Have you ever noticed how much more irritable you are when you’re tired? Or how much you crave sugar when you’re stressed? Or how far away ‘joy’ seems when you’ve overeaten your favourite food and you feel sick?
I’ve battled mental ill-health my entire adult life. For the first decade, I didn’t know that’s what it was. I thought it was just my personality – too sensitive, taking myself too seriously, just don’t enjoy things the way other people do. For the second decade, I thought it was “a brain thing” – a chemical imbalance. Now, in the third decade of adulthood (I’m starting the count at 18 in case you’re wondering), I’ve come to realise it’s about EVERYTHING – brain, body, behaviour, all of it!
Why does this matter in a blog about joy? Because, when you’re battling with mental ill-health, you can kiss joyful living goodbye. It’s a lot to do to just find the energy to get through the day. In previous posts I’ve written about “making misery” and how this gets in the way of joy but when you’re in the throes of a downward mental health spiral, you don’t have to work at making misery. It just happens on its own.
So, for those of us who have to work at achieving mental wellness, that has to be a big part of the focus before we concern ourselves with joyful living.
The Practical Implications
For me, I focus on all of these every day:
- Nutrition – the most useful and important thing I have ever done for myself is forget dieting and turn my attention to the link between what I eat and how I feel. I don’t eat perfectly, and I still have difficulty resisting sugar but the cleaner my diet gets the better my mood gets and the easier it is for me to find a sense of joy in everyday things.
- Exercise/ Movement – we all know that exercise is good for us but sometimes I hate doing it so instead I make the commitment that I will do some sort of movement each day – and then I pick something I feel like doing. If I wake up tired, I choose a gentle form of yoga or I do the 5 Tibetan Rites. If I have energy, I might do a HIIT workout or some strength training and if I feel like being outside, I’ll go for a walk. I never force myself to do something I don’t feel like doing – and now I’m at the point where I exercise every single day without fail. Oh, and I only ever commit to 5 minutes, so on the days when I REALLY don’t feel like it, I pick something I can do in 5 minutes. On a couple of occasions, I’ve even done this exercise routine without getting out of bed.
- Breathwork – Sometimes I do this in the form of meditation, sometimes I join a breathwork group and sometimes I follow videos on YouTube. Either way, I spend anything from 5 to 20 minutes per day on this and it has made a significant difference to my ability to let my thoughts go and find peace, even in stressful times. Last night, my husband and daughter and I had an argument and (very unusually), we went to bed without resolving it. I still slept all the way through the night. Before I started doing breathwork and meditation, that would have been impossible. My thoughts would have chased around in my head all night and by morning, I’d have been a stressed-out mess.
I have several other things I do that help but these are the daily ones – and it’s interesting that they’re all addressing the body rather than directly targeting the mind.
I wonder if I’ve been looking in the wrong place for joy too?