Self-Care and Joy: How You Can Use What You Love to love Yourself
Guest Post By Michele Rosenthal
Like any other commitment, self-care can become a chore. Whenever we force ourselves to do something the fun factor flies out the window. Yet, self-care should be one thing on our schedules that feels good! How can we turn a commitment into a pleasure? I think the key is committing to something that brings you joy. Let me explain…
Six years ago, at the age of thirty-seven, I was diagnosed with advanced osteoporosis. Putting it bluntly, my endocrinologist explained, “If you don’t immediately commit to a regimen of strength training, your bones will begin to crumble spontaneously.” You can imagine my following crash course in self-care.
Up until that point I had never thought about what I do to take care of myself. I had worked out, or not, when the spirit moved me. I meditated or not when I felt the desire for that kind of inner connection. My self-care was based on whim, not necessity.
So there I was facing the spontaneous crumbling of my bones and needing to commit to a regimen not only of strength training, but of a level of self-care I’d never previously entertained. Suddenly, self-care wasn’t some amorphous idea but an action that pertained to my very ability to walk upright. Suddenly, self-care had a purpose.
Making the commitment to self-care isn’t easy. Mood, other activities and time constraints can make it difficult to follow through. Fear, however, is a great motivator. Terrified that my bones would crumble I committed to self-care with the ferocity of a hurricane. I didn’t enjoy it but I did it. Within two years I completely reversed the osteoporosis. Since then I’ve stuck to my workout regime without a hitch.
When motivated by fear, sticking to a self-care schedule becomes incredibly easy. The problem comes when we don’t have that instant inspiration. When self-care offers purely emotional or spiritual benefits we’re much more likely to forgo the commitment altogether. Unless, I’ve discovered, the commitment centers around something fun.
Not long after the osteoporosis diagnosis I fell into a very deep depression. As a trauma survivor, years of trying to outrun the past finally caught up with me; I needed to do some intense emotional work. The arduous process left me feeling powerless and overwhelmed. I needed to commit to emotional self-care at a time I didn’t feel capable of committing to anything except the black hole in which I lived.
One day, as I was marveling at just how black the hole actually was, a thought occurred to me. What I really needed was to do something that would help me get in touch with the part of myself that could feel joy. What I really needed, I mused, was a way to feel something outside of the despair in which I lived. There was only one thing I thought might help me do that: dance. Throughout my life dance had always offered me a transcendent feeling of release. I decided to dance. A lot. I signed up for a dance class every single day of the week.
At first it was just sheer will that got me to class, but then a funny thing happened: After each class I felt so much better that I began looking forward to the classes. I began to look forward to the time I set aside for my self-care each day. Having fun elevated self-care from chore to respite.
The benefits were astounding. The more I danced the more I began to feel a sense of balance between the dark and light in my mind, the more I connected to the possibility of feeling better, the more I connected to myself during a time that it was much more comfortable to disconnect. Ultimately, that feeling of joy filled me with the courage I needed to do the post-trauma recovery work that had to be done.
That was all years ago. I finished the recovery work and brought myself to a place of freedom and peace. Al that dancing turned me into a really terrific dancer, too. Today, I still incorporate dance into my schedule 2-3 times a week as that connection to joy and fun fuels my creativity, bolsters my energy and connects me to a community I enjoy.
The biggest lesson I learned in all of this was how important the fun factor is in self-care. Now, any time I wish to develop some aspect of my self-care, I ask myself, “How can I make this fun?” By ensuring some form of enjoyment I strengthen my emotional buy-in to the commitment. You can do this, too. We don’t often think about how we can turn tasks into pleasurable experiences, but shifting our approach in this way can make all the difference between defaulting versus following through on a self-care regime.
Self-Care Tip – Use what you love to love yourself.
Question: How do you get the fun factor into being your own friend? When being friendly to yourself isn’t what feels like a good time, how do you use what you love to improve your experience? Please tell us your story.
Michele Rosenthal is a certified professional coach and the host of Your Life After Trauma on Seaview Radio. Her post-trauma recovery memoir, Before the World Intruded: Conquering the Past and Creating the Future, will be released in 2012. To connect with Michele, visit www.yourlifeaftertrauma.com.