Wednesday 5 June 2013

Listen to your body

The last three mornings I woke up with a sore neck, pains and aches all over my body, and a bruised big toe*. You may wonder what happened: Did I have an accident? Worked out really hard? (Bah! I wish.)
But the answer is simple: Nothing happened. I have been working a bit too much for my body's taste, and it is telling me to STOP.

Stress is a powerful physical reaction. And it is very different for every person: what stresses one person may be nothing for somebody else. But it is not imaginary: If you feel stressed, then you are stressed. And listening to your body is essential for your health and happiness.

Stress can cause real physical and mental illness: depression, heart disease, digestive problems, sleep problems, aches and pains, eczema, breakouts.... it's a long list.

My body's response is sort of a three-step process:
  1. The first warning: Breakouts. I used to get them on my chin every time I was stressed. Entering my 30s finally, finally ended that for me - it was about time! However, now I get a weird skin reaction lower down - I guess it's a kinda eczema on my lower back, right about where a tramp stamp would be. At least most people don't get to see this area so it could be worse. (Like still getting pimples on my chin for example.)
  2. The second warning: Aches and pains and/or stiff neck. This feels like the beginning of a cold. My neck is very sore and stiff, legs are painful, I feel exhausted and have no energy. I also don't feel like talking to people and my patience is wearing thin. This sometimes can be combined with a bout of depression just to really drive the point home to STOP. RELAX. RECHARGE.
  3. The third warning: Vertigo. This literally forces my body to lie down. The first time it happened was when I was a x-ray student and was extremely stressed out with full-time clinical, working extra on Sundays, school deadlines and looming exams. 
I was at work, standing in front of the computer, and all of a sudden the world started spinning. Closing my eyes didn't help, and it didn't fade. I kind of crumpled on to the floor, right in the middle of our work area. Scary stuff.
My co-workers packed me off to the ER where I stayed for 6 hours. They ran some tests, hooked me up to an IV, but couldn't really find anything wrong with me physically.
It was my body forcing me to rest.

This only happened three times so far, and not at all in the last year. I'm learning. But it's a slow process.

I grew up in a family where work is extremely important. Sleeping in past 9am was unheard of. So was napping: you don't just sleep in the middle of the day.
My parents run a store that used to be open 11 hours Monday-Friday, and 8 hours on Saturdays.
They worked very hard all their lives and still do.
From the time I was 12 years old I had to work at the farmer's market every Saturday, which meant getting up at 5am.
All through my teenage years I worked 7 days a week: school Monday-Friday, farmer's market Saturday, playing the organ at church on Sunday. When I started going out I would sometimes come home at 2 or 3am and get up a couple hours later to go to work.

Then I met Richard.
Relaxing is Richard's passion. He takes daily naps, he puts his feet up, he can spend all day doing nothing. (Maybe he was a cat in his previous life? Richard Lionheart - I like it.)
I don't know anybody else who is so in tune with himself. He works hard, and he rests hard. (If that makes any sense.)
He has taught me to listen to my body. Sleep when you are tired. Only eat when you are hungry. Go for a walk or play with the dogs when you have lots of energy. Simple things, but how many of us actually do them?
I will do another post soon about listening to your body when it comes to food and exercise. (This one is getting kinda long.)

I had to learn the art of relaxing - to fight the urge to jump up and tidy the kitchen, or quickly throw a load of laundry into the washer, or at least pay some bills. Just sit and do the things you love: read, chat, watch TV.
It took years to learn to do this guilt-free. To realize that resting and doing nothing is okay.

And to accept your body's boundaries. Sometimes I feel like a wimp: "Hey body, what do you mean you don't wanna work 6 days in a row, have one day off, then work another 5? I used to do that all the time you know."
But it doesn't want to do that any more. And I'm thankful. Because that means I get to do more of the things I love and live a more relaxed, happy life.

So thank you body. You are smarter than me.

xo Miriam

* There is a reason for the bruised toe: I slipped in goose poo and didn't fall (score!), because my big toe kindly bend down and stubbed itself into the pavement. Thanks buddy!


  1. Where did you learn to write so well? ESL? Pppffff
    So many talents, Farm Girl. :)

    1. ESL, TLC's "A Makeover Story" (was on 10 years ago) and Frasier. They were excellent teachers!

  2. Such a great post and so true. I know exactly when I am getting stressed, I get a cold sore UG!! Trust me not a good look.
    I also get a really sore neck so it is my reminder to take it easy.
    Glad you didn't fall in the goose poo!!
    Enjoy the rest of your weekend!



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