This week was more difficult than most. For the first time in months, perhaps, I felt stressed. Truly, overwhelmignly stressed.
It was not the good kind of stress that pushed me beyond my comfort zone and made me work hard at my endeavors. It was the kind of stress that made me constantly tired, impatient, and selfish. The kind of stress that drained my reserves so that I had nothing left for anyone but me.
Perhaps I should count myself fortunate not to face this kind of stress regularly. Perhaps there are some who know not what life is like without feeling this stress all the time. But I know that there are circumstances outside my control that can bring on these feelings again, so I want to do a better job of dealing with them. I want to be able to lift my own spirits– and the spirits of others.
Why stress and joy are related
I like to think of joy as resilience of spirit. It’s more than happiness, it’s more than contentment- there’s something about joy that makes it deeper and richer than any emotional whim.
When we’re burdened by numerous things– obligations, inconveniences, misfortunes and even tragedies– we can feel that our resilience is weakened. We can experience what it means to be downtrodden. And the last thing we desire to do is to rejoice.
And yet, with great joy, we can bear these burdens better. We may not be happy, but we can still choose to be strong, courageous, faithful, and hopeful for the future.
Practical steps do the work.
There’s nothing glamorous about taking practical, bite-size steps. It’s much more romantic to dazzle each other with our dreams and visions, deep desires and hopes. But the little drops that make those mighty oceans are hardly secrets concealed from us. Quite the contrary– they are plain, perhaps even obvious, and require discipline and consistency in order to work.
Restoring our joy during times of trouble can be an awfully difficult task. But I believe it can be done– not only for our own sake, but for the sake of those we love.
5 Practical Ways To Restore Your Joy
1) Be kind to a stranger.
We have this weird concept that if we expend too much compassion, we’ll run out of it. But if we draw proper emotional boundaries, this just isn’t true. Kindness breeds a type of joy that nothing else can– the act of giving stirs our hearts in unexpected ways. And when people are surprised by kindness, it’s amazing how their responses can fuel our own emotional reserve.
2) Encourage your loved ones and friends.
Those words bring life to conversations and to relationships that may have been strained by our stress. Stepping outside of my own all-consuming reality can force me to observe and appreciate my loved ones. It gives me a moment to be thankful, and it gives them a moment to feel that love in a tangible way.
3) Write that gratitude journal.
This one has become so popular that it’s almost cliche, but this strategy really does work. Gratitude expands our perspective from the minute details of a stressful situation the grander reality that we almost all have more than we deserve. And if we have someone to be grateful to, then we can choose to actually say thank you.
4) Forgive completely.
Sometimes we think we’ve forgiven someone for a transgression, but are secretly still holding onto a piece of it. Perhaps it’s emotional ammunition, or we just can’t seem to shake off that last ounce of hurt.
Lewis Smedes famously said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
5) Relinquish perfectionism.
Perfectionism is thinly veiled anger, and it is often the most dangerous excuse for inexcusable behavior. I wrote about why perfectionism steals joy and how to choose freedom instead.