What do you do when – despite the internet and social media – disconnection is running rampant and modern life is overflowing with stress?
If you are one out of the nearly two adults in the United States who is faced with a health challenge, and you want to protect your body from the harmful effects of stress, here is something that can help: reconnect to joy.
The medical literature is filled with evidence showing how stress, disconnection and social isolation lead to worse outcomes of all sorts of illnesses like cancer, and heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disease, allergies, asthma, chronic pain, and even gastrointestinal disorders. Chronic stress, disconnection, and isolation can be like poison to the body… but they don’t have to be.
An intentional practice of joy can help to shift the biochemistry in our bodies to better support wellness and healing. I call this using Joy as Medicine.
I use the word “joy” to capture the feeling of being fully alive. This is not about superficial surface pleasures. The kind of joy that I am speaking about is like a seed of possibility and of knowing that we have the capacity to access great beauty in life, even despite illness or hardships.
An intentional practice of joy can help us – and our bodies – to be more resilient, to rise to the challenges we face, to find our inner strength, and to grow and become more than we were before. This practice of joy as medicine can be like an antidote to all the stress and disconnection we face in the world today.
So how do we connect to joy?
Just like any skill we want to incorporate into our lives, we can practice joy. This is about making joy a priority.
If we don’t prioritize joy, it is often relegated to the bottom of the list and we can become consumed with stress, and bills, and never ending to-do lists. A practice of joy is about actively and intentionally choosing to recognize, cultivate and connect to the seeds of joy in our lives.
Practicing joy doesn’t make us immune from experiencing upsets, frustrations, or heartaches. And the practice of joy doesn’t mean that we won’t have losses, or need treatments, or surgeries, or therapies. The point of using Joy as Medicine is to check in with ourselves, to come back to our center, to connect as best as we can to who we are and to who we want to be in the world, and to make sure that we are not putting off truly living for some other day.
Because as we all know, there is no other day.
This is it.
This is what we’ve got.
And life is busy. Life is messy. Life is full of challenges. And there is plenty of darkness and strife. Just turn on the news and you get my point. You can even get stuck in a pattern of reacting to all the darkness. And when we are stuck in fear and reactivity we become a part of it.
Amidst all the tumult and noise, it can be all too easy to forget that we have the capacity to connect to, and create, beauty and light in the world. We must remind ourselves, and we must remind one another, that despite hardships, it is an incredible gift to be alive today.
And in this way, we can make a choice. We can choose joy.
Of course, there are some things in life that we do not get to choose. A health challenge for example, is NOT something most of us would choose. But just consider that maybe a health challenge is an opportunity to practice aligning with what helps you to feel more fully alive. Maybe a health challenge is an opportunity to wake up more fully instead of being lulled half-asleep by stress, and fear, and to-do lists, and with trying to prove something.
The intentional practice of joy is about focusing on now – on this moment of being alive – and choosing how you are going to live today. Each day we have the opportunity to actively align, as best as we can, with our core wellbeing, with greater balance and harmony on this planet, and with others in this shared journey of life.
And now there is mounting evidence that shows how this kind of practice can help our bodies to actually feel better.
When we feel good or joyful, we release feel good neuropeptides like endorphins, serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin in the body. These neuropeptides help to enhance the immune system, to relieve pain, to reduce stress, release sex hormones, moderate our appetite, AND help us feel a general sense of wellness. And connecting to joy can also help to balance the autonomic nervous system. The practice of relaxation and joy can stimulate the rest and digest branch of this part of the nervous system and this can help the body improve the blood pressure, enhance immune system functioning, improve digestion, and promote enhanced renewal and repair in the body. Not only that, but also when we provide the conditions in our lives that help us reduce stress and align with wellness through the things we are doing, this can also help to shift the expression of genes in the body through epigenetic processes and lead to reduced inflammation, improved immune function, and enhanced healing in the body.
So the practice of joy not only helps us emotionally feel better, it can help our bodies to feel better as well.
The work of cultivating greater joy is important and it is so needed in the world today. Each moment is filled with opportunities to connect with greater joy. Do not wait for the perfect moment. Every moment is the perfect moment to connect to what makes you feel most alive. How will you connect to joy today?
*If you are interested in learning more specific practices of how to use Joy as Medicine, you are welcome to receive a complimentary audio recording here that describes 3 specific practices of how to use Joy as Medicine.