“The human body is the best picture of the human soul.”
– Ludwig Wittgenstein
During this unprecedented period of lockdown and crisis, many of us have had a bit of time for self-reflection, re-evaluating our lives and thinking about what’s really important to us. Although for many who have continued working and who may also have been homeschooling, life will still have been busy, the fact that we have had to stay at home with no social events or travel, means that we have all been forced to slow-down and take an enforced break from the frenetic activity of our normal daily lives. This pause provides an ideal time for us to sort out what’s going on in our lives – both mentally and physically – but how to start this process?
By listening to your body.
Your body does the best it can for you – working very hard for you every day. It does everything you ask of it, whenever you ask it. It is there for you when you wake up, it gets you through the day, it’s there in evening, and with you all night. It is you and you are it. You and your body are inextricably linked – so much so that you probably take it for granted – perhaps sometimes even neglect it. But if you stop and take a step back from the noise and ’busyness’ of everyday life, you can hear your body speaking to you. It is constantly sending you messages, requests, little signs… and now is the time to listen. Your body is the most important asset you have. You owe it to yourself to hear what it has to say.
Trust your gut.
You’ve heard the phrase – trust your gut. It doesn’t mean you should follow emotion over reason – but it does mean trust your body. Your body is giving you instantaneous feedback throughout the day, signalling when something isn’t quite right. These are little warning signs, telling that you need to take action to make yourself feel better, or prevent yourself from feeling worse. The body’s natural state is equilibrium – it is hugely sensitive to anything that threatens that equilibrium and is brilliant at letting you know about it. The problem is that the pace and noise of the modern world means that you can often miss or ignore the signals.
Think about how you feel physically during a normal day. Are there times when you feel fatigued, or achey? Weak, in pain, congested, unfocused, or panicky? Do you notice these feelings and think about what might be causing them, or brush them aside because they might interfere with your work or your plans?
When you have these feelings – your body is speaking to you. You need to tune in to what it is saying. It might be telling you that you haven’t had enough sleep, or that skipping breakfast and drinking loads of coffee was a bad idea. That scrolling through social media for hours was affecting your eyes or that sitting in the same position working for hours without a break was detrimental to your back. That you should have taken a break from socialising to rest. And it’s not just the obvious physical effects that your body signals. The state of your mental health can also be signposted by physical manifestations. I know when I am under intolerable stress because it’s the only time I catch colds! Other people might have headaches or backache – even eczema can be triggered by stress and anxiety. If you miss these small signals that your body is sending you, and fail to act on them, you risk developing a serious condition. A stressful event can turn into a breakdown – a back niggle could eventually become chronic back pain.
How to tune in to your body.
Start paying attention to your body in a more intentional way. Briefly check in on yourself and how you are feeling several times a day. Try mindfulness exercises to help you become aware of your body and its sensations. Recognise your body signals and pay attention to them. Act on them. Your body is like a barometer of your mental and physical health. Use it to help you make better decisions – both immediate and practical, and also existential. If you’re constantly yawning, should you stay up and watch Netflix, or would it be better to get an early night? If going into the office every morning makes you feel panicky or physically sick, should you think about changing your job or career? Investigate the root cause of your physical sensations and use the information to guide you.
Your body is speaking to you all the time. It can do incredible things, but it needs you to treat it with respect. Sometimes you’ll forget because you’re busy and life moves so fast. That’s why it’s crucial as we emerge from lockdown and press the play button on life again, that you don’t jump right back in to the melée and lose sight of what’s important. Take it slowly, and keep listening.
They say that people only appreciate their health once it’s been taken away from them. In other words when it’s too late. But your body wants to make sure that doesn’t apply to you. Remember, take a moment to listen to your body, your best friend. What is it trying to tell you? What do you need more of, or less of in your life? And now that it’s made you aware, what are you going to do about it?