In life and self-care, it’s vital to listen to your body. Pay attention to the stress, fatigue, sickness are red flags our bodies are overworked. Sadly, we live in a culture that avoids warnings signs and continues to push our bodies until they fail us. In my journey with self-care, I’m learning that my body is always adjusting to the demands I make of it – the routines of self-care I implemented a year ago may not meet the demands of my life now. Stress levels a week’s vacation could fix last year isn’t cutting it this year. In high levels of stress, I’ve learned to be aware of how my body responds; stress eating, nail biting, worry and anxiety. I thought I was managing my stress pretty well until one day my body began to break out in hives. I brushed it off as an isolated incident and didn’t think much else of it. It wasn’t until one of my close friends noticed that whenever I began to vent, I would begin to break out. She looked at me and said “ your body is so stressed out, it’s making you itch. You need to rest.”
Walking away from that conversation made me realize how easy it is for us to ignore the signs our body is trying to send to us. Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to pay attention to my body when it feels out of tune and responding to maintain a sense of self-care. Here are some areas I focused on when learning how to listen to my body:
- Get in tune with yourself
The easiest way I’ve learned to become in-tune with my body is becoming observant. When I work long hours, I use the weekend to monitor how long it takes me to recover. When work issues seem never ending, I leave each day reviewing how that stress affected my interactions with my teachers. When life disappoints, I keep note of how many Oreos I eat. If I notice I’m losing my patience, forgetting things, never stopping to find the joy in my life, I know my body is responding negatively to stress. If you aren’t aware of your baseline, it’s difficult to know what’s abnormal for you when your body is trying to tell you something is off. Sometimes self-care can look a little selfish, but here’s your pass to pay a little more attention to yourself!
- Learn your sleep patterns
I’m the girl who loves to sleep. My college days were filled with log naps and more sleep than studying or socializing. I need about 8 hours minimum to function day-to-day. If I notice myself getting less than 6 to 8 hours during the week, I know it’s only a matter of time before my body begins to suffer. Sleep keeps me balanced and functions as a reset button for my body. Sleep provides your body with the time it needs to establish new brain processes, as well as maintain healthy immune system function. Creating a lifestyle that gives your body enough sleep is imperative to safeguarding your physical and mental health long term. For those of us who tend to bring life stress with us to bed, it’s important to create a routine to decrease stress before bed so you can sleep well with minimal disruptions. Whether it’s a hot bubble bath each night or chamomile tea and a good book, try incorporating new stress-relieving routines before bed so you can go to sleep with no distractions and wake up feeling rested.
Sleep patterns are an important factor in listening to your body, but resting goes beyond sleep. Learning to rest can transform your body, even if your sleep intake doesn’t change. Resting can look like turning off your phone, leaving work early, taking a long weekend with your family, or planning a girls night out. Incorporating times to take a step back gives your body time to recover from the stress of everyday life. Deciphering the difference between needing sleep and needing rest can be tricky as you learn to listen to your body. I’ve learned that whatever a good night’s sleep doesn’t fix, a good day unplugged typically will.
- Listen when it’s time for stress relievers.
When I feel my body becoming overwhelmed, I immediately do one of two things: clean or paint. Cleaning and painting have been my go-to stress outlets since college and always help to calm my nerves and relieve stress. Research shows healthy stress relievers allow your body to release endorphins which lower stress levels and increase a general sense of wellbeing. Most of us have stress relievers already: running, music, dance, reading, gardening, yoga or baking. Take time to monitor when your body is telling you to activate those things to balance your stress.
Learning my body’s needs is a continuous journey in self-care. The important thing is to get to know yourself enough to know when something is out of whack. Once you do this, adjustments can be made where necessary. It’s easy to let life become so overwhelming that we tune our body’s needs out. Challenge yourself to listen to your body so that when things are out of sorts, you can give yourself the best care.