It’s only 5:30pm but I’ve finished all the things I usually do when I’m at home (exercising, meds, meditation etc.) and I am not ready to just zone out and relax yet. Or well, I am (in fact I just sat down and started writing and I realized I am completely exhausted. That makes sense, since I was up till 3:30 on Thursday night and around 1:30am last night. Plus I have been working out for longer and at a higher intensity lately. So me experiencing a bit of exhaustion is okay.
It is now 8:30pm. I had to take a nap, and when I woke up, it was time for dinner. Then I remembered I had started writing this, so I came back to it. Ordinarily I would have deleted what I had previously written and restarted, but I thought it was interesting how I was talking about how exhausted I was, and then, promptly, ended up taking an almost 2 hour nap. Clearly, I needed it.
Over the past month, I have been learning to listen to my body. Not just bodily functions such as “I’m hungry” or “I’m sleepy” or “I need to use the bathroom”, but also more subtle changes like, “I’m feeling tense or anxious”. It is similar to what happens when you begin a relationship with someone (whether a friendship or a romantic relationship, both are relevant here). You learn how to relate to them, how they communicate with you, the subtle signs that mean they are unhappy, anxious, or irritated; you also learn how they express happiness, joy, excitement, and love. You learn, in short, to listen to them. And of course, if you don’t learn, you’ll soon find the relationship has ended.
Learning to listen to your body is somewhat the same. I am learning the way my body expresses itself. The way it tells me “you pushed me too hard yesterday” or “you have been sitting still too long and I need to move”. I am finding that the more I not only listen to my body, but trust it, the better I feel. If I feel like I’m hungry or thirsty I eat or I drink. If I hear my body telling me to take it easy for a while, I rest. When I notice that my attention is wandering or I am getting worked up, I find healthy ways to release the pent-up kinetic energy and I become more grounded and settled.
It isn’t always easy. Sometimes I miss a cue. Sometimes my body speaks and I ignore it. And here’s the catch-22: sometimes your mind can talk to you as if it were your body. And sometimes, in it’s “body disguise”, your mind can convince you to do things you know aren’t good for you. For example, my mind might really want to rest, even though I don’t need it. And it might pick something like a minor ache or pain or a heaviness of the eyelids, and it might tell me, “look, your back hurts/your stomach aches/you are sleepy….that’s your body talking, you should listen, and go take a nap, it’s ok. No one will be upset, besides, it is the right thing to do.”
So how do you know if it is your body talking or your brain? I find it is pretty simple for me to distinguish the two if I try. The guideline I generally use is this: my body doesn’t tell me what to do, it tells me how it feels. My body expects me to choose how to deal with whatever feeling is coming up. But it is my mind that analyzes and chooses the action. So if I am trying to convince myself that it is my body’s idea to take a nap, I am just using that to rationalize and justify. But if I realize, “my body is telling me it is tired”, and I think about it and realize there is nothing I need to do at the present and that taking a nap might be a good way to deal with the physical sensation my body is demonstrating….well, I know they are really similar, but they are actually quite a bit different when they happen internally.
But the other thing that is important to remember here is that if I don’t try to distinguish between brain and body, I can easily manipulate myself into doing things I know aren’t good for me. So the most critical aspect of this “listening” is placing a pause between the feeling, the thought, and the action. Because if I just go straight from feeling to action or straight from feeling to thought to action or from thought to feeling to action or any combination of those things without stopping and pausing and asking myself to check my motivation and pay attention to the physical clues in my body….well, if I don’t put that pause there I can do some really dumb stuff really quick without even realizing why I am doing it.
So today was a great example of me listening to the exhaustion in my body and allowing myself to take a measured response. I didn’t go nap for 5 hours and keep myself up all night. And I didn’t ignore the feeling and push myself to try and stay awake which could have resulted in me becoming irritated, surly, and uncomfortable, as well as not fun to be around!
I am sure this process of listening to what your body is saying might seem cumbersome, but I cannot express how helpful it has been. I know that my experience yesterday afternoon before leaving for the river would have been entirely different had I not stopped, listened to my body, and thought through my response before I acted.
And speaking of, my lower back is uncomfortable, and I am finished with this post, so instead of dragging it out to make the ending more palatable, I will just say sign off and go read my book.
Goodnight, and happy listening,
(also, I will be posting this tomorrow morning again, and for the rest of my time here, so expect to read this the day after I wrote it)
- Calm in The Storm: Compassion and Anxiety (my.psychologytoday.com)
- The Mindful Manifesto – Awareness, Engagement, and Choice (psychologytoday.com)