During these last few months of the year, one of the main themes I’m blogging about is my journey with joy.
But I have to admit it’s hard sometimes for me to connect with joy because there are times when anxiety – and outright fear – get in the way.
My struggle with anxiety is actually what made me realize, several years ago, how very important it is for me to connect with joy… and how I need to be intentional about it. Because otherwise the anxiety and fear and grief and worry and other not-so-great-feeling things can be so much at the forefront that joy isn’t noticed (and maybe especially those small moments of joy that can pass us by before we catch them).
This isn’t about ignoring reality and pretending things are great when they’re not. It’s about paying attention, being intentional, and looking for anything big or small that brings a sense of joy.
But… is it truly possible to connect with joy and experience anxiety too?
That question has been on my mind lately, as anxiety and fear have been spiking sky high many days. Part of what’s going on for me is rebound anxiety, chemical anxiety, spurred by my body trying to adjust to no longer having anti-anxiety medication in my system. And part of what’s going on has been one life stress after another (some big, some small) piled on top of each other with seemingly little or no breathing room before something else is added to the stack.
I’m trying not to worry and fear and dread the future – but those feelings are there. I’m praying, I’m working my neural retraining programs, I’m using a variety of anxiety and stress coping tools, I’m seeking comfort in my spirituality and faith – but far too often, the anxiety and fear are dominant.
Can I really connect with joy while feeling those things?
Yes. And it’s important for me to do so.
Connecting with joy helps relieve the fear and anxiety, even if only temporarily, and even if fear and anxiety don’t completely go away.
I can sing along to a song that lights up my heart…and I’ll experience a time of joy, and the anxiety will ease, but sometimes it doesn’t completely go away. My connection to joy will mingle with a background feeling of anxiety, an unease at the edges of my awareness, maybe quieter but still present.
At other times, joy takes over and the anxiety disappears for a while. I’m grateful, so very grateful, for those times. Sunday afternoon was a recent example of this, as my husband and I took a brief walk in the park, enjoying an afternoon of somewhat-rare-lately lovely weather. I focused on joy. I breathed the fresh air. I gave thanks for the time of peace and ease.
Anxiety and fear roared back with a vengeance only a few hours later. So I focused on looking for more small moments, small things, small ways to connect with joy. Petting the cat. Snuggling under the covers to watch a favorite show. Noticing the calming glow of the fairy lights in the room.
I can’t just wait for anxiety to leave before noticing what brings me joy. I can’t simply wait for joy to unexpectedly show up (although it definitely can do that!).
I have to look for it. I have to be aware. I have to notice.
I have to consciously connect with joy.
Even when – and maybe, sometimes, especially when – anxiety is present too.