Author: Buffy Andrews MSW, LCSW
Listening to our bodies can be really hard when we have the voices of society telling us all sorts of untruths. Things like: be vegan and you’ll live longer, don’t eat gluten it’s the enemy of everything, don’t be so sensitive, look like that super model by eating only kale, keto is neat-o (okay, that was totally cheesy on my part, but you get it). Our world continually tells us what to feel, what to eat, what to wear, how to talk, and the list goes on. However, we may start to see that when we listen to what our bodies are telling us (not what they are telling everyone else), we may start to hear a different story being told.
The truth is, our bodies are WIRED for things like: connection, safety, and healing. Brene Brown says it best when she says:
“We are psychologically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually hardwired for connection, love, and belonging. Connection, along with love and belonging (two expressions of connection), is why we are here, and it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”
When we are connected, we begin to develop this sense of whole-heartedness Brene Brown speaks of so often. Often when we are disconnected this comes through in waves of feelings like shame, disappointment, loneliness, etc. How do we know we feel these things? Our BODIES tell us! “Dr. Orloff’s Guide to Intuitive Healing” is a great book geared towards listening to what our bodies tell us. Dr. Judith Orloff states, “Honor your body’s messages; don’t discount them. Simple, prompt action is sometimes all it takes. If you’re tired, rest. If you’re hungry, eat a delicious meal. If you’re stressed, get a relaxing massage. The price of not listening? You could come down with the flu. Maybe your back goes out. You still don’t listen? Might be chest pains. Ulcers. Depression. The thermostat gets turned up until you pay attention.”
Our brains and bodies are highly interconnected, and often interchangeably teach us something. Our brains send signals to the body to let it know of impeding danger, for instance through the firing of the amygdala. The amygdala senses fear, and begins to release hormones involved in our “fight, flight, freeze” response system. Bodily functions that may look like a racing heartbeat, organs not vital for survival may slow down (gastrointestinal system – aka digestion slows, potentially leading to other problems for the body), blood pressure rising, and pupils dilating all signal to the body that something is wrong. The amygdala is sending signals through the HPA axis (hypthalymus, pituitary, and adrenal axis) through the release of cortisol. This is often what can cause those “gut-reactions” during stressful events.
So what do we do with that? That is a lot of information about our brains and bodies, but how do we make it so it no longer lends to negative impact on us? We LISTEN to it. When we listen to what our bodies are telling us, we have better likelihood of increasing appropriate response back to the body. This is the mindful way. When we listen, we develop less judgement and more response to what are bodies are needing. Listening to our bodies helps to say, “Man this situation is causing me stress, how do I rectify this?” rather than responding with, “why am I so weak when it comes to this?” or “Why can’t I seem to do better in these scary situations?”
Mindfully listening to our bodies helps us to reframe, rather than judge, and respond rather than react. So the next time your body is telling you something, do your body and those around you a favor – listen. Take a deep breath, think through the feeling, and talk (sometimes this might actually have to be out loud to have full effect) to yourself in a kind way so as to create more positive solutions for the body. Again, Dr. Orloff said it right when she said, “Simple, prompt action is sometimes all it takes.”
About the author: Buffy Andrews is a mental health counselor in Wilmington, NC who uses her 8 years of experience in the field to support people on their path to wellness. Her clinical specialties include Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral therapy and other modalities. She is also a registered yoga teacher (RYT200) which helps her incorporate mind/body techniques and promote mindfulness for people in all walks of life. You can reach out to Buffy via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text her at 910-200-6825.