In the hustle and bustle of modern life, we often find ourselves caught up in the demands of work, relationships, and various other commitments, leaving little time to pay attention to a critical aspect of our existence – our bodies. However, learning to listen to our bodies is a crucial skill that can significantly enhance our overall well-being. It means connecting with ourselves on a deeper level, understanding our physical and emotional needs, and responding to them with care and compassion. This article aims to explore the importance of listening to your body and how it can lead to a healthier and more balanced life.
Understanding Your Body’s Signals
Our bodies are vibrant entities, continuously communicating with us through various signals and sensations. Listening to our body means being in tune with these messages and understanding what they mean and taking the necessary actions steps to resolve them. Pain, fatigue, hunger, and thirst are some of the most evident signals that prompt us to take action. When we ignore or suppress these signals, we can invite a host of consequences on our health and wellbeing. For instance, prolonged stress and anxiety might manifest as physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, or gastrointestinal issues. Instead of overlooking these signs, paying attention to them can lead us to explore coping mechanisms like mindfulness practices, exercise, or seeking professional help. Basically, when you feel something, say something and don’t assume it’s nothing. A few months ago, I felt what I considered a little sensation in my trap muscle (it’s located somewhere in my back). I assumed it was the normal pain from living an active lifestyle. I ignored that pain until I couldn’t lift my arms a few days later. An MRI scan confirmed I tore a muscle and had to take 6 weeks off to recover. Every pain is a message, some are nothing, but some aren’t so when it’s persistent (more than. few days) get it checked.
Developing Body Awareness
Developing body awareness is a key aspect of listening to our bodies. Over the years through developing body awareness, I have identified the foods that serve me and those that don’t. As one who teaches on diet restructuring, I often ask clients to share their food history with me. Feeling bloated, fatigue and low energy can result from eating specific foods and we often take this for granted. Awareness here also means knowledge of your body as it changes from one moment to the next. It requires one to be mindful and present in the moment without judgement rather recognize and accept the changes. By doing so, we can recognize tension, discomfort, or other sensations that might indicate a need for self-care or rest. Last week at the gym I stepped off a machine. Although it was part of my workout program, I found the machine rather uncomfortable to use. It put my body in such an awkward position, and I immediately recognized that it could lead to an injury. I opted for an alternative workout using dumbbells’ instead. I almost fell victim to self-judgement. I almost allowed the “push through at all costs” mindset overshadow the feeling of discomfort I felt. Glad I was mindful to accept what was and explore other options rather than judge myself for not pushing through.
Listening Beyond the Physical
Listening to our bodies goes beyond recognizing physical sensations; it also involves being attentive to our emotional and mental states. Emotions often manifest physically, and vice versa. For example, feelings of sadness might be accompanied by lethargy and reduced appetite, while excitement might lead to increased heart rate and restlessness. Studies have shown that stress has many effects on the human nervous system and can cause structural changes in different parts of the brain (Lupien et al., 2009). Chronic stress can lead to atrophy of the brain mass and decrease its weight (Sarahian et al., 2014). I have also listened to personal stories of how unresolved emotions led to diagnosis and healing was only possible after these emotions were identified and resolved. Acknowledging and processing our emotions is essential for maintaining emotional well-being. When we listen to our bodies and allow ourselves to experience and express emotions, we can find healthier ways to cope with them, leading to improved mental clarity and reduced emotional distress.
Respecting Individual Needs
Each person’s body is unique, and what works for one individual may not suit another. Listening to your body means respecting its individual needs and not comparing yourself to others. Some people might thrive on a busy schedule, while others require more downtime to recharge. Certain foods might energize one person but cause discomfort in another. By paying attention to how your body responds to different stimuli, you can make informed choices that support our individual well-being. This might include adjusting our lifestyle, dietary habits, exercise routines, and sleep patterns to suit our unique requirements. There’s no one size fits all with regards to out body’s needs, it’s important to know this so you avoid forcing yourself into a box that isn’t made for you.
Finding Balance and Preventing Burnout
There is a time and place for pushing through and testing your limits, but it is not 100% of the time. Listening to your body can help prevent burnout and improve overall balance in life. Pushing ourselves beyond our limits and ignoring signs of exhaustion or stress can lead to physical and emotional breakdowns so knowing when to stop is crucial. The acceptance of change that come with new seasons and transitions is a necessary step in the right direction. A new mom needs time to adapt to the birth of her baby and the changes that will result from that transition. Same for a person who moves to a new country. We often want to speed up the adjustment phase and this can lead to feelings of overwhelm. Don’t judge yourself based on your past capacity, instead adapt to the changes that life brings to your door. Burnouts can be prevented and by embracing our frailty as humans we allow for self-compassion. Taking regular breaks, prioritizing self-care, and being mindful of our energy levels can promote longevity and a sense of contentment.
Listening to your body requires time, patience, and practice. It involves developing a profound understanding of your physical, emotional, and mental needs and responding to them with compassion. With this awareness, we can make more conscious choices that support our well-being and lead to a healthier, happier, and more fulfilling life. Our bodies are our permanent companions on this journey, so they deserve the utmost attention and care. Take time to practice mindful meditation first thing in the morning to energize from yourself from inside out. Eat a lot of nutrient-dense foods especially fruits and vegetables. Don’t compromise on a good night’s sleep as this can impact your energy levels first thing in the morning.
Finally, prioritize self-care. Take proactive measures when you notice a persistent signal. You might need to speak to a loved one when you feel overwhelmed or better still seek professional help and support. If your body’s signal points to a poor diet, then seek the service of health professional who can help you create a healthy diet plan. I urge you to embark on this journey of self-discovery and actively listen to the wisdom our bodies have to offer.
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