Your body is freaking brilliant.
While you may have a love/hate relationship with it at times, the sheer brilliance that your body contains is an undeniable fact. All day, every day, your body is giving you cues. It tells you when it needs food, when it needs sleep, when it needs to pee, when it needs you to just stop moving already (or even when you should really get off your ass for a few minutes).
But how much do you actually listen to your body?
Are you actually doing something with all of those cues? Or are you shrugging them off and going about your day?
Not sure how to answer that? Here’s a good test: Have you really had to pee for the last 15 minutes but are holding it just a little longer so you can get through one last article?
If so, stop reading and go pee! I can wait.
Back? Okay great!
That “I have to pee!” cue is just one of the many ways our bodies communicate with us. While this may seem like a relatively small and straightforward one, sometimes our bodies send us much stronger messages. Particularly when they want us to just. fucking. listen. already!
I find that those large messages often come when we’ve been ignoring the gentler ones for some time.
Usually this is when our bodies are bound for total burnout. They can see it coming and yet our minds have taken full control of our actions and keep coaxing us: “Come on, just a few more hours of work” or “Just one more workout” or "Just one more weekend of travel.”
Our over-achieving selves nod along, “Yeah, I’ll just rest after that. I’ve totally got this.”
After enough cycles of this mind-over-body conversation, however, our bodies get a little pissed. They come in guns blazing, snatching the reins from our minds: “I tried to ask nicely, but now I’m going to make you listen!”
And then, BOOM! We come down with the flu, or the worst head cold we can remember ever having or we injure ourselves.
“WTF?!” we think, “Where the hell did that come from?”
And yet, all we really need to do to figure out that answer is to do a little reflecting on the past few weeks (or sometimes months) and what we’ve been putting our bodies through.
Upon reflection, chances are that you’ve been putting stress on your body. And given that you’ve likely been just “pushing through”, you’ve probably been ignoring the signs that your body has been sending you all along.
Hence your body’s total smack-down. Hey, in its defense, it most definitely tried more subtle tactics before its hissy fit. Your body knows what you need and it’s going to find a way to damn well make you aware of that.
I speak from major experience.
I have a history of overextending myself, thinking I can be everywhere and everything to everyone all of the time. As a result, I’ve had some major smack-downs from my body. There are too many to list out here, so I’ll just give you one of the most recent examples:
Last October I was 100% headed for burnout. After a summer of weddings, bachelorette parties, family travel and finishing up my coaching certification, I barreled into fall without so much as a day of real downtime. Simultaneously, I was trying to figure out how to get my coaching business up and running as a side hustle, while also working a full-time sales job. Given how overextended I was, let’s just say my performance at both was less than stellar.
However, I’d committed to attending a big conference out in San Francisco for work at the beginning of the month and told myself I needed to get through that before I could rest. My plan was to attend the conference, and then when I got home I would determine if I could build a coaching business while working full time or if I needed to just go for it.
Well, my body, which had definitely been giving me signs to slow down for awhile, clearly was having none of that because the day before I was flying out to San Francisco for the conference, I woke up with serious pain in my upper back and chest.
Thinking I must have just slept weird and strained something, I start getting ready for work. It hurt to breathe deeply and multiple times while showering and getting dressed a searing pain forced me to stop moving. But I pushed and headed into the office anyway.
Of course, the ride to work only made the pain worse. It got so bad that I called my dad (who happens to be a chiropractor) to explain my symptoms and he told me to get an appointment with a someone in Boston that day. By 10:30am, I'd called more chiropractors than I can count and no one could see me.
I started to panic. There was absolutely no way I could fly across the country the next day in that level of pain, let alone stand on a conference room floor for 4 days straight once I got there.
It quickly became clear that my only option for pain relief was to drive 3 hours to my hometown in CT for an appointment with my dad. So that’s what I did. I hopped in the car, drove straight to his office, he fixed my rib problem, and within 30 minutes I was driving back to Boston.
On my way home, I stopped to have coffee with a coach friend of mine to break up the drive. After I explained my morning to her, she looked at me and said, “Maybe this is your body telling you the decision you need to make.”
She was right, of course. My body forced my mind to acknowledge what it already knew: I couldn’t keep going at this pace. I couldn’t keep doing everything at once. If I was truly going to start this coaching business, I had to give it everything I had or else I was going to burn out before I got anywhere. So I decided to honor my commitment to going on this work trip and figure out the timeline of striking out on my own when I got back.
Apparently the Universe really wanted me to just go ahead and take the leap already because a series of synchronistic events happened over the week that I was in California that led me to give my notice as soon as I got back from the trip with a very supportive farewell from my boss and colleagues.
That decision I’d been agonizing and stressing over for months was finally set into motion by my body sending me a message that it knew I couldn’t ignore.
Since then, I’ve been working on listening to the smaller signs my body is sending me so that I take some action before I get to a point where it has to send a giant sign my way. It’s not easy to do when most of your life you’ve ignored the signs and pushed through, but it's absolutely possible to shift your attention to the smaller cues. It just takes practice.
Want to get better at this, but not sure where to even begin?
Here are 4 ways to get started:
1. Weekly check-ins with yourself
Find some time on Friday evening or Sunday afternoon to reflect on the previous week. Think about everything you had going on, how you ate, how you slept. Notice if your body is feeling energized or lethargic as you're winding down. Doing this sort of reflection is a great way to start cluing you in on where you might be ignoring your body's needs.
At first it can be tough to know what questions to ask, I’ve created a Weekly Self Check-in Cheat Sheet (download below) with 5 questions you can ask yourself to begin to get a holistic picture of what you and your body have been through recently.
After reflecting on your previous week and checking in on how your body is feeling, now look at the week ahead. Do a little visioning around how you want to feel. Look at your calendar. If the volume of things scheduled makes you a bit panicky or exhausted just looking at them, see which items you can remove from your schedule. Being strategic about when you can build in some downtime during your week will help to ensure you actually take some time to rest.
2. Sleep if you need to sleep
If your body is calling for sleep, then you probably need it.
It's totally okay to skip a morning workout here and there if your body is calling for sleep, especially if you have a habit of doing really intense early morning classes several days a week. Sometimes the best thing for you is actually sleep, not the workout. Determining when it's okay to sleep in and when you should force yourself out of bed takes a while to figure out, but the more you practice listening to your body, the more you'll be able to read it's cues and make the call.
Same goes for staying up late. If you find it really hard to wake up in the morning, think about what time you've been doing to bed. Are you getting a full 8 hours in? If not, think about setting a bedtime for yourself that gives you an adequate amount of sleep. For example, if you need to be up at 6:30am, then being in bed by 10:30pm gets you the 8 hours your body needs.
Sleep deprivation is a real thing and affects how your body and mind function so making sure you get enough sleep can make a big difference.
I feel like I give this advice a lot, but it’s because it works. Similar to the weekly reflection suggestion, mediation is about creating space for yourself to slow down and reconnect. Even just finding 10-15 minutes a day (or even every other day) can help you tune out your mind’s agenda and listen to cues from your body.
It definitely takes practice and you'll probably notice that your mind will wander. That's okay! Keep coming back to your breathe and noticing any sensations that come up in your body as you sit.
When you give your body your full attention, you might be surprised to hear what it has to say.
4. Take a fake sick day
I wrote about why you should take a fake sick day a few months ago, but it applies here too.
Removing yourself from work stressors and just having a day to do whatever your body and soul needs is extremely restorative. It's another way to give yourself space to listen to your body by quieting down the noise around you. No one else's agenda or deadlines. Just time to do what you want and need.
By taking a fake sick day, you’ll be honoring your body and slowing down so that hopefully you don’t have to take a real sick day in the near future. Trust me, it's worth it, especially if you're someone with a completely packed schedule!
So what do you think? Ready to get back in touch with what your body is trying to tell you? Grab your Cheat Sheet below and carve out 20-30 minutes to reflect at the end of your week. Or try one of the other tips above. Like I said, your body is brilliant. Give it space and listen up.
Want some further help with self check-ins and addressing the factors that may be leading you to ignore your body's cues? Let's chat!