Hello dear friends!
The world can be a demanding place at times; endless emails, phone calls, work deadlines, childcare, and household maintenance are only a few things that clutter up our schedules. Then between social and volunteer activities, the remaining hours are quickly gobbled up. And to keep up with the hustle and bustle, most people tend to live up “in their heads”, constantly thinking, planning, and strategizing their way through every waking moment; even those of us who don’t fit the so-called definition of “busy” tend to get caught up in the swirl of thoughts. So what does this all mean?
When you’re always up in your head, you can’t be fully present in your body. And this can be a dangerous habit, especially for people living with CFS or other chronic conditions.
How to pace yourself is honestly one of the most important lessons that anyone can learn, and luckily our bodies are incredibly good at giving us the right signals in order to do so. The problem is, most of us are really bad at listening! I know I was for the first year or so of my illness, constantly pushing myself and making excuses. Needless to say, that strategy didn’t work well!
It takes practice to tune into your body and respect its wishes, but it’s worth strengthening that connection when you’re dealing with chronic health conditions. Whether you have anxiety, chronic fatigue, cancer, or something else, your body truly is trying its very best to heal and wants your help! Heeding your body’s warnings can help prevent you from heading into a burnout or serious relapse.
So without further ado, here are five tips to get you and your body back in groove!
I’m sure you saw this one coming, right? It’s no lie that a regular mindfulness practice helps you connect with all aspects of yourself, but especially your physical body. Learning to observe your breathing, your aches and pains, and your flow of energy can be truly eye opening, and only goes deeper over time. After meditating daily for a few weeks, I was able to tune into subtle changes in my headaches, heart rate, and fatigue levels- something I may not have been able to do without this practice.
Take a few moments to sit or lie quietly and pay attention to your breath. Without judgment, observe where your ribcage expands and contracts, and feel the air flowing through your nostrils. It may help to count the breaths as they pass, and place your hands on your sides to better connect with this movement. If you’re new to meditation, I recommend starting here.
2. Do a body scan
Similar to meditation, this technique allows you to rest quietly while focusing on one area of your body at a time. Some people like to do this right before they go to sleep, or just upon waking up, and it’s ideal as a daily practice. It can be fascinating to observe the subtle (or sometimes drastic) changes your body goes through from one day to the next.
Lay down somewhere quiet (your bedroom, your yoga mat, etc…) and take a few deep cleansing breaths. Then starting at the crown of your head, slowly scan down your body and pay attention to what you find. Take at least a few seconds on each body part and observing the sensations there; is it tingling? Throbbing? Does it feel heavy? Warm? Numb? Cold? You get the idea. It can be tempting to jump right to the areas that are painful or bothersome, but try to train your attention to stick with the entire scan, all the way from your scalp down to your little pinky toes.
Want a guided practice? Check out this one.
3. Keep a journal or diary
Yes, we all have faulty memories- it’s just how we humans roll! Jotting things down on a daily basis (even weekly is better than nothing) can really illuminate your patterns and help identify triggers. This is super handy if you are trying to track food intolerances- write down what you ate and when, then any changes or symptoms that arise in the following 48 hours or so (I’ll be writing a separate blog post about this, so stay tuned). And for the normal everyday stuff, it’s great to write down things like your physical activities, work hours, diet, medications, and any physical symptoms you’re experiencing. Over time, this will give you a comprehensive picture of your body’s rhythms and signals.
My journal was crucial to me figuring out the balance between exertion and flare-ups. It helped me keep my “energy bank account” in the positive, and avoid major setbacks due to overdoing it. It also tracked my sleep patterns and medication reactions- helpful things to know, I’d say!
4. Be in nature
Just being outside in the fresh air has a powerful centering effect, and the further you travel outside the sphere of human commotion, the more intense the healing can be. Digging your toes into the grass (or sand, or dirt…) is a wonderful way to reconnect with yourself and feel grounded in the earth, bringing you back into your body. When we take time out to just be in nature, we can amplify our inner voice and recognize what we are truly calling out for. Plus, all those endorphins and yummy vitamin D don’t hurt either!
Go visit a park or nature trail that you really enjoy, and leave the distractions (cell phones, earbuds…) behind. Take a dip in a pond or lake, or let the river wash over your ankles. Or if you’re short on time or transportation, go stick your feet in the grass/snow/mud or lie down on the earth for a few minutes and recharge.
5. Eat a snack
This is a fun exercise to break you out of your robotic routine, while tickling parts of your brain! The challenge is to eat something (this can be something new or familiar) slowly, using all of your senses for a truly well rounded gastronomic experience. This forces all the parts of your noggin to engage with what you’re doing, bringing yourself back into your body and paying attention to all of its sensations.
Do this with something simple, like a piece of chocolate or fruit. First remove distractions and sit down with the food in front of you. Observe what it looks like and try to describe it using words. Then move on to how it smells, how it feels in your hands, how it sounds when moved around or bitten in to. Then as you take very small bites, pay attention to how it feels in your mouth, the variety of flavors present, and if you can describe the taste in creative language. Lastly, tune in to how you feel after each bite, the sensations in your mouth or stomach, and any emotional responses you have.
I only just briefly summarized the exercise, so for the full enchilada (pun intended!), check this out.
When you are trying to manage your symptoms or prevent a flare up, being able to hear your body when it speaks is paramount. Sometimes our bodies have to throw a temper tantrum like a toddler in a grocery store in order for us to stop and listen. And those tantrums usually take the form of illness, burnout, fatigue, and other disruptions like food intolerance and skin breakouts.
So take a few minutes out of your day to just check in with yourself and ask, “what’s up?” It may save you loads of pain and sickness later.
Plus, don’t forget that all your body wants is to be your friend. Even when it feels like you’re fighting against each other, she’s been on your side all along.
~ Hoping you feel as well as possible ~