Tips on Anxiety and Stress: “How to Keep Your Joy… In a Negative World”

Have you ever gone into a situation feeling quite happy and satisfied, only to come out with a baffling sense of negativity? Have you ever had a friend, family member or co-worker who leaves you feeling poorly about yourself, your competency, or the state of the world? Feelings and moods are contagious. Parents absorb the negative feelings and stresses of their children. Spouses transfer negative feelings to each other (sometimes with great skill). A backbiting coworker creates anxiety and stress for the whole office. At a societal level, panic and even violence can sweep through the population in waves. And it goes without saying that absorbing too much discouragement, sadness, anxiety and stress is counterproductive. So how can you keep a sense of joy in the midst of a negative world?

When my daughter was five-years-old she loved to impersonate a clown on a program called “The Comfy Couch”. With great drama, the clown directed, “Breathe in the good air, breathe out the bad air”. Taking in good feelings, optimism, and excitement, fortunately, is just as possible as taking in the unsettling energy of others. And, on the flip side, having a way to unload stress, negativity, or pain is imperative for keeping joy. But, one must be intentional about doing so. It seems that a couple of habits are very helpful in cultivating a solid, peaceful, and joyful core self.

One of those habits is that of thankfulness. “Breathing in” a sense of thankfulness about one’s own life provides a powerful buffer for the dissatisfactions and upsets of others. Making a written list of ten things that you are thankful for each day is a discipline that will link you up with your core values, life experiences, and deliver a long-term perspective in the face of shorter-term problems. I have noticed that people, who are thankful, as a rule, find themselves thriving instead of just surviving. Being truly grateful is often so nourishing that one has enough gratitude left over to spread to others.

“Breathing out” the bad air is also important. Everyday stress responds well to exercise. As little as twenty minutes of intensive exercise has been demonstrated to increase pleasure hormones, thereby boosting mood. Regular exercise decreases both anxiety and depression and may be one of the healthiest outlets for negativity and stress. Does exercise allow one to evacuate the build up of negative feelings? You bet!

Anxiety and stress that has accumulated over time (perhaps a lifetime) or that is ongoing, calls for a deeper intervention. Psychotherapy is a powerful tool for bringing clarity to your life. Psychotherapy can be best understood as treatment intended to relieve or heal the human soul, mind or spirit (psyche). In the context of a safe and confidential relationship, supportive psychotherapy allows you to “breathe out” and make sense of the bad air of your life. Whether the bad air stems from damaging childhood messages, a hurtful relationship, the stress of raising a child with special needs, a death or any other difficulty, having a place to understand and resolve complex and painful experiences will provide you with the mental & emotional space to have joy.

Humans are a bit like sponges. We tend to absorb a lot. If we absorb too much negativity, we crowd out our own joy and the joy that is out there for us to have. Being intentional about what you choose to take in (and what you squeeze out) makes a huge difference. Thankfulness, exercise, and psychotherapy are some ways to make room for and cultivate joy. Here’s to experiencing more joy!