Family caregivers' narratives of coping with chronic stress : is anything funny?
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This dissertation is a qualitative study of six daughter-caregivers' narratives of their experiences in caring for their mothers who were afflicted with a progressive dementia such as Alzheimer's disease. Many correlational and experimental studies have attempted to show whether humor can be utilized to reduce stress, or promote wellbeing. Results are mixed. This outcome is due in part to the ways different kinds of humor may function in different circumstances for different individuals. Few studies have analyzed directly how humor may function in circumstances where it is generated in a natural context that is potentially threatening to highly relevant personal values. The family caregiving context provides a setting for generating narratives about how individuals cope with such circumstances. This study analyzes six caregiver narratives in terms of personal problem-solving processes and emotion regulation under conditions of chronic stress. This study addresses how caregiver-humor may function in this context. These caregivers exhibited and reported a variety of non-humorous coping strategies such as problem-solving to change aspects of the situation where appropriate. They evaluated and changed thoughts, feelings, and attitudes to develop new meaning, to find benefits, and to develop more integrated frames of reference for meeting caregiving challenges. Caregiver humor was embedded in this natural problem-solving process. This study extends support for the contentions from prior research and theory that humor can, under certain conditions, support stress relief and the development of attitudes that are conducive to promoting increased well-being in situations that seriously challenge or threaten valued outcomes. The personal experience narratives of these participants provide evidence that supports many humor theories and extends the range of their application. Participants utilized humor in ways that confront and to some extent resolve the incongruities of caregiving by regulating emotion and motivation, and by celebrating mastery and adaptation to life's challenges. The data support the proposition that, specifically, humor may diminish the impact of negative affect, and boost the motive power of positive affect in problem-solving processes.