Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

Laughter really is among the best medicines, says Air Force nurse

Image of Military personnel laughing. Click to open a larger version of the image. Air Force 1st Lt. Nick Wendt, 492nd Fighter Squadron weapon systems officer, laughs after exiting an aircraft at Łask Air Base, Poland, April 23 (Photo by: Air Force Senior Airman Madeline Herzog).

Recommended Content:

| Stress | Nursing in the Military Health System

Most people have heard the phrase "laughter is the best medicine," but Air Force Col. Jacqueline Killian has the scientific proof to back it up.

Killian, a senior nurse scientist for the 711th Human Performance Wing, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, focused her 2015 Ph.D. research at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland on using laughter yoga as an intervention to mitigate the effects of stress on students at USU.

Laughter yoga, she said, is not what people may think of when they think of traditional yoga. Laughter yoga, popularized by Dr. Madan Kataria in the 1990s and early 2000s, is a combination of laughter exercises interspersed with pranayama, or the practice of breath control in yoga.

"The yogic aspect doesn't have to do with yoga poses, it has to do with yogic breathing," Killian said.

Killian monitored the students, all military officers, and graduate students from programs throughout USU, before, during, and after the introduction of laughter yoga, and the results spoke, or perhaps laughed, for themselves.

"I asked participants before, at the two-week mark, and one month out about their perceived stress levels and resilience," said Killian. "I also used the Positive and Negative Affect scale and monitored for depression and anxiety."

The Positive and Negative Affect Schedule is one of the most widely used scales to measure mood or emotion. The scale is comprised of 20 items, with 10 items measuring positive affect (e.g., excited, inspired) and 10 items measuring negative affect (e.g., upset, afraid). Each item is rated on a five-point scale, ranging from 1 (very slightly or not at all) to 5 (extremely), to measure the extent to which the affect has been experienced over a specific time.

She also asked the participants open-ended questions to find out what they thought may be changing because of the laughter yoga. That was the most surprising part for her.

"Some of them reported that they were sleeping better, that they were drinking less alcohol or caffeine, or that they were exercising more," Killian said. "Some reported that family members or colleagues even commented about how much better their attitude was or how much happier they seemed. It was almost like participating in the laughter yoga gave them permission to take care of themselves better."

Among the other results the participants reported were decreased stress levels and increased resilience.

"Over time, once we analyzed the data, we found that just participating in laughter yoga four times, twice a week for two weeks, actually did decrease their perceived stress levels and their negative affect, and it improved their resilience scores and their positive affect, said Killian.

Military personnel laughing
Air Force Staff Sgt. David Brown, 15th Air Support Operations Squadron joint terminal attack controller, laughs after finishing a speed drill during Draco Spear at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia in August 2018 (Photo by: Air Force Senior Airman Janiqua Robinson).

Killian explained that laughter has the dual benefits of being free and easy. It also isn't time-consuming.

"Laughter is a super easy thing to do. We can all laugh, but I think we get stuck focusing on lists of things we have to do, bills we have to pay, tasks that are required at work. We have this constant list of things in our minds that don't allow our minds to rest," she said. "If we just took a minute to try to laugh, even if you're fake laughing, it engages the diaphragm, which is where our vagus nerve sits."

This, she said, is where the science of laughing and its health benefits come into play.

"The vagus nerve activates your parasympathetic nervous system, the 'rest and digest' part of your nervous system, which is the opposite of the 'fight or flight' part of your nervous system so, essentially, you're telling your body to relax when you laugh," said Killian. "If you do that once or twice a day, share a laugh with a friend or a coworker, you immediately feel a sensation of relaxation in your body, whether you're conscious of it or not. It counteracts the chronic stress response."

That means there’s a physiological reason that you feel better when you laugh.

"It's good for your respiratory system, your autonomic nervous system and your mind," Killian said.

Not only is laughter free and easy, Killian said, but it also gets easier with time.

"The great thing about laughing is the more we do it, the easier it is to do," she said.

As National Nurses Week comes to close, Killian said stress management, including using laughter, is extremely important for nurses.

"We do what we can to try to get health care staff to take a little bit of time for self-care and to use their leave so they can recharge their batteries, so to speak, so they can get the rest that is needed, and to spend time with family," she said. "Hopefully now, with vaccination numbers increasing and the hospitalization rate decreasing, we can try to give nurses, health care workers and support personnel some time back to recover."

She said health care, especially within the military, has the potential to be even more stressful because of the obligation that providers feel they have to others.

"As military health care providers, we're programmed to take care of others, almost to our own detriment. Sometimes, we don't take time to take care of ourselves," said Killian. "Nurses Week is a time when we can appreciate the work that nurses and medical technicians do for our communities and remind them that we appreciate them, and we want them to take care of themselves. They are a limited and extremely valuable resource that we celebrate this month.

You also may be interested in...

1020.01

Policy

Reasonable Accommodations

  • Identification #: 1020.01
  • Date: 11/2/2020
  • Type: Administrative Instructions
  • Topics: Disability Evaluation

6025.01

Policy

Primary Care Behavioral Health (PCBH) Standards

6490.02

Policy

Behavioral Health (BH) Treatment and Outcomes Monitoring

  • Identification #: 6490.02
  • Date: 7/12/2018
  • Type: DHA Procedural Instruction
  • Topics: Substance Abuse

DoD Instruction 6490.10: Continuity of Behavioral Health Care for Transferring and Transitioning Service Members

Policy

In accordance with the authority in Reference (a), this Instruction establishes policy for the Military Departments, assigns responsibilities, and prescribes guidelines for establishment of Military Department policy and procedures to ensure continuity of behavioral health (BH) care at the losing and gaining installations when Service members transition from one health care provider (HCP) to another when transferring to a new duty station or transitioning out of the Service.

  • Identification #: DoD Instruction 6490.10
  • Date: 10/28/2015
  • Type: Instructions
  • Topics: N/A

DoD Instruction 6490.15: Integration of Behavioral Health Personnel (BHP) Services Into Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH) Primary Care and Other Primary Care Service Settings

Policy

This instruction establishes policy, assigns responsibilities, and prescribes procedures for attainment of inter-Service standards for developing, initiating, and maintaining adult behavioral health services in primary care.

  • Identification #: DoD Instruction 6490.15
  • Date: 11/20/2014
  • Type: Instructions
  • Topics: N/A

DoD Instruction 6490.12: Mental Health Assessments for Service Members Deployed in Connection with a Contingency Operation

Policy

This instruction establishes the policy for person-to-person deployment mental health assessments for each member of the Military Services deployed in connection with a contingency operation according to Section 1074m of Title 10, United States Code (Reference (b)).

  • Identification #: DoD Instruction 6490.12
  • Date: 10/2/2013
  • Type: Instructions
  • Topics: N/A

DoD Instruction 6490.05: Maintenance of Psychological Health in Military Operations

Policy

This instruction establishes policy and assigns responsibilities in accordance with References (c), (d), and (e) for developing combat and operational stress control (COSC) programs within the Military Departments, the Combatant Commands, and joint Service operations.

  • Identification #: DoD Instruction 6490.05
  • Date: 10/2/2013
  • Type: Instructions
  • Topics: N/A

DoD Instruction 6490.04: Mental Health Evaluations of Members of the Military Services

Policy

Reissues DoD Instruction 6490.4 (Reference (b)), establishing policy, assigning responsibilities, and prescribing procedures for the referral, evaluation, treatment, and medical and command management of Service members who may require assessment for mental health issues, psychiatric hospitalization, and risk of imminent or potential danger to self or others.

  • Identification #: DoD Instruction 6490.04
  • Date: 4/3/2013
  • Type: Instructions
  • Topics: N/A

Waiver of Restrictive Licensure and Privileging Procedures to Facilitate the Expansion of Telemedicine Services in the Military Health System 12-010

Policy

In order to facilitate the expansion of telemedicine services in the Military Health System, this memorandum waives selective provisions of Department of Defense 602S.13-R, "Clinical Quality Assurance in the Military Health System," June 11 , 2004. This waiver is conditioned on the specific provisions of this memorandum, and shall remain in effect, unless modified or revoked, until the cancellation and reissuance of DoD 602S.13-R, or the issuance of a Department of Defense Instruction for or including telemedicine.

  • Identification #: 12-010
  • Date: 12/21/2012
  • Type: Memorandums
  • Topics: Technology

Planning for the Reform of the Governance of the Military Health System

Policy
  • Identification #: N/A
  • Date: 3/2/2012
  • Type: Guidelines
  • Topics: N/A

DoD Instruction 6490.08: Command Notification Requirements to Dispel Stigma in Providing Mental Health Care to Service Members

Policy

This instruction provides guidance for balance between patient confidentiality rights and the commander’s right to know for operation and risk management decisions.

  • Identification #: DoD Instruction 6490.08
  • Date: 8/17/2011
  • Type: Instructions
  • Topics: N/A

Mental Health Assessments for Members of the Armed Forces Deployed in Connection with a Contingency Operation

Policy

Policy Guidance for Deployment-Limiting Psychiatric Conditions and Medications

Policy

This policy provides guidance on deployment and continued service in a deployed environment for military personnel who experience psychiatric disorders and/or who are prescribed psychotropic medication.

HA 97-017: Policy for Post-Deployment Mental Health Screening in the Bosnian Theater

Policy

This memo describes a change in procedure for medical surveillance of U.S. forces deploying to Bosnia.

Showing results 1 - 14 Page 1 of 1

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.