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Finding Joy When You’re Bent Towards Dread

I’m normally a pretty joyful person without much effort. Sometimes, however, during different seasons of my life, I find myself leaning towards the negative side. Like a moth to a flame, I find my brain scanning for things to be dreading. The ever-evolving list of “what if’s”. Potential financial or health crises. Temporary increase in stress at work or home. During seasons of increased stress, worry or dread, these are the things my brain likes to scan for potential risks and obsess over. Right now I’m stuck on our taxes and my husband’s car. My concern may not make sense to anyone else, but when I’m in one of these moods, my brain will wear a topic out. I know I’m not the only one who experiences times like this.

I’m intentionally not using the language of “anxiety” here because what I talking about isn’t at that level of intensity or duration. This is more like the little cousin of anxiety. (I’ve struggled with anxiety in the past and most of my clients have heard that story at one point or another, but that’s not what I’m talking about today.) For the sake of this conversation, I’ll say a “period of dread” is to anxiety as “feeling down” is to depression. Everyone experiences this sometimes and it’s normal for it to come and go a few times a year, typically based on circumstances, hormones or maybe even the weather.

So if it’s a normal part of being human to have a few days where you’re seeing the glass half empty or waiting for the other shoe to drop, you have two choices: just roll with it and wait it out or figure out a way to push back on it.

I tend not to fall into the “wait it out” camp because I think doing so can turn into anxiety and/or prolong the season. So that leaves me with figuring out a way to push back on it. It requires some extra effort but I really find it to be worth it. Primarily I think it’s worth it because “worry” isn’t an attribute of Jesus, so it’s not a true attribute of who I am in Christ. And I believe it’s always worth it to clear my mind of things that aren’t naturally part of who I am in Christ.

The two things I find to be most helpful in the process of pushing back dread and finding joy are: 1) taking things to their natural conclusion and 2) and asking one clarifying question.

  1. Take things to their natural conclusion. What if that awful thing totally happened as bad as you’re imagining? Then what? How awful would it actually be? Would you survive it? Would the most important people in your life still love you? Would it change anything about your relationship with God?
  2. Clarifying Question: 5,000 years into eternity, will this matter? Will you even remember it? What about 50 years from now? What would yourself in 50 years say about this concern of yours?
    Bonus question: what does the thing you’re dreading/fixated on mean about you? Generally speaking, things really only get to us if we interpret the circumstance as meaning something about us. If you can figure out how you’re letting this worry/concern mean something about you, you will be able to address it much more quickly and effectively. (Read this for more info on Making Meaning.)

For all of us out there who occasionally struggle with a sense of dread or worry, good news: you’re a totally normal human being. You’re not meant to be a superhuman, so you’re not missing the mark by experiencing these things. This point isn’t the dread/stress/worry itself, but that the circumstance provides an opportunity for growth if you make the effort to push back on it.

If you read this and think it sounds familiar but it’s a lot more complicated or severe for you, you may be more towards the moderate or severe end of anxiety. If that’s you, you may be interested in taking an online screening regarding anxiety. Additionally, I can be reached here for scheduling a therapy appointment. I utilize cognitive behavioral therapy which is has been repeatedly shown to have the best results in treating anxiety and depression (or even dread, stress, worry and feeling low).

Don’t let anything stand in the way of the life of fullness and freedom that you desire. Joy awaits.