by Christy Gualtieri
It was happening: total meltdown. I sat on the couch, my head in my hands, and just watched as my son ran full-steam around our coffee table. Every so often he’d pick up a bouncy ball and throw it at the television, completely forgetting (more like deliberately disobeying) the countless orders I’d given him not to do that. He can’t fully talk yet, but is getting increasingly frustrated at the fact that he can’t speak proper English; so he was alternating his ball-throwing with pounding on the glass patio doors, half-growling, half-whining to get outside to play.
He wasn’t the one melting down; he was just being a normal toddler. I was the one in the thick of it.
As I sat there, completely miserable and hoping for some way to catapult him far enough into the future that I didn’t have to deal with all of this mayhem, I thought about happiness. And I thought about joy.
Something is stealing my joy, I thought. And I had to get it back, otherwise my horrible day would turn into something much, much worse.
There is a difference between joy and happiness. Joy transcends happiness. It’s possible to feel joyful even when you don’t particularly feel happy. I find great joy in being a mother: I love watching my son grow into a toddler. But I don’t feel happy about trying to translate his whines and screams while I’m trying to simultaneously cook dinner and clean the breakfast dishes.
But the problem was, I wasn’t really finding any joy in it either. So after a few minutes, I decided to try to pull myself out of my meltdown and do what I could to get my joy back. Here are some ways that worked for me; maybe they’ll be a help to you, as well!
1. Take care of yourself physically.
With my son’s screams and squeals resonating in the background, I took a mental stock of what I’d eaten so far that day. For breakfast I’d had two slices of cheese. For lunch I’d had a handful of crackers. I’d had coffee too, but it was almost 2:00 p.m and I hadn’t yet had a glass of water. Bad idea. Water not only hydrates you, it gives you an energy boost and flushes toxins from your system. Eating foods that are good for you and contain actual vitamins will help your body run how it’s supposed to, and it’ll help you mentally, as well. If you have a hard time getting back on track after a day of not eating well, just focus on your next meal, and see where you can add in those vitamins. Visualize them energizing your body and refueling you properly!
2. Get some sunshine.
It became clear to me that if this day was going to get any better, I’d have to get my son outdoors, and fast. We headed to the nearest playground and let him loose. He definitely had some energy to burn; and while I wasn’t anywhere near as quick as he was to get around (because of my no-energy-having meals), it was a big mental boost to me to have some sunshine on my face. After just a few minutes I could feel myself calming down and my joy returning, bit by bit. Try to take advantage of the longer summer days by making sure to get a little sun time in before bedtime. Even a few minutes will help!
When I get stressed out, my breathing is one of the first things that suffers. I start breathing from my chest, and I tend to breathe faster, compounding feelings of anxiety and panic. I find that belly breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, helps a lot, particularly at bedtime. Here’s how to do it: Take a deep breath in through the nose, expanding your belly as you do it. (Try to make the intake last about ten seconds or so.) Then slowly breathe out completely. After a few breaths like this, you’ll feel a rhythm to it, and it will considerably slow down your stress levels.
4. Pay attention.
When everything falls apart during a hard day, it’s all I can think about. Nothing exists beyond the nap my son didn’t take, or the dishwasher that hasn’t been run yet, or the snack I was going to bake for another mom who was planning to stop by, or the tiredness that seems to seep into the very marrow of my bones. But if I force myself to stop focusing on myself and to pay attention to something – anything! – besides what is stressing me out (and that actually exists in the world around me, so my cell phone and TV don’t count), I find that I get my joy back. I can feel happiness at my son trying to brush his teddy bear’s “teeth.” I can find a deep joy and gratitude in the tasks I do each day. When I remember that the world is not just me and my problems, that perspective helps me regain my joy.
The verb form of the word joy is rejoice, which means we are able to translate the feelings we have of happiness and delight into action. If we’re feeling happy or joyful, let it out! Tell the ones you love that you love them. Give those kisses and hugs. Look for ways to positively affect the lives of those who need some love and joy in their own lives. Leave a note of encouragement for that coworker who’s been having a string of bad days. Look up the address of that food pantry in town and decide to do a little extra food shopping if there’s room in the budget. Smile. Laugh! (Just not at the expense of others.) Look for joy, and believe me, it’ll find you.
Even in the middle of a meltdown.
Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at openthoseojos.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health!