Love can change the world – and that includes loving ourselves. Which is why, as our community continued to move through the challenges of COVID-19 and YW’s frontline work became both more difficult and more in demand, the YWCA Dayton shelter services team paused for a 10-day self-love challenge.
Created by Nzingha Dalila, director of counseling services at Antioch College, the My Love Can Change My World Challenge asked participants to engage in daily small actions that generate feelings of love within themselves, and in turn, helped to nurture healing from the impacts of violence and discrimination.
“It’s about spreading love and transformation, one heartbeat at a time,” Dalila said. “The feeling of love in our hearts is a powerful, transformative, and healing energy. Violence and oppression can keep us mentally and emotionally trapped in fear and self-doubt. A revolutionary act to help combat the effects of trauma is the power of love.”
Suggested activities included spending a few minutes each day engaging in a small action that generates the feeling of love, such as tending a plant, practicing mindfulness, writing a poem, or exercising self-care like reading or going for a walk.
“Love can be a powerful movement, so in addition to practicing it, the Challenge also asked people to reach out to three others and invite them to join, and so on,” Dalila said. “By sharing your chosen actions and their impact, the hope is that provides ideas and encouragement for others as well.”
Michelle Sayer, clinical director, said that her team struggled, at first, to complete the Challenge. “They found that it was easier to do nice things for others, compared to taking time for themselves,” she explained.
Maintaining the Challenge as a daily habit was also, in itself, challenging – some staff set alarms or posted notes as reminders. “We all get so busy helping others, we rarely help ourselves in the same way,” Sayer said. “After the Challenge, as our team discussed our week, we discovered that everyone remembered little things they had done for themselves, without identifying it as significant at the time. Looking back, there were small things – like waking up early to exercise for 15 minutes or take a morning walk – that did have a positive impact.”
Other ways that YW staff changed their world with love: sitting on their porch, walking barefoot in the grass, setting work/life boundaries, saying self-love affirmations out loud, and giving themselves permission to cry.
“Before, I would hold things in and try to always stay positive,” one team member wrote. “Crying has been a positive release of emotions. I now realize it’s ok if someone else is uncomfortable with what I need to do for self-care.”
Some staff have also made efforts to continue what they started, reports Sayer – who has kept up her early-morning exercise routine. “I realized that it was helping me feel more centered and have better focus during my work day. Ultimately, our team gained an increased awareness of the importance of self-care and self-love, and are making efforts to practice it on a more frequent basis.”
Not only is the shelter services team refreshed after completing the Challenge – they’re better prepared to meet the needs of women and families served by YW’s domestic violence shelters.
“On the days that the team cared for themselves, they also found more capacity to manage challenging situations at work. One person used their daily meditation for a client to help them calm and refocus,” Sayer said. “This Challenge allowed us to shift focus from being ‘busy’ to truly embracing what it feels like to care for ourselves and others.”