In our fast paced society, many of us have lost the ability to simply be present in our bodies. We go through our days following our schedules, and to-do-lists, never really noticing what is going on inside.
From an early age many of us have unintentionally been taught to ignore our body’s sensations. While it can be convenient to disregard these sensations at times, if we consistently disregard what our body is telling us, there may be a price to pay!
Let’s look at this issue and reevaluate the importance of listening to our bodies!
How We Learn to Ignore Our Bodies
Most of us have been taught, in subtle ways, to ignore our body since we were very young. These messages were often given by well intentioned adults over the course of our lives. Some examples of these messages include:
- Having to wait until mealtimes to eat.
- Being required to clean your plate.
- Waiting to go to the bathroom until between classes.
- Being taught to hold back when you have to pass gas or burp.
- Having our feelings minimized, dismissed, or punished.
- Being pushed to keep going when we were tired and needed to rest.
Not all of these lessons are bad. Sometimes we cannot satisfy our bodily needs immediately, however it can be damaging when we learn to ignore them all the time.
What About Learning Self Control?
We all realize that we can’t act on our bodily sensations all the time. If you are in an important meeting it would be inappropriate to grab a snack, go to the bathroom, or loudly burp. But what if there is a way to honor both the body and social norms.
Ideally, we would recognize the messages that our body sends and then choose how to act on them. We don’t need to follow these sensations impulsively, but it is important to recognize them and consciously choose our response.
This may look like recognizing our hunger and choosing to eat a snack after we finish our meeting. It may mean noticing our need to move and deciding to stretch on the way back to our desk.
Just noticing the sensations, even when you can’t act on them, will be a big step in connecting with your body.
Examples of Honoring the Body in Daily Life
Listening to and honoring your body can actually help you function at a higher capacity in the long run! Let’s look at some ways that you can honor your body and still function in this world.
You are exhausted when you wake up in the morning, but have to get to work.
- Take a moment to recognize how your body feels: do you have itchy eyes, a heavy head, aching body, etc.
- Assess the situation: Can you do anything to get more rest now? If not, that’s okay. Just recognize both what your body is telling you and the reality of the situation.
- Make a plan: You may decide that you can still make it to work on time if you sleep a bit longer. You may have to push through and get out of bed. If you can’t respond to it’s message now, you may decide to honor your body by going to bed early that evening.
It is mealtime, but you are not hungry.
- Take a moment to recognize how your body feels: Many people eat according to the clock without listening to their hunger cues.
- Assess the situation: Is this your only opportunity to eat or can you push lunch back awhile?
- Make a plan: If your lunch consistently comes earlier than you are ready for it, can you arrange your day differently? If not, perhaps you can eat a lighter lunch and plan to have a snack in the afternoon.
You have a strong emotion to a situation with another person (sadness, anger, fear, etc.).
- Take a moment to recognize how your body feels: Is your stomach in knots? Is your face flushed? Do your eyes sting with tears? Are your fists tight? Is your breathing restricted?
- Assess the situation: Is there a way for you to appropriately express your emotion? Consider the relationship you have with this person, the strength of your emotions, and possible outcomes before taking action.
- Make a plan: Maybe you are in a position to talk things through in the moment. Perhaps you are not able to address it in the moment, but could come back to the issue at a later time. You may decide that some situations are best not addressed at all. In these situations you can still honor the emotion by naming it and taking time for self care (talking with a trusted friend, journaling, doing something special for yourself, etc.).
*Listening to hunger cues and recognizing emotions are big topics! People with certain medical conditions or mental health concerns will have to take special precautions (those with diabetes or anorexia, those with a history of trauma, etc.). If you are dealing with any of these issues, please feel free to talk with me. I will try to connect you to some helpful resources.
What is one thing you can do this week to listen to your body? Making small changes, consistently, can make a big difference. As you start paying attention, you may be surprised by what your body is telling you!