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Managing nurse stress burnout with laughter yoga

Nurses in a hospital ward, the image is blurred, suggesting rushing.

While nursing has one of the highest burnout rates of all professions, recent evidence-based research indicates laughter yoga is an effective tool in managing nurse stress levels.

By the nature of their profession, nurses are caring, giving, and supporting. Yet those qualities can work against them too.

What causes workplace stress for nurses

Chronic stress among nursing professionals may be a result of:

  • shift changes
  • long work hours
  • understaffing
  • lack of support or respectful relationships in the workplace
  • occupational violence…

And there’s COVID-19: concerns of infection, concerns about personal protective equipment (PPE), dealing with deaths, and the frustrations that come with all of the above and more.

Not surprisingly, the Australian College of Nursing has recognised that nurses in the state of Victoria specifically are tired, worried, and weary.

What is burnout?

Burnout is not just a bad day. It’s the culmination of chronic workplace stress that’s not been successfully managed — the World Health Organisation’s own words.

How burnout impacts an organisation

Job burnout impacts the hospital, clinic, community health centre, aged care centre – wherever nurses impacted are employed. The impact of burnout on an organisation can be costly. It’s felt by way of reduced work performance, lower morale, greater absenteeism, higher staff turnover and ongoing recruitment of new staff.

What research says about managing nurse stress and burnout

Mindfulness is a tool well-known to help positively counter stress. And so is laughter. In particular laughter yoga. No joke!

The International Journal of Nursing recently published results of a study on the effectiveness of laughter yoga therapy on burnout among nurses.

These health professionals worked in mental health and addiction treatment, specialisations known to have even higher stress and burnout rates.

Those in the experimental group attended laughter yoga a couple of time a week over three months: the control group didn’t.

Laughter yoga is a unique exercise developed by an Indian physician and his yogi wife more than 25 years ago. It borrows breathing techniques from yoga, blending these with a series of playful simulated laughter exercises, sustained for about 20 minutes, wrapped up with a grounded meditation. It has nothing to do with jokes and comedy and everything to do with better breathing and less stress. Read more about what laughter yoga is.

The research results showed all dimensions of burnout—emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, and personal accomplishment—significantly reduced.

“Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh,” the research authors wrote.

Laughter yoga, they concluded, was a safe, accessible, inexpensive, and beneficial therapeutic intervention to address burnout.

This study further support previous research on the effect of laughter yoga on general health among nursing students that found the practice had a positive effect on students’ general health and improved sleep, as well as lowering signs of anxiety and depression.

5 reasons to love laughter yoga in a workplace

As a professional laughter yoga facilitator, I know the benefits of this practice are many and varied, but the top 5 can be summarised as:

  1. Uplifting — laughter yoga banishes blues and allays anxieties as the body releases natural feel-good chemicals.
  2. Healing — laughter yoga helps reduce stress and high blood pressure, and it’s good for the immune system too.
  3. Connecting — laughter yoga promotes stronger social bonding.
  4. Performance-boosting — laughter yoga exercises can increase net supply of oxygen to the body and brain, helping performance and efficiency.
  5. Coping — laughter yoga teaches us to better handle challenges and situations that can be incredibly hard and confronting.

How you can embrace laughter skills into your work day

Yes, I provide workplace laughter wellbeing sessions—in-person and, since COVID hit, online—as well as laughter yoga leader training.

The evidence is there: laughter works as a tool to minimise stress and burnout, and you don’t need comedy to make it happen.

As the co-founder of laughter yoga, physician Dr Madan Kataria once said to me:

“I found little laughter in medicine but much medicine in laughter.”

Let’s talk about bringing joyful techniques into your workplace to reduce stress and burnout, creating more positive productive and healthier environments to work in.

© 2021 Heather Joy Campbell

HeatherJoy Campbell, Brisbane-based professional laughter wellbeing facilitator and trainer, founded The Happydemic long before ‘pandemic’ became a word in everyone’s vocabulary. She’s dedicated to sharing laughter yoga and positive psychology practices in an effort to create mentally resilient individuals, workplace teams and communities, bound together with kindness and joy.