Tonight, I’m relaxing. It’s been a busy week and an even busier weekend. We’ve had family photos, we had dinner parties, and I took a dance class for mom’s night out. I’ve run errands to just about everywhere. I’ve ordered a birthday cake for my daughter’s first birthday, which is coming up way faster than anyone told me it would. I’ve got sunburnt, and ate good gluten free food. I’ve written more things on my 30 Before 30 list.
Although life is going pretty amazing right now, I still have a chronic illness. More than one. Several. That means that occasionally— okay, frequently— I have to slow down and listen to my body.
Whether you have a chronic illness or not, it’s important to understand your body’s cues.
When you’ve been going and going without stopping, it’s easy to feel like you’re on a roll. Shouldn’t you do something else too? After all, there’s a big thing in American culture about being busy just for the sake of being busy. Having a full calendar means you’re doing well in life.
At least once a day, I like to take a few moments to sit somewhere quiet, breathe deep, and take stock of my body. What’s hurting? Where am I emotionally? This helps me decide when I need to step back, take a breath, and cancel my evening plans for some R&R.
Even without my mental check-ins, there are ways to know that I’m getting overwhelmed— mentally or physically.
1. Am I snappy or irritable? This is a big sign that I’m stressed, which can mean I’ve been overdoing it.
2. Does anything hurt more than usual? Since I have Ehlers Danlos, I have pretty constant low grade pain. However, worse pain than usual is a sign my body wants to slow down.
3. Am I over or under eating? When I’m stressed or overbook my schedule, there are two extremes. Either I forget meals or I eat too many sweets and caffeinated drinks to perk myself up. Neither of these are optimal!
4. Do I feel sad or anxious for no reason? This means that my mental illnesses are flaring up. That’s a really bad thing, so I need to calm down and relax!
5. Are things piling up without getting done? This is obvious, but it’s something I keep on my checklist. Is our laundry pile bigger than our clean clothes pile? Yeah, I’ve been over-extended. I don’t do laundry unless I feel pretty good, so the only time it gets put off is if I’m flaring mentally or physically.
6. What about those dark circles? My lack of sleep tends to show pretty plainly on my face. If I look into the mirror and see dark carry-on luggage under my eyes, I know it’s time for some rejuvenation. And maybe a nap.
7. Headaches? I have a constant headache. It sucks. Fortunately, it’s made it way easier for me to tell when a headache is caused by stress. It’s a totally different headache, and it hurts all the way to my jaw….probably because I clench my teeth when I’m stressed! If I have a tension headache, it’s yet another way my body says to slow down!
8. Lack of interest in things I normally enjoy is one of my brain’s ways of focusing on survival. It means I’m mentally exhausted.
Your mental and physical health are different than mine, so your checklist will look different. Think about things that usually happen when you’re stressed. Do you clench your teeth? Do you get more fatigued than normal? Do you lose sleep over trivial things? All of these are signals from your body.
Getting more in tune with your body and mind’s signals can be kind of hard. What’s from illness and what’s avoidable? It’s taken me years to figure it out. However, knowing when my body is just flaring versus when I’m overextending myself is really valuable. It helps me know how to treat myself, and when to just see a doctor for help. After all, you can’t relax away a chronic health condition!
Learning to listen to my body more has been extremely beneficial for my health. Now, I don’t feel like I’m at war with my body. Yeah, the whole defective collagen thing isn’t the best deal ever. But if I’m working with my body instead of against it? Life is a whole lot easier.
How do you know when it’s time to take a break?