What is Your Body Telling You?

what is your body telling you?

Last week I started getting the sniffles. I felt a cold coming and knew I had to take it easy for the next few days if I didn’t want to get sick. But I carried on writing, thinking that I was only sitting at home and not doing much.

The next morning, however, I came down with a full-blown cold and fever and was bed bound for the next few days. As I laid in bed nursing my head and going through boxes of tissues, I tried to decipher how I had caught a cold.

I did not want to admit to myself, but I was stressed. I was annoyed at myself for not being able to even cope with staying at home and writing. However, given my overall state of weak health these two years or so, I should have known to give myself more rest than usual. I had overestimated the task of writing, thinking that I was only working my fingers on the keyboard, and forgot that writing actually expends a lot of mental energy.

I got annoyed at myself, for I was learning to put health as first priority by changing my habits, and yet I forgot the most fundamental point I keep reminding myself: listen to what my body is telling me.

My memory was flooded with times I ignored simple warning signals while I was previously working a corporate job. I accumulated knots in my lower back from wearing heels and carrying heavy bags with files as I went to client meetings. My arms were numbed from typing on the computer. My two thumbs had cramps from typing and scrolling on my Blackberry.

In Tokyo I pulled myself through working and, once I took leave, got sick. I nearly fainted in the subway station at Omotesando when I was to pick up my mother who was visiting. I couldn’t move so the doctor had to come to my apartment to see me. I had a cold every 2 to 3 weeks. I was constantly tired even though I slept a lot. My stomach was twisted in pain every now and then but I soldiered on. I was 26 years old and thought I was invincible and that I should be strong enough to get over a petty cold.

The more I ignored what my body was telling me, the more serious the warnings became. I started getting splitting headaches, then tension headaches which would last for seven days straight. The room would spin and I’d be holding my stomach in nausea while I tried to stop the pulsations in my head by hitting myself. Colds became the flu and fever. Stomach knots became more painful and frequent. My lower back would hurt even when lying down. Eventually, I collapsed. I was forced to take leave from work and sunk into major depression.

The last 2 years, as I’ve been recovering from my physical and mental illnesses, I’ve tried to listen to my body’s physical signals. I now realize seemingly innocent colds can be signs of stress – signs that my body needs more rest and rejuvenation.

Last week’s cold was a reminder from my body that I’m still fragile and that I need rest, even from writing, even if it is my therapy. It was a lesson I had to learn again. With each warning, I learn more about my body and what it can handle, and when it is too much. Each trial and error makes me more aware of where my balance lies.

What warnings has your body given you that you have ignored and what happened? I would be interested to hear your experiences in the comments below.

Photo by Jonathan Kos-Read

40 thoughts on “What is Your Body Telling You?”

  1. I started having these small tension headaches in the back of my head – usually right after waking up. I suspected that there was something wrong with the position/way I was sleeping.

    I then went and had gum surgery, and the instructions were to avoid exertion. My gut told me I was going to hate this – I’m usually very active. I did reduce my exercise for a few weeks, and one morning woke up with an extremely stiff neck, painful to move. This went away but I’m still left (3 weeks later) with symptoms of pinched nerve in neck.

    I think if I had listened to my headache and fixed my sleeping position / pillows, or done more neck/shoulder exercises, I might have avoided the neck issue. Who knows! Time for me to get some PT…

    1. Hi Simon

      Ouch! Sorry to hear about the surgery and all. Sounds painful. I hear ya on the headaches. Waking up with them are not exactly the best thing. But glad you had reflected on the situation and sounds like you have learnt from it. Hopefully we all go forward listening more to our bodies… one step at a time…

      Noch Noch

    1. Hi Jaky

      I think that’s what it is!!! We are too stuck in our routines and forget the signals, or our complacency makes us unwilling to change the habits and we don’t listen!
      I was definitely stuck in my routines for a long time!

      Noch Noch

  2. Very sound advice. With Health ~ physical, mental, emotional & spiritual, everything in life is possible. Take responsibility for your own body. No one can do that for you. Your investment of health can not be measured, but without it life is a struggle. Eat healthy, sleep well, enjoy time w/others, exercise, and find some quiet time to relax. ~ get a massage ~ build up your body’s immune system. The body has amazing healing powers when it is stress free. Thanks for your post. <3

    1. Hi Cindy

      I agree, our body knows best what is good for it. So we just need to create the opportunity for it to heal. I think it was protesting at the junk and over exertion I fed it every day!
      And now it needs to heal, in its time

      Noch Noch

    2. I couldn’t agree with everything that you posted more! Most people do not understand that in order for someone to be happy, that entails physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual attributions in your life. Nor do people understand that they can decide whether or not they are happy, they just have to start accepting responsibility for things in their own life. Your suggestions of how someone can be happy are dead on: eat healthy, sleep weel, enjoy time with others, exercise, and find some quiet time to relax. You summed it up perfectly!

  3. Good reminder that taking care of ourselves, even if other things seem more important, should always take a priority. Hard advice when it’s not convenient, but also very wise.

    1. Hi Deborah

      Convenience was my obstacle – it just wasn’t convenient to work less hours or read less emails because everything else was priority over my body. Now I know

      Thanks for adding to the article with your thoughts!

      Noch Noch

  4. Our bodies are truly wise. They seem to always know just what we need.

    An old NLP technique for becoming more aware of your body is moving your eyes down and to the right. This simple eye movement accesses the body (kinesthetic) pathways and has your sensations and body enter your awareness more.

    If you practice this a few minutes a day, you’ll have a much easier time knowing what your body is telling you.

    1. Hi Jerry

      I had heard of NLP before but not of that eye movement technique. Seems easy enough to follow and doesn’t take much time. Will try it out

      Thanks for sharing!
      Noch Noch

  5. Noch Noch :) I have a feeling that we are liking and reading the same blogs lately :)

    You are so right about the fact that more you ignore the signs stronger they get. I also have felt that with my personal experience but luckily have listened to them before things got serious.

    1. Hi Ani

      Hahah – good to see you here too! Yes I think we must have similar tastes. Good for you on listening to your body signals. Keep doing that and keep reminding us :)

      Noch Noch

  6. Getting plenty of sleep is critical to being well. When I don’t sleep it’s often because of stuff going round in my head. Learning to deal with those things takes time.

    1. Hi Peter

      It takes me FOREVER to fall asleep. It’s getting better now. I dont read or check emails an hour before I sleep. Just mindless ipad games, or chess, or a novel. So I don’t stimulate my mind too much. Or I just lie and listen to music. Otherwise my mind keeps churning about what i have to do and all that at night!

      Noch Noch

  7. I had a mini breakdown a year and half ago and am still struggling to get myself back to normal even now.

    Mine started because I started the emigration path and the stress built up and up and I had so much anxiety and panic attacks because of the stress of moving so far away from my family, on my own that I ended up having a massive panic attack and collapsing and this culminated in a severe bout of clinical depression, all because I did not listen to what my body was telling me.

    I also work in a very stressful job in a company that don’t understand anxiety and depression and when I was off sick with this got telephone calls from my team leader asking when I was coming back to work, as I was letting my team down. Which is the last thing someone suffering depression needs.

    I also had colds a lot and tension headaches, neck and shoulder aches, nausea and shaking and I just kept pushing myself past this, telling myself it was normal to feel like this, taking into consideration what I was doing.

    Almost two years on I called the emigration plans off, however I still suffer from headaches and tension and am still very anxious. I still work at the same workplace, mainly because, despite looking, I have not found another job yet and I am still stressed out again.

    I have decided to keep trying for another job and to pay more attention to what my body is telling me, as my health is more important than any other plans.

    1. HI Emjay

      Sorry to hear of your experience. Sounds painful. I have depression too and know what it feels like, especially when others are not empathetic towards you during the worst times. I hope you are doing better now and sounds like you know how to manage the tension and anxiety better? I usually have to disappear and lie down when I feel an attack coming on…

      Good luck with finding another job that respects your body. Perhaps it also needs a complete rest

      Noch Noch

  8. I had a hysterectomy a week ago. After an over night stay, I was sent home and feeling wonderful. I may have overdone it because here I am a week later nauseous, achey and not sleeping. I get upset because I felt so good after my surgery, and it’s like one step up and two steps back. I have a family and house to take care of. I’m overwhelmed.

    1. Hi Robin

      Good to hear you recovered well from surgery but sorry that you over exerted yourself. Sometimes we are too eager to get back on track perhaps, and need to take those two steps back so we can take another three forward when we are ready. I can feel how you are overwhelmed even through your message. Can someone help you out for a week or so as you recover?
      Please take care of yourself

      Noch Noch

  9. Noch Noch — very insightful post and best of luck on your recovery. About a dozen years ago, I was afflicted with a serious anxiety disorder brought on partly by genetics but largely by lack of exercise, a terrible diet and a job/boss I couldn’t stand. The symptoms –chest pains, nausea, dizziness, perpetual fear, etc. — were constant and I resented them immensely, wishing they would just go away. My breakthrough came the day I realized I didn’t need to be frustrated with the anxiety itself — it was just my body’s way of telling me I had to make a change while I still could. From then on, I saw the symptoms as friends rather than enemies, and that made a huge difference. Thanks for shedding light on a really important issue.

    1. Hi Stephen

      That’s a great point you make – symptoms are not our enemies but our friends. They are trying to send us a message. And of course when we don’t listen, they speak louder, manifesting as more serious symptoms. ONce we pay them some attention, they subside…

      THanks for sharing your story. Gave me more encouragement to carry on

      Noch Noch

  10. Great post Noch. A very long time ago, in my twenties, I was on a similar make the career, ignore the body trajectory. I started having headaches from what amounted to too much stress and a very poor diet with very high coffee consumption. One day I was at an ATM and collapsed and fell down a small flight of stairs. It was “only” a migraine but it scared the daylights out of me. It also started a renewed interest in spirituality and a great stress management course. I recently blogged about a personality type that is very prone to ignoring the needs of their bodies. http://livingatchoice.blogspot.ca/2012/04/being-you-do-you-have-clarity.html


    1. Hi Brian

      What a coincidence – I’ve been searching more for my spirituality too since my depression and anxiety attacks. And also why I started writing a blog myself!!! GOod to hear that you learnt from it and made changes. I’m also trying to slowly. Good luck with your blogging too!

      Noch Noch

  11. Thank you so much for this article Noch Noch!
    This is exactly what I am going through and it has gone on
    to the point that I just simply can’t ignore the symptoms anymore.
    I have a meeting scheduled for tomorrow and plan on handing in
    my resignation. Although I have given a lot of thought into it
    I still feel a lot of guilt and anxiety.
    How fitting for me that you post this article today!
    Thank you and good luck on your journey~

    1. Hi Soha

      It must be nervous making a big decision to resign, especially if there are people around you who question the decision. I hope you don’t have those people around you. I had lots of them! And it made me guilty and anxious too
      BUt you know what’s right for you at what time, so yes listen to what you are telling yourself and filter out other people’s opinions for you

      I also got your email via my blog and will reply soon

      THanks for reading my writing and glad it gave you some inspiration today

      Noch Noch

      1. Hi Noch Noch

        Unfortunately I also have quite a few people who just do not understand what
        I am going through at all…and yes it hurts a little…but I have learned (the hard way) that I am responsible for my own happiness :)

        As for the email it must be another Soha? I haven’t emailed you.
        Thanks again for your kind words!

        1. Hi Soha

          Oops – sorry, must be someone else … :)

          And yes, I think we are responsible for our own happiness, and we can choose our friends and who we hang out with. I had to distance myself from quite a few people in my most trying times unfortunatley, but for the better…

          Take care and hope you feel better somehow. Can always ramble to me if you need someone to listen. I can do just that and not judge :)
          Noch Noch

  12. Thank you for sharing, Noch Noch.
    I had been steadily putting on weight for a few years and though I knew that it was not good, I just didn’t make the effort to make the changes required to my life. Then a few months ago, my body started protesting quite loudly – my knees started to hurt really badly and I became quite bloated with water retention…My body had spoken and I just had to listen. I began to exercise and diet and the changes are obvious – to me at least. I have learned to put my health first now.

    1. Noch Noch | be me. Be natural

      Hi Corinne

      Great to know you have learnt that health is most important and you learnt to listen to your body before it got too serious. Hope you maintain that path!

      Thanks for sharing the story

      Noch Noch

  13. My story is quite similar to Noch’s. I fell off the corporate treadmill about 18 months ago and also slipped into a severe clinical depression. My depression had two root causes:
    1) I didn’t understand that I was stressed (negatively) and therefore didn’t do anything about it. (i.e. I didn’t listen to my body – I just thought what it was telling me was normal – so many of my friends and colleagues felt the same way!)
    2) I was missing a fundamental sense of purpose in my work.

    I was so appalled by just how damaging the effects of unmanaged negative stress are that I spent alot of time last year developing an online stress self-awareness test with severla doctors. The aim is to raise self-awareness by identifying common physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioural symptoms of stress that many of us just ignore.

    To take the (confidential) survey for yourself go to http://www.vitalstest.com and enter ‘stressless’ as the “employer code”. Then follow the simple onscreen instructions.

    1. Hi Richard

      Good to see you here. You point out an important thing – we think these physical symptoms are normal because so many people suffer from the same. Somehow we have accepted it to be the norm and thus the viscious cycle of creating more suffering for ourselves. When we can’t get better, we are seen as weak, and people question why we are always sick

      I have done the test you suggest before, thanks to your recommendation, and I recommend anyone else who comes across this page to do so as well

      Noch Noch

  14. Underestimating the challenges, and putting so much faith in the body is never a good thing. We must realize this whether it’s the easy, or the hard way. And usually it’s the later time and again. But that’s good- at least we are learning all of the time, getting stronger with each fall, wiser with each wrong decision.

    A week ago I felt I was in my prime with so many things going on. I wrote and stocked many articles for the blog, prepared intensely for the 5k race, was everywhere all of the time…

    And then all of the sudden, bum. I never even saw it coming. Cold that gradually turned into fever, flu… I spent couple of days tied to bed. Now I see more clearly, I see my mistake. We have to find time and make it a habit to stop and listen to what our body is saying to us. Because it’s never ” all of the sudden” as we think. We always get the warning. We just have to listen.

    Great article. It makes one realize how important health is, and how much should we push ourselves while having in mind not to go beyond that line. It’s also great when you stumble across such an article while going through similar experience. Thanks :)

    1. Hi Slavko

      Indeed, there are many of us going through the same thing. It’s reassuring to know we are not alone in this learning process. It’s true, it’s not something we learn overnight but with each wrong decision we learn a little more and the memory and habit of listening to our body becomes engrained in our head so that as time goes by, we naturally attune to what the body is telling us. It takes practice

      Glad to know you have recovered!

      Noch Noch

  15. Noch Noch,

    Great reminder of taking care of self. When we listen to our bodies and our emotions then we know that all is well.

    Stop, smell the roses and listen to our bodies,

    In love and light,

  16. My body has been showing me the symptoms of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) since past 1 year or so. I have been neglecting it all the time, and this is getting much worse day-by-day.

    Finally i decided to listen to what my body is telling me. I am suffering from IBS due to excessive stress and tension at my work place. I had to learn to be peaceful and calm down the thoughts in my mind.

  17. Noch Noch – I love this post! Thank you for sharing your personal story because it is SUCH an important topic. One of the main reasons I left the medical field is because of its archaic views of the mind-body connection. I am not speaking for all doctors because there are definitely doctors who get it. But overall, the medical field (ironically) is behind the game in acknowledging this very important complex relationship. “Mental illness” is physical and “physical illness” is mental… there is no separating the two. The evergrowing field of psychosomatic medicine has some great literature on the mind-body connection, and more and more research is being done to explain it. (Fava and McEwen are two of a number of great researchers trying to explain the interconnectedness of the brain/mind and body). Early in its evolution, the field of medicine split the “mind” off from the body which seems ridiculous because the mind is a function of the brain in the same way that digestion is a function of the intestines. Thank you for reminding us that EVERY physical symptom should be considered in a holistic context!

    1. HI Maggie

      Thanks for your note. I also only experienced the connection between mind and body when I got ill. It’s complex and needs to be wholistic. It took me a long time to find the combination of doctors for a wholistic treatment, because each one specializes in one thing. I had to make the “package” myself

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts here too

      Noch Noch

  18. Hiya Noch Noch,

    I had a very similar experience at the age of 28 and it led to an empty head. I was sitting 3 hours in front of my computer at work and could not do anything. There was this frightening emptiness in my head. I had a great boss so she send me home for a few days. In those days all I could do lay in bed and stare into the TV. It did not matter what was on but I could not use my brain for nothing. After I came back to work my boss and I made a deal that I would only work for 8 hours and then go home without my laptop. She called me almost every day for 2 weeks to kick me out of the office. Ever since then I am on a journey to learn to listen to my body and try not to overwork it as I did. Some of my colleagues ended up 7 months or more at home with serious physical and mental illnesses. I am happy I took that incident serious. Unfortunately, society can sometimes not understand when you explain that my gut feeling says so or my body tells me. A lot of people ridicule you. Am not sure if that is a common experience but it is mine so I usually just go ahead with what my body says and not try to listen. It has always done me good.

    Thanks for sharing this story.


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