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This site is for student nurses or nurses starting out. Letters to a Young Nurse are blog posts written like letters to help you find your way and make your journey as a nurse less difficult. 



Updated: Oct 12, 2023

My co-workers love to play. Our workplace can be depressing, gloomy and demoralizing. When you lock people up and take away their freedom to do what they want, they tend to take out their pain on those there to help them. Every shift, day after day, week after week, month after month brings about a daily barrage of swear words and expletives thrown at us. How does one rise above those assaults to one's self-esteem? You find the humor in the situation, and you learn how to play.

A group of researchers looked at the effect of play on a chronic condition like diabetes in adult couples over 65 years of age. Van Vleet, Helgeson, & Berg (2019) say,

"We define play as an activity performed with a goal of amusement/fun; an enthusiastic, in-the-moment attitude; and a high degree of interaction either with the activity, itself, or with interaction partners. First, play is likely to generate high levels of positive affect because it is an intensely positive experience. Second, play should provide a momentary reprieve from one’s everyday stressors and responsibilities, thereby reducing stress. Third, play is thought to serve a bonding function between partners, and so partners may feel more comfortable opening up to each other after participating in a shared play activity. Play also provides a safe context (free from negativity and seriousness) in which partners can relate to each other, express themselves, and become more adept at reading each other’s nonverbal and verbal expressions.

Dachner Keltner at the Greater Good Science Center says, "when we laugh, we get a dose of endorphins. Our parasympathetic nervous system kicks in action, helping with things like stress and anxiety. And probably most importantly, shared laughter brings us together."

Why is play important? It brings joy. You cannot cry when you are laughing. It reduces stress by showing us that we are not alone in this difficulty called life. It binds us to one another and allows us to be vulnerable with each other, thereby building a foundation of trust. If you cannot trust your "partner" then who in the world can you trust? Trust allows us to open up and share our concerns with each other. Play also creates a safe environment to be ourselves.

One of my co-workers plays by hiding objects in other people's backpacks and purses. Some of these objects have been moldy sandwiches, rotten eggs, and tiny toys in the shape of a penis. Then the victim has to find a way to get it back in her backpack without getting caught. It is teaching all of us that work this shift to be in the moment and watch everything. But especially when that nurse is around! Thinking about how to hide, and what to hide, takes you out of the negativity of the environment around you. Play, by hiding and finding the objects, builds a team with a unified mission.

No matter where you work, or the age or demographics of the patient population, you will always need to learn how to "play with others" to be successful as a nurse. If you cannot find moments of joy in your day, I guarantee this, you won't keep going back. Or you will find a place where there are opportunities for moments of joy. Nursing is hard. We are with people on the worst days of their lives. We say goodbye to strangers as they pass from this world to whatever you believe is next. We get to be with people who can be mean and nasty and happy and pleasant. And through it all we have to be objective, nonjudgmental and professional. Laughing, playing, and humor are the things that keeps us coming back. And they are exactly what is needed to help build a cohesive team.

There is an activity that you can do to increase your sense of humor. It comes from the Greater Good Science Center in Berkely, CA.

  1. Take 10 minutes a day for at least a week to write down 3 of the funniest moments you experienced throughout the day.

  2. Write down why you think these funny moments happened.

  3. Remember to write down as much detail about the moment as possible. These funny moments do not have to be of major importance.

Share what you learned here.

BTW: the answer to the riddle is Umpire and the Catcher both wear masks at home plate in a baseball game.

Keltner, D. (2023, August 17). Why humor matters for happiness (the science of happiness podcast). Greater Good.

Van Vleet, M., Helgeson, V. S., & Berg, C. A. (2019). The importance of having fun: Daily play among adults with type 1 diabetes. Journal of social and personal relationships, 36(11-12), 3695–3710.

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