Humor and Chronic Kidney Disease: How Humor Helps

Illness serves up worry and stress on our already crowded mental plates. Being diagnosed with chronic kidney disease (CKD) can make you feel as if you have no control over your health. Dealing with changes in your body, losing kidney function, getting an access, the dialysis diet and fitting in doctor and dialysis appointments can trigger resentment and anger. Sometimes these negative emotions can overwhelm and lead to an unhealthy mental state that can affect how your body responds to dialysis and other treatments for end stage renal disease (ESRD).

While it is sometimes difficult to believe, we do have a choice in how we feel. This choice gives us some amount of control over any situation. It can take a huge effort to feel happy and grateful when we believe our circumstances warrant otherwise, especially for those who have recently found out they have kidney disease or must begin dialysis. However, laughter and a sense of humor can help relieve some stress and add lightheartedness to even the most challenging moments.  

In late 2006, The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine reported that people with severe diseases, such as chronic kidney disease, have better survival chances if they have a sense of humor and can laugh easily. The study was performed by scientists from the Nor­we­gian University of Sci­ence and St. Olav’s Hos­pi­tal in Trond­heim, Nor­way on people with end stage renal disease who were on dialysis. According to the results, people who scored higher on having a sense of humor increased their odds for survival by about 31 percent.

Many doctors and health care professionals recognize the benefits of humor in their dialysis patients. While it is understandable for people to be nervous for their first few dialysis sessions, once patients start feeling better physically and get used to the dialysis routine, it becomes easier for them to lighten up. Many renal dietitians will offer education in the form of entertaining games such as Bingo. The camaraderie that develops between dialysis patients and the health care professionals at the dialysis center can be a source of humor.

Some people with kidney disease and those on dialysis find creative outlets to share with others. Peter Quaife, former bassist for the English rock band The Kinks, draws a comic called The Lighter Side of Dialysis. He started drawing as a way to keep him occupied during his dialysis sessions and transformed his drawings into an ongoing comic series. He channeled his frustrations with his kidney condition and treatment into something humorous and entertaining, and he has brought smiles and needed laughs to other people who are on dialysis.

Humor and laughter can be positive distractions from stressful situations and can diffuse some of the negative emotions. A hearty laugh can lighten a mood for several minutes or several hours. While everyone has their own idea of what is funny, being able to find humor in any situation can help us deal with anything life throws at us.

Some days it can be difficult to find anything to laugh about, but when you do, the rewards are great. Humor is a gift you give yourself and others. There are many things in life that need to be taken seriously, such as watching your dialysis diet, going to your dialysis treatments for the full time and listening to your health care team. But humor can be serious business, too, especially when it is used as an effective therapy for your physical and mental health.

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