Family and Friends Health Care

How to Choose Your Own Joy

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The stress of everyday life — whether it’s family, work, health concerns or even traffic — can consume you and leave you feeling drained by the time the evening rolls around.

If you feel tense and spent, finding time to center yourself and, even better, find joy, is a challenge.

But take heart; feeling “joy” doesn’t have to be a big production, expensive or even involve others. It can be the little things in life: a walk outdoors, creating art, a vigorous workout, time to write in your journal, a dinner with friends, a game night with your child or cuddle session with your pet.

What’s joyful to you may not be the same for your best friend, spouse or neighbor. That’s OK. Maybe you don’t enjoy working out. Maybe the prospect of reading a long book brings you more angst than relaxation. Find what speaks to your soul and make a conscious effort to make time to do those things.

Feeling joyful is good for your body, mind and spirit

Your physical health is closely tied to your mental and spiritual health.

When you feel happy, your body responds, releasing endorphins and increasing serotonin. Endorphins are your body’s feel-good hormone. Serotonin is a chemical produced by nerve cells that helps stabilize your mood, reducing depression and anxiety. Healthy serotonin levels make you feel relaxed, calm and optimistic.

On the other hand, stress raises levels of adrenaline and cortisol — both work together to create our “flight or fight” response.

  • Adrenaline increases your heart rate and blood pressure. Continued stress tricks the body into releasing adrenaline. These high levels can cause heart damage, sleeplessness and anxiety.
  • Cortisol helps control blood sugar levels and our metabolism, reduces inflammation and regulates blood pressure. When stress levels continuously stay high, cortisol levels also are out of whack.

Stress changes the healthy balance of these hormones, resulting in high blood pressure, feelings of restlessness and irritability, sleeplessness, anxiety and depression, and weight gain.

With so much riding on reducing stress and increasing your positive outlook, finding joy can be a key piece to your good health.

Make time to find joy

Experts talk about the difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is based on circumstances, they say, but joy is a deeper feeling. You may not feel “happy” on a bad day or if you’re experiencing a long-term crisis in your health, work or relationships. But in the midst of that, you can make a conscious effort to find joy.

This might take some discipline. You may need to make a conscious effort not to go from chore to chore and focus solely on your to-do list. Let yourself take a break. Let your mind wander. Let yourself noticed the little things — a beautiful flower garden, a laughing child, a colorful sunset.

If you approach the day being open to joy, you give yourself the freedom to brighten your day no matter what life stage or circumstances you face.

How to find joy

Joy is personal, not universal. Don’t feel pressure to find joy the same way, doing the same thing as others. Examine your heart and jot down what makes you happy.

If you could set aside your responsibilities for a day, what would you do? Who would you spend it with? That can give you a place to start.

What makes you joyful can change, too. One month it might be gardening, another month spending time at the beach. Maybe it’s attending a Bible study, volunteering or taking a walk with a friend.

Don’t be afraid to find joy in strange places, too. Does cleaning out your closet and donating items give you joy? How about your garage or basement? Maybe it’s whittling down your email inbox or sorting the pile of paperwork on your desk.

Another way to find joy is through gratitude. If you’re having a bad day, take a few seconds to list what you are grateful for in the midst of chaos. Write it in your journal and see the cumulative moments that bring you joy.

Do something for a friend, family member or neighbor. When you positively change someone’s day, you enhance your day, too.

Spend some time reflecting on what brings you joy so you know where to turn, and most of all, don’t feel guilty about making time for it. Your whole health, and your heart, will benefit.

Learn more about our whole-health approach to heart and vascular care at the AdventHealth Heart and Vascular Institute.

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