By Stephenie Craig
You’re moving through life, checking off your list, achieving, getting kids to activities, contributing to the community, and working. You’re so busy you don’t notice when a stomachache becomes the norm, tightness in your chest becomes more continuous, and tension in your body leaves you with unexplained aches and pains regularly. While all physical symptoms are not necessarily a result of emotions, all emotions are expressed physically through the body. Your mind, thoughts, feelings and spiritual life are all deeply connected to your physical experience in your body. When you view your body as separate from your inner emotional life, you’re blocking an important avenue for self-awareness and personal growth.
American culture encourages people to wear busyness and stress as badges of honor resulting in the ignoring of our body’s subtle and moderate messages regarding what needs internal attention. When we don’t listen to its earlier messages, the body begins to yell louder and louder until we begin to listen and tend to our daily stress and emotions. People begin to get increased headaches, stomach problems, chronic pain, skin irritations and hives, irritability, depression symptoms, anxiety symptoms, and other medically unexplained ailments in connection with ignoring messages from the body.
Your body may use physical sensations to tell you things like you’re overwhelmed, it’s time to rest, slow your pace, set a boundary, reduce commitments, tend to your relationships, nourish yourself more intentionally, prioritize sleep, say “no” more often, make a new friend, make a doctor appointment, ask for help, play more, prioritize fun. When you don’t make time to listen, you’re missing wisdom that can bring more health and balance to your life. So, you want the wisdom your body is trying to share, but how are you supposed to listen?
5 Ways to Listen to Your Body
- Slow down and breathe. Try stopping 3x per day to do 2 minutes of deep breathing which is about 20 slow breaths. While breathing, intentionally notice where you are holding tension or discomfort in your body. Think about releasing the tension while you breathe and make note of patterns as you breathe over days and weeks. Try adding reminders in your phone for breathing time for the first 4 weeks of practicing deep breathing.
- Determine your baseline for stress and calm. When you practice deep breathing, notice the difference between how your body feels when you are under stress and when you find a space of calm. Notice how your breathing is different, notice how tension in your body is different, notice how your thoughts are different, notice how your energy level is different, notice how your body temperature is different. Note the differences so you can check in with yourself daily and become more familiar with the physical sensations that occur when you are moving into a stressed state.
- Study how your body expresses emotion. Notice discomfort in your body such as tension, aches, sweating, change in heart rate, tingling, or itching. Try matching your physical experiences to feeling words. For example, when I feel happy, I smile, have stomach butterflies, my limbs feel light, I have high energy. When I feel angry, I clench my jaws, feel hot, sweat increases, my tone of voice becomes abrupt. Naming your physical sensations with feeling words guides you to more insight.
- Match your feeling word to a thought or external circumstance. Explore what thoughts or situations may have preceded the feeling. For example, I felt happy when my husband surprised me with cake for no reason. I felt angry when I was thinking about a past time when a friend talked about me behind my back. Think about how the experiences or thoughts connect with the feelings and what that might mean for you on a deeper level.
- Determine what wise action might be needed based on insight gathered from listening to your body. Feelings and bodily sensations may indicate it’s time for: a conversation, a change of pace, a change in self-care, a different relationship boundary, a different bedtime, a healthier coping tool, facing issues rather than avoiding, more information, increasing support.
Listening to your body is a practice that is developed over weeks and months of slowing, attending, and repeating. Be kind to yourself as you practice. Connect with us along your journey for additional counseling or coaching support at journeybravely.com.