Cultivate Joy for Vibrant Health!
Many times when we are sick, we can take ourselves too seriously. After all, being diagnosed with a chronic illness is a serious matter. On top of not feeling well, there is the stress and anxiety of what seems like endless doctor visits, blood draws and discussions about “our diagnosis”. It can be easy to fall into a negative mental tape loop and keep rolling with it. I remember a client of mine who had been diagnosed with lupus, confessed that she went five years without smiling or laughing.
I know how it feels because I’ve been there, but it’s important to remember that a lack of joy contributes to ill health and can even be the direct cause of disease!
Laughter is the best medicine!
Norman Cousins illustrated the healing power of laughter and creativity in his classic book Anatomy of an Illness. After a stressful trip to Cold War Russia in 1964, Cousins was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a chronic, debilitating and “incurable” skeletal condition. In his famous autobiographical case history, he explains how he laughed himself back to health, defying a gloomy prognosis.
Evidence reveals that laughter triggers the brain to release catecholamine hormones, which can activate the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.1 Joy and laughter ease the anxiety and depression that often come with chronic illness. The truth is, laughter releases tension and breaks negative thought patterns. Laughter is even good for our genes! Research shows that positive emotions can downregulate (turn off) bad genes and upregulate (turn on) the good ones!2
During my healing process, I tried many things to manage my stress and cultivate joy. For instance, I cut out ALL NEWS and media consumption and even set my browser to my company’s Web site instead of Google News. It has remained that way ever since. I was never a TV person, and I never watched horror movies—even before I got sick—but I wanted to cut out everything that wasn’t uplifting, so I turned off my cable TV. I stopped listening to music that triggered sad memories or reminded me of my sad past. I chose only uplifting, healing music that got me in touch with happy and joyful feelings. Attitude took on a new importance for me. I stopped complaining, and I stopped listening to the complaints of others. I wanted to surround myself with people who supported my new life and my new thought process, and so I found new friends.
Seriously, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to try to focus on the bright side, find the humor in life and be joyful. Finding joy can be as easy as making the space for it. Here are some quick and easy ways to get more laugher and joy right now:
- Michelle’s Laugher Rx! When was the last time you had a real belly laugh? I’m talking about the kind of laugh that makes you fall off your chair and your face hurts afterward. If it’s been a while, try breaking up your day with a laughter meditation. It goes like this: For five or ten minutes each day, stop whatever it is you’re doing and think about something really hilarious. If you can’t think of anything funny, read a funny joke, or watch a funny video on YouTube. Make this a daily habit and you’ll soon become hooked. I can’t promise you’ll have the same success as Norman, but it certainly can’t hurt to try!
- Go on a media fast! Sometimes no news is good news! Honestly when was the last time you heard good news on TV or the Internet? While I think it’s important to keep a pulse on world events, the media blows things way out of proportion just to get a rise out of you and keep you hooked on the drama. I suggest cutting the news out for a few weeks and see how you feel. You might be surprised that you feel a little lighter and happier without it!
- Connect with the joys of nature! Spending time in nature is restorative and grounding. In fact, new research proves what many of us already know; nature is healing and revitalizing!4 Connecting with nature enhances your well-being and nurtures mindfulness.5 Receive the blessings of our beautiful planet, even if it’s just through a walk in your local park or time in your garden. Nature nourishes my soul and reminds me that I am interconnected with all life. You belong to mother earth…reconnect with her and she will heal you.
- Put fun on the schedule! Pick an activity that you absolutely love to do and set aside at least 30 minutes per day to just do it! It can be anything you want, just make sure you really enjoy it. I love to dance, paint and spend time in the garden. What do you really love to doit!
- Move your body! Moving your body can help move emotions. If you feel overwhelmed, sad, angry or irritated, go for a walk or even dance around your living room. For me, dance is a very powerful healing practice and stress reducer. Dance wisdom is rooted in the awareness that the body and mind are inseparable. When I’m dancing, my mind stops and I’m able to just be in my body. My dear friend and 5 Rhythms dance instructor, Visudha De Los Santos, told me the first time we danced together, “Good, you’re like me. You can dance faster then you can think!” Dance movement has helped me heal childhood emotional trauma and reclaim parts of my lost and abandoned self. In many ways, it’s saved my life. Now it’s a daily practice that keeps me joyful!
I hope these suggestions bring you one step closer to finding your joy and healing your life!
- Berk LS, Tan SA, Fry WF, et al. Neuroendocrine and stress hormone changes during mirthful laughter. Am J Med Sci. 1989;298:390–6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2556917
- Hori M, Hayashi T, Nakagawa Y, Sakamoto S, Urayama O, Murakami K. Positive emotion-specific changes in the gene expression profile of tickled rats. Mol Med Rep. 2009 Mar-Apr;2(2):157-61. http://www.spandidos-publications.com/mmr/2/2/157
- Ryan RM, Weinstein N, Bernstein J, Brown KW, Mistretta L, Gagne´ M. Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology 30 (2010) 159–168. http://www.researchgate.net/publication/228478393_Vitalizing_effects_of_being_outdoors_and_in_nature/file/32bfe513dd5917a305.pdf.
- Howell AJ, Dopko RL, Passmore HA, Buro K. Nature connectedness: Associations with well-being and mindfulness. Personality and Individual Differences Vol. 51, Issue 2, July 2011, Pages 166–171. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886911001711
Michelle Corey, C.N.W.C., FMC, is a Wellness Recovery Specialist, Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, researcher and author. Michelle studied holistic nutrition at Clayton College of Natural Health and completed a comprehensive 2-year practical program at Academy of Functional Medicine and Genomics. Since reversing her autoimmune condition, Michelle has helped hundreds of people reverse autoimmune and other chronic conditions. She is currently an advisor to the Academy of Functional Medicine and Genomics and the Functional Medical University. She is a member of the Institute of Functional Medicine and the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants. Michelle and offers Functional Mind-Body healing retreats, workshops and online courses.
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