Our bodies talk to us, but do we listen?
My father’s body talked to him. Pains in his chest were his warning sign, but he didn’t listen. He didn’t stop working 70 hours a week; he didn’t stop smoking, and he died aged 45.
For many of us, our body sends clear signals that something is wrong. Maybe not fatally wrong, as in my father’s case, but certainly a warning that this might get worse unless you do something.
The messages from your body can vary. You body may be saying ‘stop’ or ‘slow down’. It may be saying ‘you need to exercise more’ or ‘see somebody because this isn’t getting better’.
The key for all of us is to know when to listen and to understand what we’re hearing. For men, in particular, help is sometimes needed, so regard your doctor as your hearing aid.
For example, you may be experiencing tightness in the shoulders or neck, caused by anything from sleeping badly to sitting incorrectly – or for too long – to exercising badly.
If you do nothing and assume it will go away, you may well develop headaches and lower back pain as a secondary condition.
Persistent pain can result. It can cause fatigue and irritability, not to mention a total loss of enjoyment. The danger is to ignore it and hope it will go away.
Fatigue itself can be a warning sign. Have you stopped your morning walks because you can’t be bothered? Is going to yoga or the gym too tiring to consider? Has your appetite changed?
Perhaps your fatigue is the result of something else, like a chemical imbalance. Perhaps your iron levels are low.
Some of the body’s messages can be pretty basic. If you’re over 60 and your knee is aching, it’s more than likely a result of ageing that’s difficult to avoid. Tissue in your joints breaks down with wear and tear, and the resulting discomfort may cause you to modify or limit your regular activities.
But don’t necessarily accept it. At the extreme level, knees and hips can be replaced. At the other end of the spectrum, a daily dose of fish oil may help.
Dizziness and lightheadedness could mean a heart issue, and stomach pain can be caused by stress.
Depression has warning signs – eating more, sleeping longer, giving up things you used to love, feeling the need to cry.
How many of you have self-diagnosed a rash as a lactose or gluten intolerance? Maybe it’s something else. Allergies come in many forms.
If you grind your teeth at night, don’t just accept it as a phase you’re going through. Stress, anxiety, smoking, alcohol, caffeine, depression and sleep disorders are all possible causes of teeth grinding.
So if your body is talking to you, listen. It doesn’t have to mean something serious, but it might be, and perhaps you should share the ‘conversation’. Sometimes your body might be saying, ‘slow down, give me a rest’.
Talk to a friend, to a doctor, to your personal trainer, to a dietician … there are many people out there trained to listen, people who can translate what your body is saying.
Of course, if something feels really off, such as changes in being able to see, talk, walk, think clearly, or communicate – or you’re experiencing chest pain or shortness of breath, call 000. Don’t wait. If it’s a stroke or heart attack, you need medical care right away.
Are you good at listening to your body? Or do you ignore what it’s telling you in the hope that the problem will go away?