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Use Joy To Treat Depression, Anxiety, Addiction

wildly-dancing-children-by-emil-nobleTo find joy is the hardest thing of all. It is harder than all other spiritual tasks…Put all your energy into being happy. — Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

People struggling with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses benefit from making joy a part of their mental health treatment plan.

Joy’s Power

Joy’s Dark Opposites: Joy is the opposite of nearly every draining emotion and feeling: Despair. Anger. Depression. Jealousy. Hate. You can’t merely implant joy on top of negative emotions and feelings, but you can engage in joyful activities which are important to the healing process.

You simply cannot feel those draining emotions if you are experiencing the feeling of True Joy.

Joy is a Time Traveler:  For example, if you love horses and are able to schedule in a ride (or equine therapy), you look forward to your appointment. That joy-producing appointment uplifts you before, during and often for some time after the actual ride.

Joy is Motivating: One of the most difficult aspects of mental illness is that the consistent motivation is lacking to engage in activities and behaviors that are healing. When those activities are joy-filled, however, finding motivation is more likely. If getting exercise because it helps alleviate symptoms of depression is important, yet you struggle getting out, scheduling an exercise you particularly enjoy, when possible will be far more motivating than scheduling  what you find grueling.

Sure, the above is all common-sense, but remembering to actively talk about and schedule joy into your life helps ensure that it remains a focus.

Plan For Joy in Addiction Recovery, Too

Are you or someone you know recovering from addiction? If so, make sure to schedule in JOY.

Suzette Glasner-Edwards is the author of the upcoming book, “The Addiction Recovery Skills Workbook,” (New Harbinger Books).

“While the feeling of disappointment at routine pleasure does get better over time, it is one of the things that prevents people from really getting a head start in recovery,” [Suzette] Glasner-Edwards writes. “They keep relapsing in that early phase when nothing feels enjoyable. Their brain is still really healing from all that depletion and depression that the depletion can lead to.”

To combat these disappointments and blues, Glasner-Edwards encourages people in sobriety to resume activities that they once enjoyed or discover new ones: Cook something new. Plan a party. Exercise. Go to a museum. Take up a sport. And, to increase the likelihood that readers will carry out the activities, she advocates scheduling them for specific times.

“Ideally you should have one pleasant activity worked into each day,” Glasner-Edwards writes. –UCLA Newsroom

You’ll struggle to think clearly if you don’t taste moments of joy. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said that depression causes your thoughts to go “into exile.” This means that depression teaches your brain how to think depressed thoughts, while your positive thoughts are exiled to a place as far away as Pluto, and just as hard to reach.

Rebbe Nachman also encouraged us to spend time doing things that bring us real joy. He reminds us that joy often includes singing, music, and dancing. Joy may include acting silly, like a lighthearted, imaginative, playful child. Being outdoors in nature also can bring us joy.

Use Joy To Treat Depression, Anxiety, Addiction

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2015). Use Joy To Treat Depression, Anxiety, Addiction. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 17 Nov 2015
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