The Missing Piece of Your Healing Journey
Published on September 8, 2017 by Dr. Caitlin Gordon
Healing through joy instead of effort
I’ve felt stuck, or even like I was backsliding at many points in my healing journey over the last 15 years. Oftentimes, I would throw more herbs, supplements, diet adjustments, or testing at the problem. And sometimes it would work, and sometimes it would not. When it didn’t work, there was a sense of frustration and even desperation. I felt like I was running out of energy to keep trying and running out of options. I felt confused like I didn’t know what to try next. Burnout and hopelessness set in.
Consistently, and without fail there have been two things that have helped me through those times.
- Pursuing Joy
Surrendering to my feelings of frustration, stopping the “efforting”, and asking myself what would be nurturing and/or fun is the only thing that has always created a shift for the positive. We get into fear-based thinking when our health backslides or progress stalls. This creates a vicious cycle where we obstruct our bodies ability to self-heal.
Experiencing joy and relaxation sends the body an extremely powerful and crucial message: you are safe. This message alone allows the nervous system to enter the parasympathetic mode (rest and digest). For our innate healing processes of repair and restoration to take place, the body must be in a parasympathetic state. Feelings of joy do plenty other wonderful things for our health too.
Pursuing joy and relaxation are often one and the same, but I want to make the distinction because each term has different associations for people. When I say pursuing joy, I mean making time to do things that make you feel deeply happy. This might be dancing, going to see music, getting dinner with your best friend, hiking a mountain, reading a trashy novel, planning a vacation, or spending time with your husband or kids. It can be anything.
If you aren’t sure what makes you feel joyful, this is a red flag that you need to prioritize making time for fun and play. Start trying out new hobbies, take an art class, sign up to learn a language, go somewhere you’ve never been before, join a meetup group, etc. Start exploring what lights up your senses, sparks your creativity, or makes you forget about time. Even if you think you do know what brings up the feeling of joy, write a list and put it somewhere prominent– fridge, bathroom mirror, laptop background, desk, etc.
Relaxation as a Path to Health
Relaxation is often joyful and joyful activities are often relaxing. Relaxation might feel more calming though, whereas joyful activities may feel more stimulating. Relaxation can be acupuncture, massage, baths, walks, journaling, reading, meditation, prayer, yin or restorative yoga, cooking, or sitting outside to eat a meal.
These types of activities need to be part of your everyday life. Did you let that sink in? This was a hard truth for me to accept. All sorts of limiting beliefs popped up around this idea for me initially. I had a ton of resistance to the idea that I could find time every single day to relax.
If you have judgments pop up about privilege, laziness, entitlement, or self-indulgence, or you have fears come up about time, money, or the perception of others, this is a great area for self-work. You can try turning your judgment or fear into a positive affirmation, tapping it out if you are into EFT, talking it out with a therapist, or just naming it to yourself. We tend to get in our own way when it comes to shifting patterns.
If you’re feeling resistant to these suggestions, start small. Aim to do one thing everyday that feels relaxing, even if it’s only for 10-15 minutes to start. Schedule in longer moments of relaxation weekly.
Many people who need to incorporate more joy and relaxation into their daily life may also be the types (like me) who overschedule and are too busy. If that sounds like you, check out this article on how to break the productivity compulsion.
Joy and Relaxation Vs. Escapism
Sometimes mindlessly eating popcorn and bingeing Netflix feels like relaxation. And it could be, but we tend to zone out and disconnect from our feelings when we spend time in front of screens. It borders more closely on escapism. Often when we feel joyful or relaxed we forget about time, our problems, and are fully in the moment. This is a beautiful thing and a huge part of the benefit. Just be mindful that you aren’t only seeking out activities or habits that numb you and disconnect you from your feelings.
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