This is real life. Yet another sewer back up. Another friend in trouble. More financial stressors. A child going through a difficult time. Something’s up in your body and it hurts. Dealing with disingenuous people. Ugh. Sometimes life sucks and you pick up joy anyways.
Should we wait until life is calm and perfectly predictable to live with joy?
Do we permit life circumstances to control our every thought and emotion?
Why do other people get to push our buttons and control our moods and behavior?
We can decide, that whether life is easy breezy or downright horrible, to pick up joy and wear it like a garment. To shift our thoughts and remind ourselves that though life feels rocky right now and we are walking through some unknowns, that sometimes life sucks and you pick up joy anyways.
When we choose to pick up joy we are more easily able to identify the gifts of today: we have good, albeit simple food to feed our family. We cannot make life perfect for our friend but we can love them and offer words of encouragement and maybe some homemade soup. We have walked through financial stressors before and will come out of this season too, heart and mind intact. This challenging circumstance for our child permits us to come alongside and demonstrate our love and support for him/her in tangible ways. We have access to healthcare and fresh air and legs that permit us to get out for a walk or to dance with our child in the kitchen.
And when we walk through hard times we come up against the very necessary and amazing opportunity to practice resilience, to put our self-care skills into action. To be reminded of the powerful truth that we get to decide who we are and how we choose to be in the world.
I encourage you to go back and reread that sentence again.
Does this seem silly or trivial to you? Like I am downplaying all your pain or the reality of your situation? Because I assure you, mindset matters. Moving out from a victim mentality matters. Practicing resilience matters. I have lived a near lifetime of chronic fear and anxiety and I have lived with deeply rooted joy. An unshakeable rootedness that anchors me in the storm. I prefer the latter.
Oh, it is not easy. My husband hears the stress in my voice and those creases between my eyes seem a little deeper today. My jaw hurts because I was clenching all night; I must remember my splint tonight. My right arm and joints have flared up and hurt as they do when I’m shifting into a stress state. But I choose to pick up joy. And so can you.
But look, I get it. Sometimes it is easy to tell yourself to calm down, that all is well, but your body has other ideas. No matter how much you will yourself to chill out your bossy brain takes over and starts yelling – loudly – all manner of fearful and anxious thoughts and your traitorous body follows like a hapless little puppy.
So what are some habits we can practice – some practical tips – for these challenging seasons?
- Do The Work. When I was going through a really difficult time years back my psychologist recommended Byron Katie’s book Loving What Is (affiliate link). I completely disagreed with some of her philosophy yet found parts of it extremely helpful in shifting my thoughts to hope from despair. Follow the link to understand the process and for the free worksheets.
- Pause and just breathe. Don’t skip over this. If you’re stressed out, chances are you are forgetting to breathe or perhaps breathing too quickly. Pull out your favorite essential oil and set a timer on your phone to remind you to physically pause a few times a day, ground your body, and take some slow, calming, deep breaths.
- Reach out for comfort or social support. A text or phone call. A long hug from your partner (there is danger during times like these that you and your partner pull away from each other rather than pull together) or other healthy touch.
- Go to bed. I feel like I say this over and over and over. There are so many people hustling out of necessity – working multiple jobs – just doing their best to survive and sacrificing sleep for this. But there are an equal number of people thinking that staying up till 2am to work or watch TV is the answer. But sleep deprivation impacts your ability to think clearly and make wise decisions, to respond in a healthy way to stress.
- Practice Gratitude. Force your brain to see the good. If you are feeling incredibly anxious and jittery I encourage you to use a journal or app to physically write down the things you are grateful for rather than just thinking them. Writing takes more work and causes a bigger hard stop which can help pull you out of your head into your body. A good thing.
- Get Coloring or knitting. Listen to music that energizes or read a book that inspires. Spending time watching TV feels easy – mind numbing – and curling up with a good movie can be lovely once in a while but TV watching is not one of the best ways to unwind.
- Gentle movement like walking can help us lower stress or anxiety. We may feel we don’t have time for this in really busy seasons but walking, yoga, stretching or even dancing with a local two-step group can boost endorphins and lower stress and anxiety.
I am sorry for the stress you are walking through. I wish you were not afraid, or alone, or in pain. I can honestly say it would feel far lovelier if my life were absent of struggle in this moment.
But this is real life. And we can do this. And I believe there are amazing gifts that await us on the other side of the valley if we have eyes to see.
We can choose to face head-on the reality of our current situation, and to pick up joy anyways.
With love and compassion,