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Lighten the load

Sophie Cliff explores some ways to beat stress and choose joy instead

In the last few years, life has felt more stressful than ever. It seems like each new week or month throws a fresh curveball our way, and as a result, recorded rates of burnout are at an all-time high.

We all know that stress isn't good for us. It raises our heart rates, it lowers our performance, and it can undermine our immune systems too. But it can feel like managing it is impossible in our fast-paced world. How do you find the time to meditate when you're always running from one place to the next? How can you instill good work boundaries when it feels like the emails are always pinging in?

Well, there's another stress management strategy that you might not have come across yet. One that is fun, easy to implement, and comes with a whole host of other benefits. That strategy? Choosing joy.

Prioritise joy

Research shows that engaging in and prioritising joyful activities helps to protect against burnout and stress. There are a few reasons why this is the case. Firstly, when we are engaging in something that creates a sense of joy and contentment, we give our brains and bodies a break from the cortisol that is released when we feel stressed or under pressure. This gives us a chance to recover from the physical and mental impacts of stress, thus lightening the load.

Secondly, experiencing positive emotions such as joy can help us to build resilience and adaptability in the face of stress. According to prominent social psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, while negative emotions can prompt us to employ narrow, survival-oriented behaviours (such as engaging the fight/flight/freeze response), positive thoughts and emotions broaden our awareness and encourage new thoughts and actions.

Her broaden-and-build theory explains how when we experience positive emotions such as joy, we broaden our thinking, allowing us to draw on a wide range of possible solutions and behaviours, therefore building a whole host of mental resources (including resilience) that help us to live enhanced, healthier and more fulfilling lives. And what's really cool is that we experience this as a positive upwards spiral, meaning the more we experience those positive emotions, the greater the benefits.

Getting started

So, joy can help us to beat stress, but how do we actually go about choosing joy in our day-to-day lives? Here are some ideas and tips to get you started.

1) Practise gratitude
Research shows that gratitude and joy are intrinsically linked, meaning we can't feel joyful unless we also feel grateful for what we have in our lives. Take some time to reflect on the parts of your life that bring you the most joy. Who are you most grateful for? What would you miss if you no longer had access to it?

2) Embrace your inner child
A great way to reconnect to joy is to embrace your inner child. Think back to how you loved to play as a child and see if there's a way you can bring that experience into your adult life. It can also be helpful to listen to songs you loved when you were a kid or rewatch any old favourite movies to jog your memory.

3) Foster connection
Feeling connected to the world around you is an essential part of living a joyful life. Check in with your friends and family, organise a little get together, or simply strike up a conversation with your local barista. Those social connections will help you to feel happier and more grounded.

4) Move your body
We all know that moving our body is good for our physical health, but exercise can have a huge impact on your mood too! Think about how you can move your body in a way that feels truly joyful. Dancing, walking and stretching are just as effective as pumping iron at the gym for getting those joyful endorphins flowing.

5) Learn something new
Finally, when was the last time you learnt something new? Research suggests that getting out of our comfort zone and challenging ourselves can help us to experience flow, which in turn can help us to find more joy! Plus, you'll have that feeling of satisfaction when you achieve something new too.

Choose Joy by Sophie Cliff, Blue Star Press, RRP £17.99, is available online and from all good bookshops.

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