When Something Feels Off, Stop and Listen to Your Body — It’s Trying to Tell You Something
The Struggle to Keep Up
We live in a fast-paced world that thrives on productivity, efficiency, and innovation. Things move fast, and many of us have grown accustomed to having what we want, when we want it. In this day and age, it’s easy to plow through life without tuning in to our quieter inner worlds. We can let life’s craziness drown out the cries of our bodies as they voice their needs for rest or relief, often through lingering physical aches or pains. Our minds rapidly shift from one thing to the next, often without us being able to discern their patterns, thoughts, or fears. We can neglect our body’s inner voice, that naturally works in such harmony with our mind, yet is at times unseen, unheard, or misunderstood.
Woven throughout our fast-paced ‘epidemic’ it seems, is this idea that our bodies can actually keep up this pace of constantly striving and achieving. Or, that they are meant to respond to quick and easy fixes when things go wrong. When we find ourselves wrestling with physical, mental, or emotional pain, it’s tempting to seek out the fastest escape route, or rely on a single pill or approach to fix our bodies’ broken parts.’ In our attempts to quickly appease the body’s suffering or discomfort, we may end up silencing it, without fully understanding what it might be saying or teaching through any pain.
On a practical level, as a clinical social worker, I see these areas play out within the helping profession. Often, it seems, both in the medical and mental health community, the body’s underlying conditions are misdiagnosed and untreated, and patients are left feeling hopeless, confused, and burned out by symptom management approaches. We’re so consumed with fixing our suffering, that we don’t always stop to listen or look at other underlying triggers or sources at play.
Pause, let’s shift our mindsets
Maybe, just maybe, we need a mindset shift within our culture, that is more intentional about listening to, rather than silencing suffering bodies. We can strive to alleviate suffering, while also hearing what it has to say. What would it look like to cultivate a compassionate curiosity towards our bodies and minds, and listen to, rather than run from, unpleasant feelings, sensations, cravings, or fears?
In this place of stopping and listening, we can better discern what the body is trying to teach or communicate to us. And from here, we can better choose and advocate for what we might need most.
If this is new to you, that’s normal. Looking in, deep within, can be a bit scary, and learning to trust and listen to your body can feel rather uncertain. It’s easier to distract, disconnect, or shut out the cries of our bodies, instead of tuning into the truth of what they have to say.
So how we listen? What’s the first step? When we do slow down, how are we to discern what’s next when so many unknown messages, worries, or fears come hurling in?
Here are five suggestions on how to listen to your body when something feels off, while responding in loving, respectful, and assertive ways:
Listen to your body; it’s trying to tell you something
Breathe, and tune in
When you’re experiencing pain, discomfort, or uneasiness, whether it’s from a place of physical or emotional unrest, take a moment to just breathe.
Feel your stomach rise and fall with each inhale and exhale. Don’t try to control your breath, just let it flow naturally, with ease. Tune into the location of the pain or discomfort. Where do you feel it in the body? In your stomach, chest, shoulders, or head? Simply notice the pain, without trying to fix, change, or resist. Our bodies are often good at telling us when something is wrong, but we have to first be willing to stop and listen.
Notice changes in patterns
When we’re healthy and stable, we maintain certain bodily rhythms and patterns. Our sleep-wake cycles, for example, are governed by our circadian rhythms, and our appetites are largely stimulated by internal and external cues. When we’re stressed, overwhelmed, or emotionally drained, our bodies may respond with a decrease (or increase) in appetite. We may struggle to fall asleep, or find ourselves sleeping too much. Or, if our bodies are wrestling with an underlying health condition, hormonal imbalances, or nutritional deficiencies, new symptoms or changes in normal patterns may also arise.
Discern the source
As you begin to notice changes in bodily patterns and start tuning into your body’s symptoms, try to pinpoint any underlying triggers or sources. Could the discomfort be coming from a day of high stress, a poor diet, or a lack of sleep? Is there trauma involved? Are you worried, stressed, or excited about something?
Try to develop an awareness of the discomfort’s tone or voice. Is it a sharp or piercing pain, or a lingering dullness? Does it sound anxious, depressed, angry or confused? Is it primarily manifested through physical discomfort, emotional dysregulation, or both?
If the pain or discomfort is related to a known trigger currently within your control, that’s a good thing. For you’re that much closer to responding and acting in a way that honors your body’s reactions and needs. If however, you’re feeling stuck, and can’t seem to understand or discern well, it’s important to connect with the right provider who can help you make sense of your body’s symptoms and cues.
Remember, you are your best advocate
As you seek out professional help, here’s a little secret I’ll share that I learned through my own journey: you are your body’s best advocate. There are countless individuals, myself included, who have been misdiagnosed and mislabeled by traditional medicine over the years.
At no fault of their own (for this is a systemic issue), certain medical providers may be trapped by the broken healthcare system, unable to see or to respond to the full picture at stake. If your body is telling you that something is off, and you’re not getting the answers you need from your current provider, it might be time to find a new one.
Ask questions, seek out clear answers, and do your research wisely. As you learn to listen to your body, remember that you are your best advocate; no one else can understand your body’s symptoms or needs in the same way you can.
If you are currently searching for a new holistic provider, who might be able to help address root causes to symptoms, try searching on this database for one in your area.
Be patient, compassionate, and gracious
Lastly, it’s important to be kind, patient, and compassionate with yourself and your body as you move through any periods of pain or uncertainty. Sometimes, suffering lingers, even when the best treatments or approaches have run their course.
In these places of unrest, we can still show our bodies grace, and patiently wait for an answer, or a sense of relief. And as this comes, or doesn’t, there are always lessons to learn along the way. If your body is anything like mine, it likely won’t respond well to ‘instant’ solutions, demands, or short term fixes. Rather, it likes to take its time, and moves at a slow, steady pace. As you learn to listen to your body, may you also come to respect its pace, and honor the speed at which it’s moving. In this way, we don’t just listen, but begin to truly love the bodies that we’ve been so graciously given.
Originally published at https://elizabethanndixon.com.