The other day I was sitting at work and I felt a headache come on. I told a colleague and the response I received was, “I have pain killers; do you want some?”
A day earlier, I felt hungry at 11am so I decided to eat. Whilst heating my food up in the work kitchen, I was asked “are you eating your lunch already? It’s only 11am…”
Another favourite of mine is, “how can you be tired? It’s only 8.30pm”.
It got me thinking…
When was the last time you went to bed when you were tired and not because of the time it was? Similarly, if I asked you to think about the last time you ate, was it because you were hungry or because it was ‘afternoon tea’, ‘lunch time’ or ‘dinner time’? When was the last time your body spoke to you in some way and you listened? Did you even know it was speaking to you?
Over the past couple of years, I’ve made a conscious effort every day, to listen to my body more. It’s not easy, because for much of my adult life I had been pushing myself in various ways. I have worked full time whilst studying part time (and full time, some semesters!), all whilst trying to exercise four to five times a week and maintain a healthy diet, personal life, spend time with my family, catch up with friends, partake in extracurricular activities, and I was running on empty. I became unwell, chronically tired and stressed out. Of course, I didn’t realise this until I had hit rock bottom, and after much self-reflection, I asked myself why – why was I ignoring my body talk?
I realised that although I was a strong, resilient and independent individual, I was still unconsciously conforming to a societal perception of what ‘normal’ was. It was ‘normal’ for me to eat at certain times as opposed to when my body was hungry. Which then encouraged mindless eating – sound familiar? It was ‘normal’ for me to be running on empty because everyone else around me was. It was ‘normal’ to live in pain, because that’s “life” and aches and pains are a part of it. In social psychology, conformity is the act of matching behaviours, attitudes, beliefs, and the like, to match others within a group. (1, 2) It’s not necessarily bad to conform in certain situations, but when we fail to listen to our bodies because we have been conditioned to follow social norms, I ask you – is it worth it?
As a society, we are collectively the unhealthiest we have ever been. Chronic disease is at an all-time high, almost 2-3 adults are overweight or obese, often a pre-curser to chronic illness such as; diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease (to name a few). (3) Australia spends billions (that’s right BILLIONS) of dollars a year on mental illness, with it’s prevalence on the rise. Is it all just a coincidence or have we become so skilled at putting our body talk on ‘mute’ that our neglect is resulting in chronic illness?
Now – I’m not going to sit here and tell you that because you have a specific symptom, you have a certain ailment. There are WAY too many extraneous variables to every situation. Instead, I’m going to ask you to start listening to your body talk, turn the volume up and really listen. Pain is a symptom there could be something wrong, whether its physical, psychological or medical it might be time to see your GP (or other health professional as appropriate). I would personally live at my physiotherapist and acupuncturist if I could!
Listen to your body the next time you experience indigestion after a meal, exhaustion after a long week, or even shin pain after a run (OK, maybe that’s something I personally have to do better at!).
The more we listen, the more we will hear. The more we hear, the better we will get at identifying when things aren’t right, and addressing them before they become chronic.
Our bodies are our wealth, our livelihood and our future – let’s start investing in them.
- Nook EC, Ong DC, Morelli SA, Mitchell JP, Zaki J. Prosocial conformity: Prosocial norms generalize across behavior and empathy. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 2016 Aug;42(8):1045-62.
- Hogg MA. Social identity theory. In Understanding Peace and Conflict Through Social Identity Theory 2016 (pp. 3-17). Springer International Publishing.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australias Health 2016. [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2017 Apr 16]; Cat. no. AUS 199. Available from: http://www.aihw.gov.au/australias-health/2016