Good communication is the basis of a healthy relationship. But did you know that your relationship and communication with your body is important for your emotional wellbeing? Your body communicates all the time, not just about physical needs like thirst or sleep, but about your emotional state, or specifically, the impact of your emotional state on your body.
Living in a logic-oriented society, we are not taught to listen to our bodies. This disconnect can have unwanted physiological results. The body communicates distress as a way to guide choices… which we don’t always heed.
A friend went through a hard time financially after her divorce. She received a job offer but when she interviewed the director, she developed a terrible feeling in the pit of her stomach. She felt intense constriction akin a feeling of being tied up. Nevertheless, the job paid well and would immediately ease her financial stress. Against her body’s judgment, she took the job, and almost immediately regretted it. It was a high-stress job with a flaky and verbally abusive boss. My friend stuck it out for a year, developing adrenal fatigue in the process, until she mustered the courage to quit. She vowed to never, ever disregard her body’s wisdom again.
But how can you reconcile what the body says, with in-your-face reality? How can you cherry pick jobs based on good feelings, when waiting for the right job can mean foreclosure? How can you avoid self-soothing when you feel inadequate or overwhelmed?
Psychiatrist and author Dr. Judith Orloff says, “I’ve seen that many people are trained to function from the neck up denying the rest of their bodies. I want you to reorient yourself — to respect the intellect, but attend to your body’s messages as well. Being aware of the body can open intuition because you’re focusing on your physicality, getting out of your head and into your sensual awareness. This may mean noticing the early signs of pain so you can act on them, trusting your gut about relationships or awakening your sexuality. We can’t afford to ignore life-informing signals your body sends.”
You can become more aware of your own intuitive inner guidance and allow it to have more influence on the big decisions as well as the small decisions that cumulatively determine the direction of your life… with baby steps.
How Your Body Communicates
The physiological signals your body uses are unique to you. You may experience nausea before a stressful event, or sweat profusely, or throat constriction, or have a strong urge to run off nervous energy. You may experience any number of physical sensations, and “gut feelings”:
- Feeling toxic
- Chronic tension in the shoulders or neck
- Lower back pain
- Chronic fatigue
- Feeling off-center or unbalanced
- Feeling detached
- Chronic pain
- Low libido
- A sense of being vulnerable/defenseless
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Nervous jittery energy
- Hormonal imbalances
- Adrenal fatigue
- Emptiness in your stomach
- Closed off body language (crossed arms)
- Clenched jaw/grinding teeth
(Physical symptoms may have medical causes. Have them checked out by a medical professional! At the same time, physical symptoms may be related to your emotional state.)
Chronic pain as a manifestation of stress may surprise you. Researchers have found that stress causes unconscious tensing and constriction of muscles. Over time, this can cause muscle imbalances that pull awkwardly on the joints, cause muscle fatigue, and institute chronic pain.
Your entire body is vulnerable to emotional distress. If you’ve ever experienced a medically unexplained physical symptom such as chest pain that called for an ER visit, only to undergo a barrage of expensive tests that found nothing… you’re not alone. According to one study, 16% of ER patients leave the hospital without a medical explanation for their symptoms, including 75.8% of people with chest pain.
Listening to the Body’s Wisdom
The question is, what do you do with your body’s information?
Most people numb unwanted physical symptoms: a drink to relieve muscle tension, a cookie or soda to soothe an upset stomach, or pills for a headache. We want to make the sensations go away because they don’t feel good but this negates what the body is trying to communicate. Numbing temporarily changes how we feel, but that icky feeling will come back if its cause is not addressed… leading to more numbing…do you see how the cycle starts now?
What you can do:
- Get to know your body. Your body lets you experience the physical world. It is also a bridge between the physical world and your inner world. Do a quick body scan. Starting at the crown of your head, notice which parts of your body feel good (relaxed or feeling pleasurable sensations), which parts feel bad (tense, achy, uncomfortable, painful), and which parts feel numb or disconnected. All of these are messages!
Your body cannot distinguish between external events and your thoughts about them: they are equally real… but (this is key) they are not equally important. How much emotional energy (attention) you give a situation determines its influence and impact on your body.
- Know your response. How did you deal with a recent stressful situation? Did you notice physical symptoms, and recognize the correlation between the symptom and the situation? Did you listen to your gut feelings or override them? What was the result? If you didn’t listen to your gut, how did you feel? What did you do, that brought comfort? If you gave your coping mechanism a name, what would it be? If it was effective, how long did the effects last? How did you feel afterward?
- Ask, and use mindfulness to tune in and get the answer. “How do I feel about (x)?”
- Play the “what if?” game if you’re stuck on a decision. Imagine you have gone through your decision-making processes and chosen Door #1. Mentally commit to it. Pay attention to how you feel. Next, imagine that you changed your mind and decided to go with Door #2. Again, commit to it and observe how you feel. Which decision felt better? Continue if you have more than two choices. Choose the course of action that feels the best.
- Follow along. Honor your body’s messages instead of ignoring them or missing the connection between your physical symptoms/sensations and your emotional state. If you’re tired, rest. If you’re around people who drain you, distance yourself. If you’re doing something that causes you to feel terrible, courageously stop doing it. When it comes to saying no…DO IT… everything will be okay.
The Body Doesn’t Lie
Your body doesn’t lie. Listening to your body can help you guide decision-making, and everyday behaviors. Over time, it can help you change certain self-defeating habits.
Join the Secret Sauce to End Emotional Eating group on Facebook for more discussion and to connect with more people just like you.