joy and anxiety…

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.

 

laughter yoga, anxiety, lightness…

As part of my healing journey, I’ve started taking time each day for some laughter yoga.

Laughter yoga is something I’ve thought of doing for years because I’ve long known the benefits of laughter when it comes to physical and emotional health. But I procrastinated and put it on the back burner, thinking to myself “oh yes, I need to look that up on youtube” whenever I happened to think of it at all.

But thanks to the brain retraining and neural rewiring I’ve been deeply diving into lately (because of my physical healing journey, as well as to help with my lifelong anxiety), laughter yoga came back into my awareness several times over the course of a few days. And my procrastination about it finally came to an end.

What is laughter yoga?

Well, this is the definition according to wikipediaLaughter yoga (Hasyayoga) is a practice involving prolonged voluntary laughter. This type of yoga is based on the belief that voluntary laughter provides the same physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter. It is done in groups, with eye contact, jokes and playfulness between participants. Forced laughter often turns into real and contagious laughter.

I haven’t been doing it with a group (I’m not aware of any groups in my area for laughter yoga) but youtube has been filling in just fine.

And the laughter changes things… Physically. Emotionally. Mentally. After even a few minutes of laughter yoga, I notice a decrease in anxiety and a new level of lightness to my mood. I’ve also noticed that the benefits stay with me long after I stop the laughter yoga session. The good-feeling energy-shifting of the laughing spills over into the rest of my day.

I’m doing lots of other things to decrease anxiety, engage with joy, and help cope with physical symptoms. Laughter yoga is only one tool of many in my toolkit.

But so far it’s proving to be a very helpful tool.

There are many laughter yoga videos on youtube – way more than I’ve watched. Here’s one I’ve used:

It can feel a bit strange at first, it can feel not-really-funny at first, but the laughter becomes contagious. Before long, I’m laughing just because.

It’s those mirror neurons firing.

And the results are good stuff.

 

living with anxiety…

When I was growing up as a shy, introverted, and mostly-nervous girl, the word anxiety wasn’t something I heard often. It wasn’t acknowledged or discussed as much as it is these days. But later on – as an adult looking back – I could see how anxiety was always part of my life, always something I struggled against, always something I tried to work around.

And always something I lived with.

During periods of time (sometimes long periods), thanks to combinations of life circumstances and anxiety-reducing-or-coping tools, the anxiety eases a little or a lot. There have been times it hasn’t been much of a struggle at all… And I can’t begin to express how grateful I am for those times.

But mostly, it is there. Mostly, my life has been spent living with anxiety – in spite of all the tools and techniques, the faith journey, the oh-so-many prayers, the coping mechanisms.

And sometimes, the anxiety roars to the surface with a vengeance. The past several years have contained a lot of that. Not constantly or unremittingly. But enough to majorly impact my life.

A couple of weeks ago, I put this on my instagram:

Today looks and feels beautiful, with blue sky and sunshine and 70-something warmth. This was book club day, and there was pizza and brownies and book-talk and general-talk and soooo much hearty laughter. It was good. So good. I’m glad I went, although I was back-and-forth about whether to go or just stay home, and my indecision continued until I actually left the house.

I almost didn’t go because of anxiety – I’ve been going to book club since early last summer, and it’s easier now than the very first time but it’s still not easy. Social anxiety is a real thing. And I almost didn’t go because of symptoms flaring from this long-slow-gradual-med-taper. But my ultimate decision was to go, to get out of the house, breathe some fresh air, feel the sunshine, and enjoy the talk and food and laughter and company of book club.

Some days I can’t go out, even if I want to. But today I could, and I did. And I’m so glad.

When I wrote “some days I can’t go out, even if I want to” I’m referring to health challenges I’ve had for a few years now. Those health issues have led to increased isolation because of not being able to get out as much – and those health issues, plus the increased isolation, have fueled the anxiety… including the social anxiety and agoraphobia-type anxiety, which, in turn, make it more difficult to go out even at times when the physical issues aren’t flaring up.

This sort of thing can become a vicious cycle. And that’s what I’ve been faced with for the last while.

If anyone tells you anxiety isn’t a real problem – or that you should simply be able to get over it, or think more positively, or pray harder (or better) – I’d say that person has never dealt with a true anxiety problem, and has never experienced life with having (or a close loved one having) an anxiety disorder.

The struggle is real.

But when I have those times of inner calm with no anxious edges…  when I can find laughter and love in spite of the struggle…  when I’m able to focus on the joy more than the fear…

I take deep breaths of gratitude.

And I hold on as long as I can.