If we’re to believe the advertisements, whenever we get sick, especially with cold and flu, we should take drugs and keep on going, least we miss out on time with our kids, grandchildren or, heaven forbid, miss a day or two of work. But when did soldiering on become a badge of honour?
One of the many things I’ve come to appreciate at midlife is just how finely tuned and wise my body is. It knows when things aren’t right – it knows when I’ve eaten food it’s not happy with or had one too many glasses of wine. It also knows when it needs rest.
More to the point, it’s worked out exquisitely clear ways of letting me know, when I choose to pay attention. In my case: discomfort in the stomach = eaten something it doesn’t like; sore head = inadvertent dehydration; puffy face = gluten.
Getting sick is no different. It’s my body letting me know it needs a break, to heal. My usual response, like many of us, is to push on through. A recent survey indicated that 66% of us continue to go about our daily activities even after flu symptoms have set in – to the detriment of ourselves and those around us.
And how many of us have powered through joint pain, migraines, anxiety or depression by popping pills and just carrying on?
This is quite apart from those days when what we crave, more than anything, is a day under the duvet. Yet, when was the last time you allowed yourself a mental health day to deal with overwhelm or grief?
Being the solider my body is, it will rise to the challenge when pushed. But I do wonder how long it will keep doing this when I so frequently ignore it’s calls for attention and respite.
Part of honouring ourselves involves paying attention to our thoughts, feelings and physical experiences. If your throat is sore and scratchy, your knees are aching or your spirit is weary, maybe it’s time to pause and figure out what this message is and what action you need to take.
Does your body need some expert input? Does it need rest or movement? Are you feeding it too much or too little of the food that nourishes it? Are you eating too fast or not drinking enough? Are you missing a key nutrient or two? Or are you simply requiring so much of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally that, in short order, your body will rebel in someway?
I’ve noticed some well worn patterns for me. The only two times my back has ever given me serious grief (pardon the pun) is after my Dad died and when my Mother was really ill. (Note to self: my back is at risk in times of severe stress.) I’m more susceptible to aches and pains when I eat food I know, from long experience, doesn’t agree with me. If I’m not deliberately mindful about staying hydrated and keeping my blood sugar even, a migraine is usually not that far away.
I think one of the inevitable transitions of midlife is learning to pay fierce attention to the messages of our bodies and souls. By now I’m assuming most of us have had enough years living with ourselves to know what the messages are. And those of us who have suffered through chronic illness, are usually more highly tuned than others. (There had to be an upside somewhere!)
So here’s a thought: stop right now and notice what you’re feeling in your body. Does everything feel as it should to you or is something, somewhere feeling a little off? What might that be telling you? Intuitively what would someone who takes exquisite care of themselves do as a result of this message?
Would love to hear about any lessons you’ve learned from paying attention … or not!