Wiard: Finding joy in difficult times

Posted 5/6/20

This weekly column seeks to help educate our community about emotional healing through grief. People may write questions to Golden Willow Retreat and they will be answered privately to you and …

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Wiard: Finding joy in difficult times

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This weekly column seeks to help educate our community about emotional healing through grief. People may write questions to Golden Willow Retreat and they will be answered privately to you and possibly as a future article for others. List a first name that grants permission for printing.

Dear Dr. Ted:

The other day I started cracking up over something and then felt guilty for being silly in a time of such seriousness and difficulty. I have to say it felt good to have that release as I have felt so confined and energetically pushed down with all the news and orders around COVID-19. Is it that my system just needed a break?

Thanks, Gary

Dear Gary:

What a great question and thank you for reaching out about the topic of emotions.

To answer your question directly: Yes! All emotions are still happening in the midst of this pandemic as you are a living person who is still feeling, breathing, experiencing and living, even though it may feel the world has come to some sort of collective standstill. During times of difficulty, catching and holding onto the moments of joy are essential to help sustain the duration of the difficult time.

Your brain is always going to look for anything that may seem dangerous. Due to this, it is going to search out and capture information and stimuli that could harm you in some way. As the danger alert is on, the brain continues to look for more information that causes anger, fear, irritation and emotional or physical pain.

In this mental state it starts to block out stimuli that may support emotions such as joy, silliness, gratitude, love and anything else that would say that the world and life is wonderful (or at least aspects of it). I always think back to the Dalai Lama's saying that happiness is the balance of joy and sorrow. Especially during times of change from what you are used to, it becomes even more important to use your senses to reach out for that balance. This does not mean ignoring the dangers or difficulties, but also fighting for the good within the world.

When you become silly, laugh, smile or notice beauty around you, your brain can release pent-up emotions and not just lock on focusing on the negative. Nurturing compassion, gratitude, kindness and gentleness (for you and others) can allow some levity into the heaviness of whatever it is you happen to be struggling with.

It is easier to lash out at others, be critical and irritated, to not be responsive in kind ways and overall allow the dangerous part of your mind to push out the idea that we are all in this together, doing our best to make it through this difficult time. Being kind and showing gratitude is beneficial for the person who is receiving that energy, and it is good for you as it allows your brain to look for the good in the world, not just the bad.

With this type of thinking, you can decrease your anxiety, help others in their difficult time and not compound the heaviness of the present situation. To move out of hypervigilance of the bad, take a breath and force yourself to look around and see the "good," rather than only focusing on the "bad."

Finding space for others, searching for a giggle or laugh and stretching to be grateful for your loved ones and others will allow your own brain to settle down and find some balance for you and others.

I wish you well. Until next week, take care.

Golden Willow Retreat is a nonprofit organization focused on emotional healing and recovery from any type of loss. Direct any questions to Dr. Ted Wiard, EdD, LPCC, CGC, founder of Golden Willow Retreat, at GWR@newmex.com.

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