Listening to your body is an important part of a healthy mindset. It is advice given by many health care professionals. And it sounds like great advice. But what does it mean to listen to your body? And how do you do this?
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Let’s explore the mind-body connection and learn 12 tips for listening to your body. These 12 tips will help you establish a healthy mindset, which is key to a healthy and happy life.
Outside Influences vs Internal Cues for Healthy Habits
Infants instinctively listen to their bodies. They cry when they are hungry or need a diaper change. Parents of newborns can attest that babies also sleep when they want, regardless of what a clock says.
Knowing what your body needs is innate. We are born with this ability.
But as we grow older, outside influences take over our internal cues.
Eating is a good example of this:
We are told we should eat breakfast within 2 hours of waking up. Lunch is scheduled for around noon. Dinner happens when we get home after work. And some experts say we should not eat past 7:00 pm.
But what happened to eating when we are hungry? Most people don’t even know what hunger feels like. And obesity and eating disorders are on the rise.
Most of us, myself included, have lost the ability to listen to our bodies. But it is something we can re-learn.
“And I said to my body softly, ‘I want to be your friend.’
It took a long breath and replied, ‘I’ve been waiting my whole life for this.’”
– Nayyirah Waheed –
What is The Mind-Body Connection?
While it may seem like an abstract metaphysical concept, there is a scientific and medical basis behind the mind-body connection.
Your physical body impacts your mental state. When your body is healthy, your mind is healthy and you can feel positive emotions, such as contentment and happiness.
But when your body is experiencing hunger, tiredness or pain, you may feel negative emotions such as sadness or anger.
And the reverse is also true. Your thoughts, feelings, and attitude affect your body and health.
The brain is a complex organ that forms thoughts, feelings and stores memories in the form of chemicals, called neurotransmitters, and nerve connections of the autonomic nervous system.
These chemicals and connections don’t just stay localized in your brain. They have what doctors refer to as a systemic, or whole body, effect too.
And your body is constantly sending its own nerve signals and chemicals to your brain. There is a continuous flow of communication between your mind and body. This happens whether you are aware of it or not.
This flow of information can influence your emotions, behavior and health.
“You need to listen to your body because your body is listening to you.” – Phil McGraw
Breaking a Negative Mind-Body Cycle
When we are happy and healthy the world looks good.
But when we are not healthy and not happy, life can seem to spiral downward eventually affecting both your mental and physical health.
The continuous exchange of negative mind and body signals, including the internal release of stress hormones and inflammatory chemicals, can lead to illness.
To break this negative cycle, you need to learn to listen to what your body needs. And in order to truly listen, you need to quiet your mind.
So how do you do this? How do you listen to your body?
12 Tips to Listen to Your Body
1. Heighten Your Awareness
Be aware of your surroundings. How is your body doing in relationship to your environment?
Start with simple things: Do you feel cool or warm? Are you standing, sitting, or laying down? Is the surface hard or soft? Do you hear any sounds? Are there any strong smells? What colors do you see?
Use all your senses, as you are able, to experience the world around you. Try to notice things without judging or analysing them. Simple awareness is all you need to do.
2. Feel Your Feelings
Acknowledge and accept your emotions. Give yourself permission to feel what you are feeling right now.
As we briefly discussed, feelings are a result of a complex system of brain chemicals and nerve stimulations. For example, you feel love when a brain chemical called oxytocin is released. Epinephrine makes you feel frightened. And you might feel depressed when you don’t have enough serotonin.
Emotions have a purpose. Feelings influence behaviour. Often, this influence is either self-protective, avoiding things that cause negative emotions, or self-motivating, pursuing things that cause happy emotions.
So, don’t fight your emotions. You will only be fighting a biological response, which is futile. Allow yourself to feel what you feel without judgement.
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” ― Dr. Seuss
But do seek professional help if your emotions become troublesome or overwhelming. Sometimes we need help to sort through them and that is completely okay.
3. Find Quiet
Quiet Noise Around You
You can’t hear well with a lot of noise in the background. And that is also true when you are trying to listen to what your body is telling you. So, you will need to find some quiet.
Avoid distractions when you need to listen to your body.
Don’t eat in front of the TV or you might miss that cue telling you that you are full. This can lead to overeating.
Take out your ear buds when exercising. Listen to your breathing instead to know if you are exercising with enough or too much effort.
Quiet Your Mind
If your mind is full of thoughts, you can’t listen in to what your body is telling you. It is like experiencing static on a telephone line. Extra thoughts run around in your head and prevent you from focusing on what is important in a particular moment of time.
One technique to quiet those thoughts is to meditate and focus on your breathing.
If one of those noisy thoughts pops into your head while you are doing this, visualize yourself writing that thought down on a piece of paper and pin it to a tree in the forest of your mind. You can go back to that tree and memo another time if need be. For now, just leave it ‘pinned’ there and walk away.
4. Write Your Thoughts Down
You can also write down your thoughts on paper or in a journal. Make lists. Keep a diary. Use a notebook or a phone app. Don’t keep extra thoughts in your head to clutter up your mind.
Just as overeating isn’t good for your body, overthinking isn’t healthy for your mind.
You can also use a journal to help you determine what your body needs.
Write down your emotions and sensations. Log them with the date, time and other information about what was happening at that particular time. Once you have collected some entries, go back periodically and analyze them. Is there a pattern? Is your reaction or behavior appropriate for the circumstance? If not, what change is needed?
5. Do Body Scans
When the noise has quieted down, you can do a body scan and check in with yourself.
Visualize yourself from head to toe. Slowly scan each body area; head, neck, chest, arms, torso, pelvis, and legs. Are there any tightness, tension or pain sensations? Do you sense hunger? Is it truly hunger or is something else making you want food? What other sensations can you detect?
Acknowledge these sensations. What are they telling you?
Check in with yourself periodically throughout the day.
6. Act With Purpose
Act with intention based on what your body is telling you.
Eat with the purpose to resolve hunger. If you are not hungry and only want food for comfort, perhaps eating is not what your body needs right now. How else can you find comfort?
Exercise with purpose. Focus on your form and balance. Maintain your posture. Be deliberate with your movements to get maximum benefit and avoid injury.
Think with purpose. Keep those intrusive thoughts pinned to that tree or written in a journal.
Focus on one thought and one task at a time. “Multi-tasking” only wears you down, eventually, and does not accomplish any more in the end.
7. Trust Your Gut
“Your body is your best guide. It constantly tells you, in the form of pain or sensations, what’s working for you and what’s not.” – Hina Hashmi
Sometimes you know and understand what your body is telling you. But then your mind gets in the way and talks you out of what you know is right. Have you ever experienced this?
One example that comes to mind is eating dessert at the end of a large meal.
You know, beyond doubt, that you have eaten enough. You can’t possibly be hungry after eating that plateful of food, right?
But then the dessert cart is brought to your table. You are full, but you look at those beautifully scrumptious desserts and your mind says, “go ahead, you deserve this”. The temptation to satisfy your sweet tooth is just too much.
Then, afterwards, your body tells you that you shouldn’t have eaten it. You feel stuffed and bloated. And now, you have to undo that button on your pants. You didn’t listen to your body. Instead, you listened to your mind. And you ended up overeating, again.
So, next time, listen to your body. Trust your gut. Stop eating when you are no longer hungry.
8. Don’t Judge Yourself
Now, if you happened to have indulged in that dessert and overate, don’t be hard on yourself. It is okay to treat yourself now and then.
It is okay to make mistakes.
Being healthy is a lifelong set of behaviors and habits. The key word is ‘lifelong’.
Healthy shouldn’t be about denial. Denial only sets you up for failure. It leads to guilt when you do indulge your desires. And guilt, added to denial, just leads to a downward spiral, and can eventually lead to self-loathing.
Instead, be kind to yourself. Don’t judge yourself. Lift yourself up.
We all need to give into our wants and desires from time to time.
It is okay to have dessert. It is okay to take a day off from exercise. And it is okay to sleep all day.
Just not all day, everyday.
Remember, though, you also want to eat well, exercise and feel healthy. Feeling healthy is a reward in and of itself. You can’t be happy inside a sick body. And your ultimate goal is happiness, right?
9. Go Inward
During times of stress, we tend to go outward looking for answers and solutions. We want to feel better and search for comfort from others, from food or alcohol, or escape to different locales, as examples.
But these are only temporary solutions. And these coping mechanisms can lead to other problems, such as alcoholism, relationship problems and debt.
Have you ever gone on a much-needed vacation only to come back to feeling more chaos than before you left?
Going outward can lead to more stress in life.
Instead, go inward. Look into your mind and your heart. Clear your mind to think clearly and rationally. Allow your heart to open and fill with empathy and compassion for yourself.
The answers are inside of you. Only you can truly know what is best for you.
“No one can listen to your body for you. To grow and heal, you have to take responsibility for listening to it yourself.” – Jon Kabat-ZinnLi
10. Find Enjoyment
Of course, I am not saying to not go on vacation. Yes, find enjoyment in life. What I am saying is that using a vacation because you are stressed is only a temporary fix. Go on vacation because you enjoy it, not to escape something giving you stress.
Another point I wanted to make about enjoyment is that you need to enjoy what you are doing.
For healthy habits to be sustainable, you need to enjoy them. Healthy is a lifelong endeavor, not a temporary fix.
If you hate running, for example, it is not reasonable to expect to run every day for the rest of your life. There are plenty of other ways to exercise. It doesn’t have to be running.
If you hate salad, then don’t eat salad. Out of all the vegetables that are grown in this world, I will bet there are a few that you enjoy eating. Eat those.
Previously, I mentioned that emotions were biological. If you don’t enjoy something, maybe your body is telling you not to do it. Just make sure it is your body and not your mind telling you it doesn’t like something.
So, listen to your body, and find healthy habits that you enjoy doing.
11. Schedule You-Time
If your life is anything like mine, you are very busy. It is too easy to get caught up in just getting stuff done, that we push ourselves aside. But, if we are to listen to our bodies and be healthy, then we need to set aside time for ourselves.
So, schedule some You-Time. Write it in your calendar. Adhere to it like you would any appointment.
It doesn’t have to be a long appointment. All you need is 5 minutes a couple of times a day to check in with yourself to do a body scan. Maybe schedule in a 20 – 30 minute walk a couple of times a week. Or, perhaps, schedule in 30 – 60 minutes to read a book, have a bubble bath or do a puzzle.
The important part is that you have some precious You-Time and an opportunity to tune in to yourself.
Perhaps, eventually, you won’t need the clock. And checking in with yourself will simply become an innate habit. But you need to start somewhere.
12. Go With The Flow
Routine is good. Doing the same thing in a set pattern can help you remember to do something. But you also need to be flexible.
It is okay to stop exercising when you feel too tired to continue. It is okay to modify a workout if you aren’t feeling up to doing the full workout that day.
Leaving food on your plate if you feel full is okay. It is also okay to go back for seconds if you are still hungry.
Your body may not want the same things every day. And that is just fine. It isn’t the day to day particulars that matter. What matters is the big, grand scheme of life.
Health is a long-term investment. There may be ups and downs in the market values, but ultimately, we want a good return over the years.
So, most of your days should be filled with healthy habits. But flexibility is required. And flexibility without judgement and guilt is necessary.
Be kind with yourself.
Go with the flow of life.
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