Listening To Your Body

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Recently, I’ve started to tune in to the conversation between my body and my brain. My body will tell my brain something, my brain will go, “Ok, yep, got it”, my body will respond with, “Great, thanks, glad we’re on the same page”, and so on.

Ok, it doesn’t quite happen exactly like that (and I’ve only just realised how weird that first paragraph comes across…) – but I have become firmly convinced that the body has a mind of its own, so to speak, and will make its feelings very clear when it needs you to change a habit or lifestyle.

Take alcohol, for example. Three years ago, I was able to drink (parents, stop reading here and skip to the next paragraph) a mixture of wine, mixers and shots in copious amounts on a night out, and turn up to work the next day – complaining of a hangover, obviously, feeling like crap, obviously – but more or less ok, able to laugh about it and get through the day. I’d like to make it clear here that a.) this was not a regular occurrence (although I definitely partied far too hard from the age of about 19 to 23) and b.) I’m not saying this to make myself sound fun or cool or any of that rubbish (I am really not remotely cool – more on this next week). I’m saying this to emphasize the change that has gone on in my body; a change that my brain has had to take serious note of. These days, two glasses of wine and I’ll wake up at 4am with that horrible sweaty (sorry), heart-pounding, “what did I do last night” feeling. Then all of the next day, I’ll feel the hangover – nothing out of control, but definitely there. If I drink more than this, I’m really in trouble. The hangover the next day is honestly unbearable, mentally and physically – I’ll feel as though I’ve been poisoned (which I have been, I suppose) and my thoughts go to such a dark place that I’m not even ready yet to discuss them on here. My sleep will be thrown off for the next week or so, I’ll feel sluggish and grumpy – it’s bad, basically.

So after ignoring these physical symptoms and learning the hard way that I just cannot drink anywhere near as much as I used to, I’ve decided to listen to my body. My body is begging me to stop drinking more than one or two glasses of wine (or the equivalent) a night. It’s basically saying, “Please, please stop doing this to me, I really, really cannot cope with this any more”. So I’ve decided, eventually, to listen. I’m probably not the best person to invite to a wine-tasting event – but I will be the first person to arrive at brunch the next day, hopefully feeling fresh and hungry rather than physically and emotionally broken.

It’s not just alcohol, though. I’ve realised this year that my whole lifestyle needs to change significantly in order to feel balanced, calm and ready to take on life in all its forms. If I journey back again to this time three years ago, I remember being out five or six evenings a week, drinking far too much, probably running on far too little sleep; but all of that being perfectly ok. I felt fine; I was loving life. Now, there’s been a dramatic shift. I now need my eight hours in order to function the next day (I often don’t get it, but that’s a separate issue). I don’t have the mental or physical energy to go out after work every day any more. That’s partly because I now work in a bookshop, which means being on my feet for 8.5 hours a day – but I also just can’t hack it any more.

This is all starting to sound a bit sad, so I should probably say at this point that this is a GOOD change. Now, I’ll be in four or five nights a week – and I LOVE it. I love going to bed at 10pm after a cosy night in, and feeling refreshed and relaxed the next day. I’ve started actually cooking, from scratch, which is something I never used to do before – and I love that, too. I fell back in love with reading last year, and now I love a night in reading my book. This is not to say that I’ve become a hermit, or that I don’t enjoy seeing my friends – I adore my friends, and I love catching up with them. But my body was sending me signals that something needed to change. Before, I’d frequently go out for drinks on a Tuesday and end up going to bed at 1am. Now, I love having friends over, cooking them dinner and being in bed by 10pm with a chamomile tea. Or I’ll meet friends for drinks and leave when I’m on a high, rather than when I’m exhausted.

Some people might call this self-care; I call it listening to what my body is asking me to do (or rather, not to do). Essentially, it’s the same thing – whichever way you look at it, I’m caring for my body in a way I wasn’t before – and it doesn’t really matter what label I give it.

I’m very much still working on this, and do not have it down to a fine art yet. Equally, obviously there are times when I need to force my body to do something it doesn’t want to do. Going to work, for example, when I’d rather be lying in. Going to a friend’s birthday even if I’m feeling a bit tired and run-down, because that’s what friends do. We all have to make an effort sometimes, and if we all just did or didn’t do exactly what we wanted or didn’t want to do, the world would be a very strange and disordered place.

But there’s a difference between getting on with important things when you’d rather be doing something else, and punishing your body by drinking unnecessary amounts, or filling up your week with plans that, while fun, will make you exhausted. I’m gradually starting to learn this, and I’m starting to learn that tuning into the signals my body is sending me is making me much happier and more alert than I was this time last year. I’m not as busy or social as I used to be; and thank god for that, because now I’m (hopefully) a lot more switched on and energised than I used to be, too.

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