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How to ‘Listen to Your Body’ for Resilience

Originally posted: (September 4, 2022) Psychology Today

Life is busy. We work hard, play hard, and each day try to pack in as much as we can, to fulfill education and career goals, nurture our families, accomplish our dreams, and respond to daily crises. Sometimes pushing our limits is a good idea. When we push ourselves, we are able to move beyond plateaus and reach long-standing goals. Challenging ourselves can lead to greater self-efficacy and success, stronger relationships, and novel opportunities for discovery and learning.

On the other hand, sometimes we force the effort, contriving inflexible routines or pushing in unhealthy ways, in order to accomplish what needs to get done. Sometimes we keep going when our bodies are signaling to us that we are fatigued, injured, sick, or otherwise in distress. Sometimes we push when what we really need is to relax, have a good meal, or have a conversation with a trusted friend. And, sometimes when our bodies are telling us what we need, we just ignore the messages entirely because they don’t align with our plans.

To listen to your body means to really apprehend that the mind and the body are interconnected; that they work in tandem and are mutually reliant on one another to process the information that moves chemically between them. Your mind is finely attuned to perceive, down to the cellular level, all that’s happening within your body. Meanwhile, your body is listening and responding to every thought and obsession rolling around in your brain.

Your thoughts, behavior, and beliefs trigger chemical responses that, in turn, trigger changes in your body. A stressful thought can trigger a fight-or-flight response that equals a real-life danger. When your head is full of agitation and negativity, it triggers a chronic state of fight-or-flight. The toll of habitual stress on your body, with the constant release of cortisol and adrenaline, may lead to a cascade of physical events that can predispose your body to illness.

When we are born, we instinctively know exactly what we need. As we mature, and become influenced by the demands and values of family, friends, and the mores and beliefs within our culture, we impose rules about what we should look like, how we should act, and in what ways we will be judged. In doing so, we may lose touch with our mind-body connection. Sometimes, we listen more to these social and environmental signals and less to what our bodies are telling us about what we really need to be happy, healthy, and fulfilled.

To listen to your body means to become more mindful and honest about the messages your body is providing to you. This can be easy, such as when the signal you receive is conveying something urgent, like the danger of a hot stove; or, in cases where the messages are consistent with what you want to hear. Information that is subtle or dissonant can be challenging and requires a bit more effort. Learning to listen to your body is always a good idea. Listening to imposed and unrealistic expectations can lead us blundering into exhaustion and negativity, and leave us feeling frustrated and sick.

Learning to listen to your body starts by un-learning counterproductive, socially imposed beliefs about self-image, performance, success, productivity, approval, perfectionism, and control. Each of us contains, within our body and mind, an exquisite and personalized mind-body wisdom. This wisdom becomes more available to us as we recognize that anything we are feeling in our body means something.

It’s easy to get stuck in your head and tune out essential sensations; but, every butterfly in your stomach, every headache, tight muscle, surge of energy, and flood of emotion is there for a reason, providing gentle encouragement, danger signals, and constant feedback about what is needed to keep you comfortable and perfectly in balance.

A primary element for understanding your mind-body communications is awareness. Developing awareness about what you are feeling and learning what the signals mean takes time and practice. But it’s not difficult to listen to your body nor is it time-consuming to practice, and the payoff is enormous. Simply take a moment here and there throughout your day to stop, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and ask, “How do I feel right now?” Determine everything that you are feeling in that moment, such as hungry, tired, cold, energetic, etc., then ask what your body needs in that moment, perhaps (respectively) food, rest, a sweater, or activity. Next, honor your body’s response by recognizing and believing the messages you receive. In other words, trust your gut, without judgment. In time, you’ll learn to perceive and accept the feedback spontaneously, without effort, rather than ignoring your instincts or trying to wish them away.

The benefits of learning to listen to your body can be immense. It will allow you to make better decisions about your physical and mental health. Further, our mind’s perception of events informs and guides our immune system to help us be better able to respond to future threats (Cook, 2016). Tuning in to your mind and body is the ultimate form of self-care. As you learn more about yourself, it will allow you to make better choices in general. You will become healthier, happier, and more resilient as you develop stronger intuition, self-efficacy, and autonomy.

References Cook, G. (2016). The science of healing thoughts. Scientific American.…

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