What’s the key to a more satisfying life? Healthy living for the mind AND body. You can’t separate the two, so it pays to understand how they work together.
Listen To Your Body For Better Health
For many of us, better health doesn’t come naturally. I mean let’s face it – chocolate cake and barbecued pork aren’t exactly known as health food. They’re dang good but, we all have choices to make. It is usually something we have to work at if we truly want excellent health.
One of the biggest steps you can take toward a healthy lifestyle is really simple. Just listen. Your mind and body both send messages about their well being, but are you really listening? You might be ignoring important signals because:
- You are so used to them you don’t see them as a problem.
- You may be bothered by some problems, but you don’t know what they really mean.
- You know something is wrong but you are resistant to make changes.
Everyone does this to some extent, so it’s OK if you felt a guilty twinge reading that list (raises hand). Your mind and body are so closely connected, but it takes some practice and effort to really understand what they say about your health. It’s not always easy, but it is simple. Just listen.
Listen To Your Digestive System
Your digestive system is the primary pathway for nutrients coming into your body. It’s also a main method your body uses to protect itself from germs, dirt, and other potential invaders. Did you know the digestive system is considered one big part of the immune system? It’s not discussed in that way very often, so it’s easy to think of it as an isolated body system.
Your digestive system needs to be running on all cylinders to really do it’s immunity job. That means paying attention to episodes of diarrhea that can strip the colon of protective bacteria, constipation, and indigestion from being under excess stress or eating the wrong foods.
Good digestive care can include many things like drinking lots of water, eating more healthy foods, and taking probiotics. Probiotics can help replenish the gut with good bacteria. Probiotics can be taken in by eating plain yogurt with live cultures or by eating fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kefir. If you can’t get it in the foods you eat, you can purchase many probiotic supplements at nearly any drug store, grocery store, and on several online outlets.
It’s really common to have gut problems when you have more stress in your life. I know that if my day feels like a runaway train, chances are good my digestion will suffer. I’ll be likely to rush my meals, delay them, get an upset stomach, or feel butterflies. Once I have the rush of adrenaline and cortisol (the so called “stress” hormone) surging through my body, I can always count on tummy troubles the rest of the day.
While these symptoms are certainly uncomfortable and can make a tough day even more difficult, a bigger problem is a potential lack of nutrient absorption. If your digestion is way off for a few days, you’re likely not eating like you usually do or your food might not be sticking around in your body long enough to provide much benefit. You may feel more tired, more “spaced out”, and just generally unwell because your body isn’t getting fed.
When a bad digestive pattern takes hold, it’s often best to stick to bland foods for a couple of days. The BRAT diet is pretty boring – Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast. But if you can do it for at least one day or maybe two, you’re body will get the chance to settle down and reset itself.
Watching The Scale
You might not enjoy it every time, but your body certainly says something to you when you step on the scale. Even if you don’t use a scale, it’s easy to see changes when you put on your clothes every day. Do your clothes fit well? Do they feel too snug? Is the scale tipping in the wrong direction even just a little bit?
If you’re losing weight because of positive lifestyle changes, that’s cause for celebration. But if you are becoming too thin for your height or are dropping pounds without intending to, it’s an important sign of stress. Losing weight isn’t always a good thing, so if this sounds familiar your body may be just as unhealthy as someone who’s going up the scale too far.
When your stress starts to affect your appetite, your body shows its distress. It isn’t getting healthy nutritious food and balanced proportions. Think about your food choices, your eating patterns, your cravings, your appetite (either constant or lack of), and everything else that goes along with food.
Emotions are often tied in with food and eating. It’s a social activity that’s often associated with comfort. While this is a normal human thing, too much emotion or stress can change the relationship you have with food. Your constant nervous stomach may make it hard for you to get enough calories for clear thinking through the day. Or your constant cravings for comfort food may lead to weight gain over time. Either way, an unhealthy weight change is a big clue that your body isn’t getting feed.
When I was 16, I experiences a lot of stress when my boyfriend and I broke up. For most of that week I didn’t eat much. One of my favorite teachers and my grandmother (who was visiting from out of state) both tried to offer me crackers or small snacks here and there. They could tell I was stressed and wasn’t feeling right. Just their gestures of care made it easier to get back to my normal appetite. But if it had continued past that week, I might have started to unintentionally hurt my body.
A balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats helps you have long-lasting energy and a good mix of nutrients to support your body. Eating your vegetables doesn’t make your stress go away, but it feeds your cells in ways that a piece of cake just can’t.
Listen To Your Cardiovascular System
What to you know about your blood pressure? If you’ve been in a pharmacy or some large grocery stores, you’ve probably seen a self-service blood pressure machine. Have you ever tried it? Do you know when you last had your blood pressure taken? If you have any hint that it might be elevated, take a moment and try it out. Better yet, make an appointment with your primary physician and learn more about your situation.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is often known as a “silent killer”. You may roll along with your normal but stressful life and have absolutely no symptoms. That is, until it’s done significant damage to your circulatory system. Your risk of heart disease and stroke go up significantly with a diagnosis of hypertension and put you at greater risk for stroke and heart disease. Stress management can literally be lifesaving in this situation. So don’t ignore your blood pressure. Know your numbers and keep ’em good.
Are you ignoring anxiety, instead of looking to erase its sources and lower stress levels?
Stress can literally hurt your body and mind. To keep the impact of stress to a minimum, build some release valves into your life. As the old McDonald’s commercial went, “You deserve a break today.”
Tai Chi, Meditation, and Yoga
Take care of your body in ways that highlight the connection between the body and the mind. Tai Chi, meditation, and yoga are ancient practices that are now widely used in modern times. In their own ways, each of these disciplines helps you listen in on the conversation inside you.
Your physical self becomes less isolated from your mind and emotions. The more you focus on their togetherness, the more easily you can read the subtle signals of stress buildup. Just knowing the different sensations of easy movement, tension, and true relaxation can do so much to teach you about your body. When I’ve done these different activities, that’s the one thing I tend to notice the most. I really appreciate what I’ve been missing when I finally pay attention.
Vacation, Staycation, or Just Lunch
While travel and vacations can be amazing experiences, not everyone can get away like that. Taking mini staycations on the weekend or just an afternoon off of work can be a refreshing break from the norm. Looking forward to an enjoyable event or just some time of leisure can be as fulfilling as the time away itself. The point is to do something on a regular basis to -“refill your cup”, so to speak.
It can be as simple as meeting a friend for lunch at the old regular hangout. I have a friend that I try to have lunch with at least every 3-4 weeks. We have a handful of places we like, but when we have some serious de-stressing to do or something to celebrate, we always go get “spuds” at our favorite barbecue joint. It’s the special routine we have that makes it a true getaway, even though it rarely lasts more than an hour.
Listen For And Respect Signs Of Stress and Fatigue
Are you fighting fatigue on a regular basis, instead of taking the time to rest and rejuvenate? Feel tired, but keep pushing yourself past your limits?
As a mom with lots of responsibilities, I know I’m all too guilty of these. Sometimes I even say to myself, “Hey there, remember that one time when you started feeling like crap and got a headache and still stayed up until X, Y, and Z were finished?” Yep, and that fatigue hangover lasted the whole next day through work, a frustrating trip to the grocery store, and the band concert. Nice job.
As I often like to say, I’m “not exactly 19 anymore.” Those were the days, when it seemed like energy was nearly boundless and tiredness was something that could be endured and overcome within the day. Not so anymore. If I’m to be even remotely effective, I have to pay close attention to the activities that drain me. If I go like the Energizer Bunny, I have to understand the price I’ll pay. And nobody much enjoys spending time with me after one of these fatigue overloads.
If your age is much north of 25, you start to see these subtle changes. It simply means that once you are a grown adult, your energy levels need protection and rejuvenation. Your perception of stress will be magnified if your fatigue gets out of hand. It can be really frustrating, especially when you may feel pressure to get a lot of things done at work or take care of your family. But it’s time to listen up – your body is talking to you and letting you know that you need to rest and relax, if you don’t listed you will crash and burn.
So now it’s your turn. What signals do you get from your body or your mind that tell you it’s time to relax and take care of yourself? What do you do on a regular basis to prevent a “crash and burn?”