Tag Archives | stress

DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

Last weekend we went to see Bruce Lipton. If you don’t know of him, he was originally a cell biologist who has, over the years, gathered together some fascinating information about how our biology works, and drawn some great conclusions from that. (Find him on YouTube, or read his books – it’s inspirational and educative stuff). Amongst other things, he talked about stress and its effects, and provided me with a very useful reminder.
There are lots of reasons why stress is not good for us. It releases chemicals into our bodies, which shut down our immune system, our healing, and renewal and maintenance of cells. It also sends all our energy into our hindbrain – the primitive bit that produces knee-jerk reactions – which makes us behave stupidly. And we all know this at some level.
What I found particularly useful was to be reminded of how our bodies are stressed. There are 3 sources of stress:
1.    Physical trauma of some kind – when we are physically hurt
2.    Toxins entering the body. This could be through the food we eat or the air we breathe.
3.    Thought – our own thoughts about things.
And what he emphasised is that our thoughts are the most common and most powerful stressor that we experience. This got me thinking – I hope in a constructive way! – about the thoughts we have.
The ones that stress us most are the ones which are anchored in fear, the ones we call being anxious or worried. Now a lot of the time we know these thoughts are unnecessary and our minds are exaggerating them. You now the ones I mean – the ones like: ‘I’m running a bit late and my car might not start’, or ‘I’m feeling a bit under the weather – maybe I’ve got a degenerative disease’. We can recognise that we’ve taken 2 and 2 and made 400! And we can take a step back and realise that these are not obvious deductions, but a fear-based emotional reaction. A few deep breaths and a bit of perspective can help us to bring these thoughts back under control.
Of course, sometimes being anxious is justified: a physical pain we don’t recognise or understand; having to do something we don’t feel confident about; facing something which may well have a bad outcome, for example. We know when we’re having these sorts of thoughts because they ‘plague’ us. They keep creeping in through other things we’re doing, we can’t argue ourselves out of it with any logic, they affect our dreams.
In these cases, I think the solution is to do something about it, take an action to alleviate the situation. We can go to the doctor, ask for some help from others who have dealt with something similar, prepare ourselves thoroughly for something. Putting off doing something about it because we’re anxious just perpetuates the anxiety and therefore the stress, and that is just a vicious cycle. When we take an action, we are taking back some control, and that automatically alleviates the stress.
Let’s not give ourselves extra problems through stress we can do something about. Life’s too short!

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YOUR ENERGY BANK

We all have bank accounts for our finances, and most of us manage them with some care, because we know that being overdrawn is not good – in fact it costs us even more than we owe.

It is the perfect metaphor for our energy levels, because our energy is equally vital for our survival, yet most of us take very little care of our energy banks.

Our energy banks fluctuate more, but at the same time, they are easier to top up – we are not reliant on an external input once a month, and can have more control over both inputs and outgoings.

What do I mean? Well, the inputs to your energy bank are simply all those things that energise you, many of which you can actively bring into your life. And the outgoings are all those things that drain your energy, many of which you can exert some control over.

For example, you may find physical activity energising, or the company of good friends, or just having a rest. You may find certain aspects of your work draining, or certain relationships, or housework.

By the way, it is a little more complex than this: sometimes the same activity can be both draining and energising at the same time, so we need to assess whether the overall ‘balance’ is in the black or the red. And some activities may be draining one day, yet energising the next: for example, you may feel good doing some gardening one weekend, and exhausted by doing it the next weekend.

Our energy bank matters because it is what fuels us to live our lives well. When it’s well topped up, we achieve more, we are happier, and we are lovely to be around! When it’s in the red, everything becomes more difficult, and we damage our health by over stretching ourselves.

Obviously we can’t control everything that happens in our lives. There will always be the unexpected or unavoidable that lands in our laps and drains our energy bank – or tops it up!

However, we can learn to notice what’s going on with our energy bank, and deliberately choose to do something to top it up if it is running a bit low. By becoming consciously aware of it, we can ensure that we keep it as well-filled as possible.

So start by making a list of some of those things that usually give you an energy boost, and those that usually drain you – you know what they are, and you know which ones are within your control, because your physical and emotional reactions tell you. Then list those that can come into both categories, so you are aware of them.

And now find a couple of extra things you could put on the energy-giving list. They don’t have to be complicated: reading a chapter of an enjoyable book; phoning a friend; dancing to a favourite music track.

With this awareness, you can now take more care of your energy bank balance. You can plan in some energy-givers, particularly when you have to do something that drains you, and when you have time to do some extra topping up.

If you have a healthy energy bank account, the world is your oyster, life automatically gets better.

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A QUIET MIND

I don’t think we realise most of the time just how busy our mind is. It’s like when you leave the radio or TV on in the background – you don’t notice the noise after a while, until you turn it off and you notice the quiet.

The mind runs a commentary on whatever’s going on, or whatever you’re doing, so it tells you the story of your life: ‘I’m just sitting down for 5 minutes because I’m tired. I won’t need long before I can get going again – don’t want to sink into lethargy – lots to do – although I wish I could just stop sometimes.’ Your mind also does past and/or future at the same time – like having two different channels running simultaneously! ‘ I did quite a lot today, but I didn’t finish my list of tasks. And I must remember to phone so-and-so, and what shall I have for dinner?’

It’s amazing that we don’t go a bit crazy with it constantly playing in our heads – or maybe we do!! And it isn’t usually very kind in its commentary, and sometimes it is downright mean and twisted in its reasoning.

So once in a while, it’s great to be able to switch it off and have a rest, but this is not as easy as switching off the radio and TV. I remember learning a meditation where you count the breath up to ten, and them start again from one. I told the teacher I just couldn’t do it: I’d get to about three and then be distracted by my thoughts. He laughed and said that was normal – you just start over when you realise you’ve lost it again. I still find that I rarely get to five, years and years later!

And once in a while, I realise that the noise in my mind has shut up, apparently on its own – so what has that effect on it? For me, something moving gently with a natural rhythm seems to work. It may be a sound or, more often, something I’m looking at. Examples would be: the sound and sight of waves breaking on the shore; leaves on a tree moving gently in the breeze; a candle flame or a real fire; the tick of an old-fashioned clock. If I stay paying attention to it, the rhythmic sound or sight seems to lull my busy mind to sleep for a while. It’s as if the noise gradually fades away until there’s nothing left.

And a little while of that quiet feels so restful, so refreshing!

So what allows you to have a break from your own busy head? Experiment, find out, and enjoy a few moments of peace and quiet.

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‘ARE YOU SITTING COMFORTABLY?’

‘Then I’ll begin…’ It was the start of story-time on children’s hour when I was little, and we would all settle down to enjoy the story. For some reason it re-appeared in my memory this week, and prompted me to think about what being comfortable means.

It’s surprising at first when you look at its etymology: it means originally to be in your own strength. We think of being comfortable as being relaxed, at ease, rather than strong. And when you think about it some more, you realise that it is a form of strength that we don’t usually recognise or use, given us to help us to live our lives well.

So let’s explore it some more. When we feel physically comfortable, we are more likely to be in the flow mentally, and emotionally balanced. This is because the body reflects directly how we are feeling and cannot be controlled by our conscious mind; it shows us whether something is right or wrong for us by its reaction, if we choose to listen to it.

How useful is that!! I don’t have to try and work it out through my thinking: that mind that can argue the case for almost anything! I can just notice how my body is feeling, use a simple question to myself: ‘ Is my body comfortable with this?’

And if it isn’t, then we can use it to help us to improve the situation. If we know how our body feels when we are comfortable, then we can adjust ourselves physically until we get those feelings, and our emotions and our mind will automatically re-balance themselves, and we will easily think of an alternative way of handling the situation.

So begin by noticing when you are comfortable. What are you like physically – your shoulders, your belly, your breathing? And appreciate the effect that physical comfort has on your mental and emotional state.

Then notice when you slip out of comfort, and how different it feels physically. Begin with the simple everyday events that cause this slip: thinking about dinner tonight and not being in the mood to plan something to eat; the phone ringing when you are in the middle of something else; seeing 50 emails drop into your in-box in the morning. And just step away for a moment and get yourself physically comfortable again: now what are you going to do about it? By practising regaining your comfort on small things, you develop the habit of using being comfortable as a mechanism to reduce the stresses of life and to tap into your own ability to deal more constructively and imaginatively with the things that life throws at you.

We were born with this wondrous gift – let’s use it. Are you sitting comfortably? Now let’s begin!!

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ONE STEP AT A TIME

It’s a common maxim: ‘if it looks too big to tackle, break it down into small chunks.’ We’ve all heard it, and if you’re like me, often forget it! I think the clue is in the first part – ‘if it looks too big’. Somehow we assume that this is some objective measurement, that it only applies when everyone would say that it was too big to deal with in one go. Yet in my experience, this is about personal perception, not what someone else might think. In fact, it doesn’t even stay constant in our own perception, because that changes depending on our mood, our energy levels, our thinking about it.

I used to disappoint myself a lot more, when I assessed the size of something I had to do by some external measure. I would tell myself that I should be able to do whatever it was in the time I had, and that I needed to just get on with it. And of course, I often adopted avoidance procedures, or put it off till I was forced to do it by deadlines, or failed to get it completed, if there were no deadlines to meet.

Eventually, I began to realise that if I perceived something as daunting or overwhelming, it would elicit these non- useful behaviours in me, or at the very least, leave me exhausted by the end of it, even if it were only a small thing to do objectively. Furthermore, this was doing the opposite of what I intended: it was resulting in negative results and negative feelings, instead of positive energy and a sense of achievement.

So I began to experiment with different ways of approaching the things I have to do.

Firstly, accept that it feels daunting to you. It doesn’t matter if this is because it’s a big job, or because you don’t really like doing this sort of thing, or just because you’re not in the mood for it. If that sinking feeling is there, then it’s valid, and it’s time to break the task down.

I’m an expert on this – I can break down even the smallest jobs! There are two ways to break down a job into smaller pieces: time you spend on it, and amount of it you do. For example, I might say I’ll clear 10 emails, or that I’ll spend 20 minutes clearing some emails. Or I might choose to clear one flowerbed of weeds, or spend half an hour doing some weeding in the garden. It is important to keep the amount you set yourself small and easily achievable, so that it has the opposite effect of the original job – it is going to be easy to feel you’ve achieved something.

It is also important to let go of ‘in the right order’. Often a task looks daunting because of what we think we have to do first, so do something else that will contribute to the overall, but looks easier. For example, rather than starting by deciding how you want to organise that messy garage of yours, or by taking everything out on to the lawn – that commits you to doing a lot of it! – why not just take a black bag in there and wander around putting the obvious rubbish in it. Doing some of the smaller steps involved in the job means that you can cumulatively reduce the size of the job overall, and it becomes less daunting.

Now doing this breakdown into small, bite-sized chunks, has several neat tricks built into it:

  • It’s easy to find 10 or 20 minute slots, and you can even reward yourself afterwards by doing something you like doing!
  • You’re more motivated to do a bit more, on another day – the next chunk – and the overall job reduces to a manageable size remarkably quickly.
  • You often find that, once you start, you can easily do more than you have set yourself originally, so you feel an extra sense of achievement!
  • Because it’s easy, each chunk energises you rather than leaving you feeling tired and resentful.

 

I know you all know this really, but I also know that we all tend to save the technique for those officially big projects we have to do occasionally, the ones where we feel we can justify taking small steps towards it. What nonsense is that! If it’s something I can’t face doing, then I need the technique of breaking it down – it’s a simple emotional equation. Otherwise we are forcing ourselves against our natural flow, and that is a terrible waste of energy.

Eat your ‘elephant’ in bite-sized chunks of course, but eat your ‘tiny mouse’ in the same way and give yourself permission to make your life easier!

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SPENDING YOUR TIME WISELY

We all do it – waste our time – well, I certainly do! And I have been thinking about how we can do something about it.

Firstly, I want to be clear about this: if we are going to spend our time wisely we need to clarify what is a waste of time. Our culture has become one of doing not being, which means we often call something a waste of time because it wasn’t productive, rather than because it really did waste time.

Wasting time is when you feel like you’ve lost energy rather than gained it, as you finish whatever you were doing. Examples abound in our everyday life: the row with someone that you fell into; the mindless watching of whatever happens to be on the TV; the avoidance procedures which then tighten the deadline you had in the first place; the time spent worrying about something that didn’t actually happen.

However, that walk you took to clear your mind, that time spent talking with a friend, playing with your child – these are not a waste of time, even though they have no obvious ‘product’, because you feel better afterwards, they give you positive energy. So spending your time wisely means gaining energy through the use of your time, and using your inner assessment of your energy levels as your gauge, not some cultural norm of being busy.

This requires that we create our own unique version of spending time that works for us.

  1. Notice, in the course of your day, what gives you energy and what drains you.

Then you will develop your own sense of how your energy levels are affected by what you do with your time.

  1. Start noticing the times when you contradict your own measure of positive energy

This is when we know that we feel better for it, but then contradict the positive effect by imposing a cultural norm on it: ‘ I shouldn’t go for a walk before I’ve finished this task’ or ‘ I shouldn’t read a chapter of my book until I’ve done my chores’. The give-away is the ‘shouldn’t’ – it indicates that we are taking on someone else’s definition of wasting time. So change these to: ‘ if I go for a walk first, I will finish this task more effectively’ or ‘ if I read a chapter of my book first, I will be more ready to do the chores’.

  1. Notice what helps you to spend your time wisely

Maybe you are more effective in the morning than in the afternoon – I know I write best after my second cup of coffee! Maybe you are more productive if you take a break every half hour. Maybe you function better if you allow yourself time to plan your day in the morning or reflect on your day in the evening.

  1. Allow yourself the non-productive energy givers

Getting lots done but being exhausted by t is not good for you! If you actually analyse it, you will find that it isn’t effective either; it is forced productivity at a high cost. The paradox is that if we allow ourselves that time out that isn’t productive, and spend our time wisely, we often achieve more in the longer–term, without wearing ourselves out. We weren’t designed to be robots, and just mechanically go through our days. We are organic creatures, designed to work rest and play, to ebb and flow. We are also designed to need the emotional ‘food’ of good company, time to stop, enjoying our time, to be at our best. We waste time because we are trying to push ourselves to be something we’re not designed for, and our inner wisdom rebels against that pushing.

We all have an allotted span of time on this earth. And it is irreplaceable – once it’s gone, it’s gone. Let’s not waste it, let’s spend it wisely, and make that time we have worthwhile and full of energy.

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IMAGINING YOUR FUTURE

Have you ever stopped and noticed how much time and energy you spend on imagining your future? It is quite astounding when you begin to notice what goes on in your mind, almost without you being aware of it. I’m not talking about ‘high level’ imagining: ‘If I won the lottery, I would…’ or ‘When I retire, I will…’ I’m talking about the everyday mundane imagining of your future, the level of what the next meeting/encounter you have will be like, or what you will say in that email or phone call, or what going to the supermarket will be like.

Maybe you’re different from me, but I find that I have frequently run several scenarios about things that haven’t actually happened yet, starting with a straightforward version, and then adding in a series of ‘what if’s’: what if it’s raining, there is no space in the car park, what I want is out of stock, I’m feeling too tired by then. By the time I’ve finished, a simple event has become full of complications and complex ways of dealing with them, and I’m feeling stressed just at the thought of it – and I’m only going to the supermarket!

And 9 times out of 10, none of my complex plans are needed, because it is a straightforward simple event when it finally really happens. All that stress and effort was unnecessary. (The 1 out of 10 is when something I hadn’t predicted happens, and I’m not prepared for it after all!)

Wow! What a waste of energy and effort! We put ourselves through all these experiences with their emotional tugs and pulls, and none of them are the actual experience.

Yet this can be a really useful tool for us, should we choose to consciously use it. It was designed to help us, not to make our lives more difficult.

We know this because small children use this faculty in their minds differently, until we teach them not to. When a small child imagines the next thing to happen, they look at how it will be fun or exciting or different. They look forward to things and wonder what will be in those next steps with curiosity, not judgement.

And then we learn to wish things to be a certain way, and expect them not to be that good or simple. We learn to fear that we might fail or we might be disappointed, and we therefore learn to plan to try and protect ourselves from those possibilities. If this actually worked for us, I guess it would be useful, but it rarely does.

So what can we do about it?

  1. Begin to notice when you’re imagining from fear, futurising to handle made-up problems. And stop yourself and laugh.
  2. Consciously choose to imagine like a child: ‘How will this be fun?’ ‘I’m curious about how this will be.’
  3. Imagine yourself just being comfortable in the situation, no matter what happens. Don’t play scenarios – just see and feel yourself being comfortable and let the rest be vague and misty.
  4. See yourself at the end of the experience saying: ‘Well, that all worked out fine.’

If we were enlightened beings, we would just be in the moment, and let it all unfold without getting caught in the dramas. Most of us aren’t there yet, so let’s put this faculty of ours to good use, instead of letting it cause us stress and unnecessary waste of energy!

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BEING TRUE TO YOURSELF – PART ONE

I am going to explore this theme in two different ways. This time, I am going to look at the way we so often don’t live to our own values, and what we can do about it.

‘This above all, to thine own self be true; thou can’st not then be false to any man.’ Shakespeare said it in Laertes’ speech in Hamlet, and the words resonate with us. But what does it really mean in practice?

I used to have this quote on my living room wall many years ago, and the reason I took it down was not because it had become embedded in my psyche – it was because every time I looked at it, I was reminded of how often I failed to live up to it. I betrayed myself over and over again, in big and small ways: pretending to like something because someone else thought it was good; keeping quiet when my boss was being unnecessarily unpleasant with another member of staff; driving myself to put effort into something that I couldn’t really see any purpose to. I had learnt how to behave how I was expected to, and to keep my discomfort to myself.

Nonetheless, the quote did its work – it kept nagging away at the back of my mind. It is after all talking about our fundamental human values: being fair; behaving ethically; treating others with respect. We all know in our hearts when these values are not being met, yet we often condone with our silence, or with our acceptance that the behaviour is ‘allowed’ by our culture. This is how we come to accept bullying at work, tax avoidance, discrimination of all sorts, and corruption in politics. We may not agree but we see it as inevitable.

Given how complex being true to yourself can be, it can seem like just a grand aspiration. We have to stand up and be counted if we genuinely hold to our fundamental values. Yet every time we don’t, we are betraying ourselves and there is a personal cost to this.

When our hearts and minds contradict each other, it has a detrimental physical effect on us. It is a pervasive form of stress that goes largely unrecognised, and it wears us down, making us world-weary and cynical. And of course, it makes us less pleasant to be around for others, because we all sense when someone is ‘living a lie’, when they are pretending, when they are incongruent.

SO HOW DO WE BECOME BETTER AT BEING TRUE TO OUR OWN VALUES?

The first step to take is the fascinating exploration of what being true to yourself means.

What are your fundamental values?

In an ideal world how would we be treated by others, how would we treat others, how would we treat animals, the natural world? You may not have ready-made answers to these questions, but by asking them of yourself, you begin to realise what really matters to you.

Once we have begun to recognise what being true to our values really means to us, we can begin to gently apply it more often in our lives. It is important for most of us to approach this gently: learn from my mistakes! As a young teacher, I argued with colleagues and the head over the categorising of our pupils as ‘thick’ and got myself forced out of the school system – that didn’t help to change things for those kids! I was clumsy in my initial attempts to stand up for my values.

Treat others as you wish to be treated.

Begin by being the one who is kind and fair and respectful. Use your everyday encounters – at work, in the supermarket, in the car park – as opportunities to practise being with others how you wish they were with you. This makes you feel good, and trains the ‘muscle’, so that it is easier to respond to poor treatment from others without betraying your fundamental values by sinking to their level, or taking it personally when they attempt to make you feel bad in some way.

When I argued with my colleagues, I ended up criticising them for their attitudes and even accused them of being poor teachers. I was as unpleasant to them as they were being to some of the pupils. I showed no understanding of their frustrations and didn’t listen to any of their points of view. They weren’t bad people, and nowadays I would make it clear that I was not going to play judge and jury with them.

Work out what you could say or do, without losing your job or a friendship, when someone behaves in a way that offends your values.

We have wisdom with hindsight, use it! Reflect on situations that you have experienced, and identify how you could have reacted differently, and in a way that made a positive difference.

I would now use a different tack with my colleagues in the school. I would still say that I didn’t agree with them, but it would be clear that it was their opinion I was objecting to, not them as people. I would also think through my argument more: how might it benefit them to treat the kids more positively, rather than just saying it was wrong. What argument might work from their point of view?

Make a conscious choice

Sometimes we may feel that there is nothing we can do or say. We then have to make a conscious choice: do I stay and condone by my silence? Do I walk away? Do I avoid similar situations in the future? It’s OK to not always get it right – we are all learning how to be true to ourselves and our values. Just notice, if you choose to stay with it, the effect it has on your body, mind and heart. That is how we remind ourselves that it is not good for us to betray ourselves.

 

It can be scary to practise living to your values – we don’t live in a value-driven world. I just think it is scarier to continually put myself under a sneaky stress that wears down my spirit, and has no good effects. And you may be surprised by how much support you get when you do dare to express your values – it just needs someone to start, and others join in. most of us have very similar values – we need to start admitting it.

 

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DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY!

I always thought this phrase sounded like an instruction, and my reaction was to think, ‘It’s OK for you, but in my life…’ We are given so many major reasons to worry: health, money, insecurity of work, threat of war. Then there are all the everyday ones: will the traffic be bad, will so-and-so react badly when I tell them…, will I have enough time to… . It’s no wonder so many of us spend so much time worrying!

What I’ve realised is that the phrase ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ is not an instruction, it’s a simple statement of cause and effect: if we don’t worry, we are happy!! So what can we do to change the habit of worrying?

Well, let’s start with being clear about what worry is and does. The word originally meant to kill or act towards in a hostile manner. When we worry about things, it’s ourselves that we are being hostile towards! If we begin by really considering its effect on us, we are more inclined to change.

Worry is a form of prediction; it is usually about something in the future, which may or may not happen. And it is always an imagining of something not working out, or going wrong, or being difficult. When we stop and consider this in a detached way, we realise that it really isn’t very useful to us.

Firstly, the effect of worrying on us physically is that we live through our predicted catastrophe in our imagination. This releases the stress hormones we would release if it were really happening, and causes our bodies to react as if we were really in the catastrophe – not good for our health!

Secondly, this playing through in our imaginations is like a rehearsal – we are practising how to behave and react to play our part in it going wrong – is this really what you want to rehearse?!

On top of all this, the initial release of stress hormones affects not just our bodies, but also our minds, so we are far more likely to create a spiral of catastrophe in our mind once we start, because it is the ‘knee-jerk reaction’ part of our mind that is primarily switched on, not our objective analysis.

My mum was an inveterate worrier, so I was brought up to be very good at worrying! It took years for me to realise that it wasn’t useful! Slowly, I began to register that all my worrying made life harder, not easier. I suffered the effects of the immediate worrying: feeling stressed, not sleeping well, not thinking straight, and not dealing well with what was actually happening because I was busy worrying about the next thing.

Then I began to notice that worrying about the future was sometimes a complete waste of time and effort, as it turned out quite differently, and all worked out! Finally I had to admit that often, when my worrying was an accurate prediction, it was because I had more than played my part in causing it to happen: I had approached that person as if they were going to be awkward and difficult, and guess what, they were!

So what’s the alternative?

Let’s begin by recognising that predicting our future is a useful skill when used well. It gives us a dynamic in our lives which can be very positive. So predict things going well! Tell yourself you’re going to have a good day. Expect that others will be helpful and co-operative. Remind yourself of how well you’ve handled similar things in the past.

If you do find yourself running a ‘what if it goes wrong’ story, remember that rehearsing that story is not useful. So ask yourself what the wise, calm you would do to handle the situation well. If you can’t find a full answer to this question, at least find the first step: ‘If they are being difficult, I will suggest we take a break, or have a cup of tea, or wait until later to discuss it’.

If you are already going down the spiral of catastrophe, and can’t think of anything you could do to make the situation work better, distract yourself for a little while: read something you enjoy, go for a walk, watch a tv programme that holds your attention. This will allow your mind to calm down, and make it easier to switch on the calmer, wiser you.

And remember, we don’t know what will happen in the future – often our fears are unfounded – so put your attention on what’s happening here and now, and make this moment a happy one!

Actions for less worry, more happiness

  • Gather the evidence that worry doesn’t work: makes you feel bad; messes up your thinking; often inaccurate prediction; may lead you to cause what you didn’t want.
  • Do predict your future in a positive way: a good day; a situation you can handle.
  • If you find yourself worrying, ask yourself how you could handle the situation well, or at least the first steps the wise you would take.
  • Just concentrate on whatever is going on now for you and make that as good as it can be.
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REMEMBERING TO USE YOUR BODY’S INTELLIGENCE

Our bodies are a marvellous network of awareness that can help us to be healthy and happy. They are designed as a complex inter-related system, which passes messages from one part to another, to maintain and build itself to be the best it can possibly be. So why don’t we use its intelligence more?

When we were little, and didn’t know any other way, we listened to and responded to our bodies’ messages. In the first place these are simple: I’m hungry, thirsty; I need to move or rest; I need a cuddle or to be on my own. Quite quickly, we learn to ignore these messages, because we are reliant on others to a large extent to fulfil the need, and others are not reliable!

Then, as we are more able to fulfil our own needs, we realise that ‘the world doesn’t work like that’. We are expected to eat, drink at certain times, stay still in classrooms and offices, keep working until it is time to stop, and not ask for cuddles any more! We get so good at ignoring our bodies that we forget to listen to their messages at all, until they are shouting at us so loudly that we have to take some notice – usually through illness or complete exhaustion.

Like most of us, I learnt these lessons well, and became very skilful at ignoring my body until it broke down. It was when my doctor told me that the reason I couldn’t move without pain was that I had refused to stop for too long and my body was rebelling and forcing me to stop that I registered that this was not very useful!

So I began to re-learn how to listen – and at first it was quite shocking! I realised how often my body was uncomfortable – aching, palpitating, tired, stiff, ‘butterflies in the stomach’ etc.

I had more complex messages from my body than when I was a baby: there were not only the simple physical needs; there were also the emotional reactions to deal with. What all the physical signs told me was that I was very out of balance as a system a lot of the time.

Do you recognise any of these body messages? Just do a quick scan right now and notice what your body feels like…

It is one thing to become aware again, and quite another to do something about it. So how do we remember to listen to our body’s intelligence, and then act on it?

Firstly, let’s gently learn to listen again – we have to retrain ourselves, so you need to go gently – otherwise it becomes onerous. Start by checking in, maybe twice or three times a day. What do you notice when you stop and pay attention to your body? Is it hungry or thirsty? Does it need to move or rest? Is it uncomfortable or comfortable? And if you can make it feel more comfortable by responding to these basic needs, do so. So often I will say to myself: ‘ Oh, I need a piece of fruit, or something to drink, or to sit down for a few minutes’, and wonder how I could have been so unaware of it!

When we begin to pay this attention to the needs our bodies are expressing, it becomes more habitual, and we start to notice the messages more often. Then we can take it a step further, so that we are not just responding to needs, but are beginning to actually nurture our bodies.

Firstly, you start by not just doing something to satisfy the need, but rather asking: what sort? ‘What sort of food do I want?’ what sort of movement do I want?’

Then, to enrich it further, give your body some treats! What makes your body feel really good? Is it a cycle ride, a slow hot bath, a good curry, a nap in the afternoon, a massage? You will have your own favourites. So, at least once a week, preferably more often, do something that makes your body feel good – after all, it works hard for you, it deserves some treats!

By gradually remembering more and more to listen to our bodies, we enhance our well-being, and reduce the need for our bodies to ‘shout’ at us with illness and exhaustion. It has to be worth it!

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF

2 or 3 times a day: What do you notice when you stop and pay attention to your body? Is it hungry or thirsty? Does it need to move or rest? Is it uncomfortable or comfortable? And if you can make it feel more comfortable by responding to these basic needs, do so.

What sort of food/drink/movement/rest would work best for my body right now?

Treats – at least once a week: what would make my body feel really good today?

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