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Christy Matta, M.A.

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Finding Joy When it Seems Out of Reach

Posted: 04/ 8/2012 8:30 am

Usually, when you are feeling stressed out, you have good reason. Life can throw things at you -- unexpected circumstances, loss, relationships turning out badly, discovering things are worse than you expected, being separated from loved ones -- that can be overwhelming and cause anguish. At times, it can feel like you barely pick yourself up from one emotional crisis when the next hits.

As much as we'd like to avoid the stress caused by these painful situations, they are a part of life. It's impossible to fully anticipate, plan for or avoid loss and other circumstances that can stress you out.

Because you can't eliminate these situations from your life, it's important to ensure you also have positive life experiences to offset the stress that can severely impact your emotional well-being.

When stress happens, it often feels like happiness is out of our control. But you can cause positive experiences and emotions in your life as well. Feeling better, even briefly, won't eradicate stress, but it will keep your emotions on a more even keel and help you begin to feel better.

Do one or two enjoyable things today. Don't take lightly the impact a pleasant experience can have on your stress levels. Today, schedule at least one thing that makes you feel good. It could be anything: a cup of your favorite coffee, watching a favorite TV show, gazing at a picture of a loved one, spending time with a pet, a phone call with a friend, exercising, or being alone.

Search for positive circumstances. When you are stressed, your focus narrows. The result is that you keep noticing only those things around you that contribute to your stress. You are much more likely to notice the coworker who makes nasty comments under his breath or the traffic light you got caught at when you are under stress. Any additional pressure or negative experience is magnified. To balance this narrowed attention, set aside a portion of the day to actively hunt for those moments when someone does something nice for you or you share a special experience with someone. Notice when you are offered something you want or need or achieve a goal after hard work. Make a list of what you're grateful for or remember what happened today or this week that made you smile, laugh or gave you a sense of calm.

When you have good reason to be stressed out, it's hard to make positive changes. However, it's important to ensure that positive life experiences balance out stressful and overwhelming times.

You can find more strategies to improve how you feel in my new book, "The Stress Response," and by clicking here to sign up for more of my tips and podcasts using DBT strategies to improve how you feel.

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