Self-love is such an important topic, but I must admit that I am often unclear what those words truly mean to me. This past year has presented unprecedented challenges on a personal and global level. It became quickly evident to me that if I didn’t have strategies to love myself during these challenging times, then fear, stress, anxiety, depression and even despair could be a daily battle.
One of the common self-love strategies I often hear about is to “be gentle with yourself” as a way of managing during the difficult times we are facing. It would seem that being “gentle” translated to many people as doubling down on bad behaviors: drinking, over eating, and lots of screen time as a antidote to feeling fearful, isolated and uncertain. I am sure at first indulging these quick comfort behaviors felt like an act of self-love, but afterwards left many feeling hollow and no better off.
On the flip side, I have seen others take this as an opportunity to overachieve (I will show this virus who is the boss) and radically increase on all their perceived ‘good habits’: big exercise goals, strict diets, and working harder than ever. These overachievers seemed to get some positive results initially as I am sure this manic pursuit of goals provided a short-term distraction from reality. But similar to overeating, overachieving is a short-term strategy to make us feel better in the moment, and when the dust settles we often feel worse, not better.
My response to the stress of the pandemic was to do a combination of both. I indulged in more comfort foods than normal and distracted myself with significantly more screen time. At the same time, I also started training hard and even broke my lifetime 5K and 10K personal best running times and even climbed a mountain on my 52nd birthday. Like most people I was doing my best to feel good and even thrive during these difficult times, but from the outside I likely looked more like a dog chasing its tail, never quite catching the self-love I was unconsciously looking for.
During these wild swings of being overly gentle with myself to the manic pursuit of goals, I believe I accidentally found some sweet spots of self-love somewhere in the middle.
“Loving yourself isn’t vanity. It’s sanity.” – Andre Gide
I am a long distance runner and all of my races were cancelled for the 2020 season. I did not realize how much I relied on them for my motivation. With nothing to train for I started losing my desire to run. I struggled for a couple of months feeling sad and even angry that this was taken from me. But then something happened; I started running for enjoyment. I stopped worrying about my pace, breaking my personal bests, or getting faster. I just enjoyed connecting with my body, giving myself the gift of good health, energy and loving the time in nature.
When the pandemic first hit my business went crazy with tons of problems to solve. This initially did not bring out the best in people (me included) as we flailed about trying to find ways through complicated situations. I would often lose sleep and wake up feeling anxious not knowing what would be the next piece of bad news. Being stuck in the repeated drama (and finger pointing) of the situation was clouding my mind and making it difficult to realize it was my skill as a creative problem solver was what this moment was truly calling for. I happen to love solving problems, and once I did my best to release control and focus on the areas I could best contribute to, things got much smoother.
One of my vegan friends shared this piece of wisdom in a Zoom meeting, “Nourish your body and at the same time save the planet.” His words hit home for me so strongly that I nearly fell off my chair. My wife and I had been slowly moving our diet in that direction, but the pandemic definitely steered us off course. The next day we decided not to buy any more meat, eggs or dairy at the grocery store and made a conscious move to a plant based whole food diet. I am proud to say that for the past six months we have been eating 95% vegetarian and we are well on our way to 100%. We feel smarter, more clear-headed, stronger and proud to be respecting the planet and our bodies with our food choices.
I’ve heard it said that we are the average of the five people we allow closest to us. This felt very true to me as during the pandemic as I noticed that I became hypersensitive to any degree of negativity. Comments that would normally slide past me without notice were now pushing my buttons. This caused a chain of events for me; I began to significantly reduce my contacts with overly negative people. I consciously invited more positive influence people into my close circle and I became more personally aware of my communication and its potential impact on others.
I have always had a belief that self-love happens automatically. We wake up loving ourselves and at the end of the day, when our eyes close and head hits the pillow, we smile as we say “WOW! You are awesome.” What I’ve learned in the pandemic is that it isn’t that easy. We often spend a lot of our days fighting our inner critic, comparing, living in the past, or a future yet realized. All of this contributes to negative self-judgment and even self-hatred if left unchecked.
Really tuning in to what self-love means to you and weaving it into your daily routines will strengthen your mind, body and spirit connection. From this inner connected place you will crowd out the critical thoughts and judgment with acts and thoughts of self-love and fulfilling connections. Don’t wait to find self–love by happy accident, do it on purpose.
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” – Buddha