dark Humor?

So, a wisecrack joke here and there is not out of anyone’s reach, certainly. We all know how some quick wit or a sarcastic joke can lift us up. But dark humor is a little different, and it’s not for everyone. It may seem morbid to some. But in many cases, it can relieve stress and tension by taking the focus off the illness and prognosis, just for a little while, to make way for a good belly laugh.

Also known as black comedy, morbid humor, or gallows humor, dark humor is a comedy style whose aim is to make light of subject matter that is perceived as taboo, especially subject matter that’s typically considered serious or painful to talk about — not the least of which is pain and death. Gallows humor happens between patients and their family and friends, but also between caregivers, nurses, and doctors. It’s a way of coping with the harsh reality of violence, disease, death, and suffering, and is a normal part of the process.

Joking about death doesn’t lessen its impact or its outcome, but it can alleviate pressure at the moment. Certainly, gallows humor isn’t a feel-good type of humor that everyone can appreciate. It’s not a knock-knock joke or a passing comment or a common joke that can be appreciated by everyone equally. That’s why you have to know your audience and use it wisely. The goal isn’t to offend, it’s to lighten such a dark moment that would otherwise consume you.

Health Benefits of Laughter

It’s no secret that laughter has long been a distraction technique that’s actually beneficial to our health. In fact, research shows that laughter increases pain tolerance. When you laugh — really laugh, from the belly and not just a chuckle — your body starts to release endorphins, which are hormones that relieve stress, pain, and even muscle tension.

The “science of humor” is a young field, but research from the past three decades suggests the mechanisms through which humor positively impacts health can alleviate not only pain but also strengthen immune function, boost mood, moderate stress, dissociate from distress and improve interpersonal relationships. So the next time you feel a dark joke coming on, don’t be too quick to dismiss it!

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

Dark humor and humor, in general, are so important during palliative care. It gives hope, lifts moods, and it lightens outlooks. To learn more about our palliative care program, contact us at 888-978-1306.