Body talk – Listen to your body and make friends with pain

SOS on sticker on woman's forehead

Your body is speaking to you. Are you listening?

Do you know how to listen to your body talk?

For most of us, the answer is probably ‘yes’, but only up to a point. Some of the language is easy to interpret and pretty universal.

When you yawn, you know you’re tired. If you possibly can, you’ll heed the signal and head for the sack (if you’re over a certain age and no longer try to hide your preference for a warm bed over pulling a late one!).

If you shiver, you might put a jumper on. And no, I didn’t say ‘cardie’. Come on, I’m not that old!

But what about the subtler signs that your body is sending?

We are all such complex yet unique organisms. And our bodies are trying to communicate with us all of the time with their own particular lexicon of symbols.

Does your body bend your ear?
Then lean in, listen, really hear

Advice to my younger self 😍

Are you listening to your body?

If you repeatedly get headaches, can’t shift a sore throat, or develop an unexplainable rash, what is your most likely action? Do you reach for some medicine, dull the pain temporarily and carry on carrying on? If so, you’re not alone.

medecine and plasters
Quick fix but no long-term cure

When we develop a physical ache or pain, our gut reaction (pun intended) is to rush out to the doctor’s, or the pharmacy at the very least. We get a prescription, swallow a tablet and make the pain go away.

But this is a quick and temporary fix.

What if your body is trying to tell you something important? And what if the longer you ignore the body talk, the louder it shouts? And inevitably, the more serious the symptoms become?

When you dont listen to your body talk

Some years ago, I returned to an office job through what I felt at the time to be financial obligation. The first day was a bad day. It began with me waking up very early. My one-and-a-half-year-old also woke up, which he never did normally, and he yelled (again, which he just didn’t do). I suppose he felt my strain. He held his little arms out towards me. It was the first time I didn’t respond to him by taking him into my own and it physically hurt to leave the house for that first drive to work. I literally felt as though a piece of my heart broke.

I had planned to eat breakfast at my desk, and bought a baguette sandwich. But the strangest thing happened. I couldn’t open my mouth wide enough to eat it. It simply wasn’t possible. Something mechanical had changed for no apparent reason. I kind of nibbled around my sandwich, and wondered what could be wrong.

Baguette sandwich
A sandwich becomes a challenge…
…when you don’t listen to your body talk

Then began a long series of visits to a variety of doctors and specialists. I was X-rayed, given osteopathy, prodded, poked and eventually fitted with a brace to wear at night time. Even my wisdom teeth (ironic, right?) were pulled, although with no assurance that this was going to work. They were kind of ‘worth-a-try’ type extractions!

And of course, it wasn’t the cure. The jaw problem was only one of the physical ailments I developed as my body tried to explain to me in multiple ways that I needed to stop, rest, take stock.

Crash and burn at the weekend

For a while, I had a migraine every single weekend. Apart from being painful, it was really frustrating to be debilitated in the small pockets of time I had at home.

Your body can only fix itself when it’s at rest, so perhaps this is why some people crash and burn at the weekend, or following a stressful event.

Because I’m not the only one to develop symptoms after a high-stress situation or period of time. Could it be that your body is in the fight or flight mode for too long, producing heightened cortisol levels (the ‘stress hormone’), so that when you actually do allow it to rest, you totally fall to pieces?

Your body needs rest

A friend of mine was working long hours at a job she had no control over and each weekend she would collapse and sleep for the entire duration. Another friend gets sore throats which can last for days when she pushes herself for too long. I saw her recently after she’d just signed to buy a house. She was a bundle of nerves and could already feel the tingle in her throat coming on.

If we would only listen a little sooner to what our bodies are trying to say, then very often, we wouldn’t become really sick or chronically weary. Sometimes your body tries so hard to let you know that it isn’t (or you aren’t) okay, when you finally do stop to listen, it has already made itself (yourself) blue in the face, or hoarse – depending on how your body manifests its discontent, and so needs more recovery time. By the time you stop, it is (you are) so exhausted that it grabs the chance for a real rest with both hands and holds on for (your) dear life.

Could it be that pain is your friend?

I used to completely ignore my body talk. I didn’t see a choice, so it was a one-sided conversation. But what if I’d taken it more seriously and listened to what my body was telling me before it gave up and collapsed?

woman with 'SOS' on sticker on foorhead
Listen to your pain

The damage, I am sure, would neither have been so great nor so long term.

If I’d have taken part, our dialogue might have gone something like this:

Body talk, ‘You need a rest. Here’s a migraine. That might make you stop.

Me, ‘Are you back already? I thought I’d got rid of you for a few days yesterday. I don’t want to take another pill.’

Body talk, ‘It’s rude to ignore me. You are too tired to enjoy the here and now. You have completely forgotten how to feed your soul.

Me, ‘What are you talking about? How am I meant to do that? I don’t have time.’

Body talk, ‘Make time!

Me, ‘That’s impossible! You are so frustrating. I’m fine anyway. Really lucky actually. I’ve got a good job. A great partner. Amazing kids. I live in a lovely place.  I admit I’m a bit stressed and always tired. But you can’t have it all.’

Body talk, ‘You’ll have nothing if you don’t heed my warning! Your health is suffering and you’re not going to get any better if you don’t change. Now sit down. Actually, no. Lie down. And stay down for a solid eight hours.

Me, ‘Go away. I don’t have time for this. That’s it. I’m taking a pill.’

Body talk, ‘One pill won’t work this time. You’ll have to up the dose. Can’t you see I’m trying to look after you. I’m warning you. Don’t make me get the big guns out!

I had a lot to learn in the art of conversation!

woman ripping off SOS sticker from forehead
Pain is not your enemy

Why is it so difficult to listen to the message of physical pain?

If your body has actually stopped functioning properly, and you are showing symptoms of illness, then why do you resist the fact that is being yelled into your ear?

‘Why is it so difficult to understand? Pain can simply mean you are doing something that your body knows is harmful for your wellbeing!’

Advice to my younger self 😍

But no! Because modern-day society rewards ‘hard work’, busyness, and keeping on keeping on. It could be said that ‘Resilience’ – the mot du jour, is a younger relative of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ (even if it’s killing you), and the workforce are often now expected to be contactable at home as well as during office hours.

The cost is enormous.

male shop dummy with support belt and neckerchief
Don’t be a dummy – Listen to your body talk

Your body is trying to talk to you – Listen to the physical symptoms

If your body is communicating with you, how can you learn to listen?

The signals are different for everyone so recognising your triggers is vital

You could be not sleeping. Perhaps you develop a skin condition, get more headaches or digestive problems, or have a recurring sore throat. There might be a particular place in your body that begins to ache (maybe a shoulder, or old knee injury).

Whatever it is, learn to recognise it as a warning. And then do something about it! Often, it is simply telling you to have a rest, but there are so many other messages that are easily ignored.

Be aware of your body. Recognise how you are feeling. Take stock. Are you thirsty? Are your shoulders clenched?

And what has changed in your life since your symptoms kicked in?

The clue may lead you to discover something as simple (but vital) as a food intolerance. If something you are eating is giving you side effects, actually noticing this and adjusting your diet can be life changing.

Pain can be a friend

A friend of mine (who isn’t a pain) was recently feeling overwhelmed. She juggles a family and home with a high-powered career which involves international travel. She knew she was doing too much but didn’t know which ball to drop, so she carried on. Then one morning she woke up and couldn’t move her neck. Her doctor signed her off work for two weeks.

Another woman I know (juggling home life, kids, and a… job) told her boss she was struggling and that she needed a day off. But her request was refused. The next week she came down with the flu and was signed off work by her doctor for three weeks.

If you work in a ‘sick’ environment where Human Resources don’t support you, for the sake of your health, it might be time to consider a change.

In both cases above, if things had been nipped in the bud, perhaps that was all that was needed. A bit of rest and recovery.

No rest means no recovery!

This kind of scenario is widespread, and although my examples happen to be women, this is just as relevant for men. Workers carry on, despite the warning signs, but the longer the warnings go unchecked, the more likely the path will take a sharp downturn, leading to serious illness or the extreme of breakdown.

Some go so far down this road that they may never go back to work again.

Physical symptoms – Mental health

Mental health issues have reached epidemic levels in Western society and statistics show that in the UK, ‘One in four adults and one in 10 children experience mental illness’. And ‘In the United States, almost half of adults (46.4 percent) will experience a mental illness during their lifetime.

By the time I had no choice but to recognise I had mental health issues, I was told to take anti-depressants. When I was first summonsed to see the work doctor she asked me what medication I was taking.

The answer, none.

She gasped in horror, ‘We’ve wasted six weeks.’

The complete lunacy of a pill ‘fixing’ how I felt then almost made me laugh – a feat in itself at that time.

It would have been like sticking a plaster on a bullet wound without first removing the bullet and cleaning the wound. (It would have been like putting a gagging order on a protestor.)

Not much help for a bullet wound if the bullet hasn’t been removed

I wanted, and hoped, to be able to disinfect the poison that was spreading and festering inside. (I wanted to remove the gag, let my body speak.)

It was time to start to listen.

My body’s messages had been ignored for too long, so I began to try to understand a new language. I removed the plugs, cleaned out my ears, and began to really listen…

…to my body talk.

I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Could you be ignoring any messages your body is trying to pass on to you? Have you done so in the past with (serious) consequences?

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