Body Speak: What Your Symptoms Might Be Telling You; What Mine Told Me


Updated June 2, 2018

Body Speak: What Your Symptoms Might Be Saying

While symptoms can herald diseases, and should be taken seriously, they can also be our body’s way of trying to communicate important information about what’s going on in our inner world – what’s working and what’s not serving us well. Take for example, a woman who has horrible eczema but only under her wedding ring. It started when she began to suspect her husband was having an affair. Turned out he was. Or another who has terrible arthritis and when I asked her what triggers it she said, “My husband is a constant source of inflammation in my life. I want a divorce but just can’t go there.” Or another who works in a toxic social environment, really wants to quit her job and only gets headaches on weekdays. Or my patient who experienced Takotsubo syndrome, an actual change in her heart mimicking a heart attack, over the grief of her husband’s sudden and unexpected death. Our bodies don’t lie!

In fact, our bodies speak to us all of the time, providing nearly instantaneous feedback on our safety, our environment, our sense of balance and place in the world around us. We receive many subtle physical messages throughout the day, and may have a sense that something is off before the tsunami symptom that lands us in the doctor’s office or emergency room strikes. The messages might be an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of our stomach, a heavy feeling in the chest, tightness in the throat – something that gets our attention and makes us wonder if we’re doing the “right thing” or are safe at that moment. Some of us have specific “body barometers” – symptoms that are triggered when we are under stress or “something is not right” in our world, for example, a certain tooth that aches or a pinching stress headache. Too often we don’t hear these messages or have learned to tune them out in our busy lives – until they get too loud to ignore.

Conversely, when something is right for us or when we are in harmony in our lives we experience a sense of inner ease, wellness, or “rightness” that lets us know that all is copasetic.

Spinning Outta’ Control

“I feel like everything is spinning out of control. I feel so off balance.”

I’d been saying this to my husband on and off for a couple of weeks. Since everything in my life has been going exceptionally well, my husband didn’t really get it. It’s true, our kids are healthy, my work life is wonderful and my professional success has been accelerating with decades of work and dedication starting to pay off. Bigger opportunities are coming in regularly, at a new and faster pace – and prosperity is coming from doing work that I love and that is meaningful to me. What could be better? Life is good, eh?

I try to live a mindful life, take excellent care of myself, and recognize the need for rest. Business success, however, usually doesn’t come without significant effort – it takes a lot of hard work and long hours. There are a lot of moving parts to keep up with. There are many decisions to make and people to satisfy. Sometimes there are busy periods when projects need to be completed or deadlines met. Worse yet, sometimes those periods converge. That’s when I push myself to work when I know that I should take some down time.  During these times I am less mindful of paying attention to my natural stopping points and need for recreation. I know so many of you are juggling busy home lives, demanding careers, education, and relationships. You are familiar with the need to just push through to complete projects. It can feel like you’re in a whirlwind of epic proportion. If you’re an old enough reader, you might think of those “Calgon, take me away” commercials in those moments (if you’re not old enough to remember those, you can watch one on You Tube).

Recently, I found myself in the middle of a major unexpected business boon along with a huge roll out of the NEW! Herbal Medicine for Women course (it’s totally 2.0) with more on my plate than I’d imagined, a number of other projects on the burners, and three college-aged daughters living at home for the summer.

In the midst of  this, a friend sent an email that opened the door to a potential major opportunity for me. In a rush, instead of listening to the sensation I get in my abdomen that reminds me to pause and breathe before responding, which I would do in a calmer, less busy time, I dashed off a reply and hit SEND. In doing so I made some inaccurate assumptions. Oh no! Too late. There’s no UNSEND button. Ouch. This is going to cause some hurt feelings for my friend. [Have you ever hit SEND and wished you could strike that and reverse it?] I immediately knew I had misfired and that sensation in my gut turned to a reeling feeling in my brain. I was moving too fast and needed to slow down!

Then it happened. A couple of days later I woke up at 4 am to the sensation of my bed spinning out of control. I grabbed the bed for dear life. Then I began retching violently. Vertigo. Indeed, I was off balance and spinning! The vertigo forced me to stop and be absolutely still!

How Might This Serve?

Two important questions I ask my patients, and myself, when a symptom presents or persists, are:

“How does this symptom serve you?” and,

“Can you meet your needs in a way other than through these symptoms?”

These questions are not meant to imply that we have control over all of our symptoms, or that we can prevent every disease with a certain way of thinking or being in the world. My vertigo certainly could have been due to a minor viral infection (though I don’t feel unwell) that had been brewing for a couple of weeks, leading to that sensation of imbalance in the first place. Not every symptom requires a deeper look and some do require a medical assessment. However, often looking past the surface and the obvious, or the simple medical diagnosis, can provide powerful insight into our current state of being, helping us to identify what is out of balance in our life – physical, nutritional, emotional, relationship, professional, spiritual, creative, or other needs. Because there is no disconnect between what goes on in the mind and body, physical symptoms can create emotional reactions and emotional states can create physical symptoms.

To add further to the problem, when we feel our needs are not being met, when we are not in harmony with our own selves, we tend to take poorer care of ourselves – eating carbs and sugar to fill ourselves up, overeating, not exercising, engaging in negative thought patterns, etc. Ultimately, unmet needs and poor habits can lead to actual diseases including diabetes, high blood pressure, and even cancer!

The Menstrual Cramps Example

One patient, saddled with horrible monthly menstrual cramps that kept her in bed for 2 days every cycle, upon reflecting on the first question, said, “The pain makes me take a couple of days off each month. I take a day off from work because I can’t possibly work with pain that even medication doesn’t help. My husband knows those are the 2 days each month he needs to be fully present for the kids after school. He cooks, takes them to their activities. I usually lay in bed with a hot water bottle and just read a novel.” She finally blurted out, with tears in her eyes, “This is the only way I get any time to myself.”

She wasn’t creating these symptoms on purpose and she wasn’t faking. She really had severe menstrual pain. When reflecting upon how she might reframe her need for time off, she initially had a lot of reasons and excuses for why she couldn’t take time just to care for herself. It’s common for women to feel we can’t take time off, whether from work or family responsibilities, to take care of our own needs. It’s no surprise that symptoms such as menstrual pain, PMS, and headaches are leading causes of missed workdays for women!

Probing a little deeper, my patient with the menstrual cramps started to work with me to problem solve around getting some time to herself in a positive constructive way, to see if this would improve her symptoms and bring more balance to a life which she felt left no time for her. She was going to start taking some time at the local coffee shop one evening each week on the way home from work, to read a novel and have tea. Additionally, she was going to start taking a few supplements she’d not been making time for in the morning in her busy rush to get everyone out the door to their respective schools and jobs, and she was going to take a women’s yoga class. And sure enough, over time, her symptoms began to improve.

Listening to Body Speak

Body Speak is a powerful language. You’ve heard of trusting your gut? Body Speak is exactly that though not all of the messages come from our gut. You can learn to hear and use your Body Speak as a physical and mental health-promoting tool. It’s all about listening to the cues your own body sends or even words that you choose. For example, me saying that things felt “spinning out of control and imbalanced” for weeks was my cue to do something to get my life in order – before getting vertigo!

Body Speak awareness can enhance your health and feeling of being “centered” and clear. It can help you make excellent choices for yourself and even professionally. It can, for example, help you to be more aware of:

  • How you feel when you eat various foods (both your mood when eating them and how the foods affect how you feel afterward)
  • Emotions associated with your lifestyle habits – which feel good to you and which don’t
  • How you feel in various relationships, social and professional settings
  • Where in your body you hold stress

To start to identify your Body Speak, simply learn to pay more attention to your body in an intentional way on a daily basis, even just for 1 to 5 minute check-ins throughout the day.

Here’s a simple exercise to get you started:

Sit upright in a chair or lay on the ground and close your eyes, breathing naturally at first, then gradually more slowly and deeply. Feel either your feet on the ground, or the parts of your body touching the ground. Just feel that contact, that grounding with the earth. Then deepen the breath. Now let your breath wander throughout the body to any areas the feel tight, blocked, or stuck. Use your breath to imagine massaging out that tension or releasing the blockage. Is there anything in your life that you associate with this tension you’re holding? Linger on how you can use your breath and attention to identify areas in your body that feel tense or blocked. Hold this awareness so that when you return to regular awareness, you can draw on that skill to use anytime without even having to go into a meditative state. Use this new awareness to make adjustments in your life based on physical signals – your Body Speak.

In addition, pay attention to your normal daily body signals and respond to them rather than put them off. I have treated hundreds of urinary tract infections in women who put off urinating when they first notice the need, until they have to go badly. Bacteria love this! Similarly, many women become constipated because they ignore the urge to have a BM. Paying attention to the common body signals will make you more aware of your Body Speak.

Let Your Body Be Your Compass

Because your body messages quickly mirror your body’s perceptions of your environment and situation, your body can help you to adjust your course or path – much like a compass, in almost any social setting.Your body can be your compass in helping you to make important decisions in your life whether to do with food choices, relationship choices, or transforming your career from something that makes you feel sick to something you love! It’s all about paying attention to how you feel, matching that with how you want to feel, and adjusting your life until you have congruence. If you are deciding whether to say yes or no to something (or someone) for example, a job, a relationship, an opportunity, a night out with the girls when you’d rather be at home in an Epsom salts bath, take a minute to tune into your inner messages – how do you feel about each choice. Your body can really guide you. It’s your North Star! Follow it!

As for me, I am going to take a dose of my own medicine. I am reflecting on having patience with myself, greater centeredness, and focusing on creating my own version of success – which includes making time to relax on a regularly scheduled basis – time to unwind rather than spin out — to be more present when I am with my loved ones, and not hit SEND hastily – ever again! I am identifying how I want to feel in this life – peaceful, caring, generous, confident, centered, trusting, connected with others – in addition to manifesting more traditional forms of prosperity which allow me to live the life I dream of and share with others through philanthropy, and making time to check in with myself as to whether I am creating a life that achieves my feeling goals.

I am so excited to have opportunities to rock my work out to the world in bigger, broader ways – and to help each of you take your health back into your own hands. Every now and then, I get a reminder to do so myself!

Do you have symptoms that serve in any way? Ways you might better meet your needs rather than getting sick? Has your Body Speak ever given you great advice? Have you ever hit SEND and regretted it? How do you define a successful life? Please do tell in the comment spaces below!

AJR-Sig

 

 

 

 

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Angela

I love this article and relate to it, right down to he vertigo. For the past few weeks I have been writing a course about finding balance in today's busy world which is due to launch next week. So I have been working very hard for the last few days to get everything finished - definitely not much balance in my life. For the past 24 hours I have had postural vertigo :( I love the way our body's speak to us, we just have to take the time to listen

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sue

So true, loved the article about listening to our bodies, have done now for a few years, and do yoga, so am much more calm these days, as well as doing all my circuit training, Thank you for a good read

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Jennifer

I would be curious how trusting your gut applies to your children, too: I felt uneasy and illogically afraid of a particular vaccine for one of my children, (it was one she had already had before, even!) and she ended up having a reaction to it...our pediatrician was surprised because of how rare that was. On the other hand at another time I had no qualms about giving a different vaccine that I had been delaying for some time, and there was no reaction to it. Now I delay any vax, even at the last second, until I feel comfortable with my child getting it.

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Jennifer

Thanks so much for being such an incredible inspiration! I had a very similar experience and blogged about it a few months ago: http://www.breatherepeat.com/2013/06/07/a-balancing-act/#.UfkaahZJ-fQ. BodySpeak is so critical to our health and well-being - let's turn up the volume!

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    aviva

    Hi! Just took a tour of your site - beautiful! Love the name of it, too! YES! (And so sorry you had vertigo -- it's awful!). From a slightly wobbly Aviva :)

    Reply

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Lisa BB

Interesting, I have had that same eczema just under my wedding ring. Food for thought! I also have been dealing with anxiety, and along with diet and supplement changes, have really had to track how I feel in my body and what the anxiety sensations are telling me. This article is very timely for me!! Thanks!

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Elizabeth A.

Whoa - what timing! I am the girl who never hesitates to take a "mental health" day when I need one, however, these past few weeks have found me with some strange and uncomfortable body sensations that I don't know what to do with. Headaches, dizziness, a feeling of being not in my body - which all rebel when I try to ground or center myself with my current tools for doing so. I have been researching and talking to people about how to fix it - but now I realize I am the only one who will be able to find a cure, by figuring out what my life needs. Thanks for the post - and wish me luck!

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Kristi B.

Aviva, this is such an important article. In this day and age it is so easy to push past our intuitive mind and persist in the day to day tasks at hand, thus neglecting the little signs that something bigger might be brewing physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Thank you for taking the time to write this, and I'm so happy for all your recent successes. All women need to take the time to sit still, observe, and clear their minds, even if only for 5 minutes!

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Nadine Feldman

I tended to do the opposite for years. I was always looking for the mental/emotional cause rather than addressing the physical. While I still look for these causes, I have also identified nutritional deficiencies that affect my mental well-being and energy levels. I like how your article invites listening to the body's messages. Sometimes we need a divorce. Other times, an apple or a good night's sleep will do.

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    aviva

    Yes! One time I had a pregnant patient who was really struggling with some issues in her life. I guided her on a little meditation to ask herself what she really really needed. In that meditative state the first thing she said was "carrots." It wasn't what I expected -- and I almost giggled! But so true, it goes in both directions. And often healing the gut, changing our diets, etc can pave the way to a better mood and fewer symptoms. Thanks for sharing your wisdom! Aviva

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Jaime

Aviva , it's funny you bring this up now- Short story : I just started a new job and am still nursing my 20 mo - I know that this may possibly be just a normal physiological mama respond but I get really stressed out apro ably like less than a minute after my body for all stressed out I felt my milk come in - I think it was my body's way to tell me "you just need some baby snuggles " <3

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    Jaime

    Get was supposed to be got* So was for -

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    aviva

    Aw....those baby snuggles are soooo yummy!

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Jackie

This blog hit me right where it counts. I am totally guilty of not taking time for my self. When I try to go jog or play guitar or go foraging or even just find time to stop and read I feel guilty that I'm not doing something else for everyone I take care of on a daily basis hubby, kids, friends, customers. Thanks for the article it only inspires me to get a little selfish which in reality is only going to help everyone else because I need rejuvenation to maintain a loving and giving energy for them too. Sincerely, Jackie Parker Texas

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    aviva

    Love it! Jogging, foraging, and guitar all sound like smart rx's for health! And your health = your family's health. You have my vote :)

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Melany

I loved reading this! Thank you so much for sharing! I would like to offer another information tidbit about dizziness as a symptom when we are stressed or overworked. I am a massage therapist who has studied trigger point referrals and how these areas in muscles can create pain and seemingly 'unrelated' symptoms. I highly recommend massage, stretching, and movement as part of anyone's self care routine, its amazing how many daily stresses can get 'stuck' in our muscles. Take a read about this muscle in our necks (I have no association with this website, simply desire to share the information): http://symchecker.triggerpointproducts.com/home/moreinfo/Sternocleidomastoid

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Diane Figueroa

This was a great reminder! Several years ago I was very overworked and stressed and kept thinking, " I need a break, i need to get away to a silent retreat!" I even checked the Internet for silent retreats, but of course felt I couldn't take the time off from work. After about 3 months, a freak accident caused a minor break in my leg ( I was slammed into by a large dog that was running!). Two days later my crutches fell flipping a carving knife into the air and cutting my hand bad enough to expose tendons, and then 2 days later I developed complete laryngitis! I was not sick. The injuries were not severe, but life found a way of bringing me to a stand still.....and in silence. I immediately surrendered, and allowed myself to rest and heal. NOW, when I have the sense of needing a "break".....I really try to listen and address it promptly!

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Sandra

I love this article!!! It's so true what everything it was said. I've been through that many times until I got divorced. I'm a happier and healthier mother, woman, human than before. It's a really start over:-)

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Chara

Beautiful, as always, Aviva. You are such a wise guide for us. What I always notice when this happens to me--when I have unusual symptoms that are not at first easy to figure out--is how strong our mind/body barrier can become without us even noticing it. Learning to be truly attuned to our bodies in our culture is not easy. Thanks for mentoring us.

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    aviva

    Thank you so much for writing and sharing your kind words! <3 , Aviva

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Chris

Reading this left me really dissapointed. As someone with a chronic health problem for over 10 years, I've spent a lot of money on both traditional and non-traditional medical care. I invest a lot into my health by eating well, exercising, meditating, and getting body work on a regular basis, yet I'm still in pain every day of my life. To hear that it is something I am doing to cause this, or that I'm getting something out of this, is discouraging.

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    aviva

    Hi Chris, Sorry to hear you feel this way. If you re-read I believe you'll see that I say that it's not always simple and there are many reasons for many things. This is simply one way of looking at things sometimes for some people that can provide insight. And it often does. Chronic pain is a terrible thing to live with. Looking with an introspective lens doesn't mean that you have to see it as "I caused it." But there are many causes of pain for many different people and all kinds of traumas from physical injuries and illnesses to mental, emotional and spiritual traumas that leave their imprints on our bodies. I've seen this time and again working with many patients with chronic pain in the past years. I hope you find ease and resolution. Be well. Aviva

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Jen M

I've been doing yoga for about 9 years. Traveled the gamut through dogmatic, religious-y yoga, flowing yoga that makes you look and feel beautiful, power yoga which makes you strong, yin yoga which invites you inward, ashtanga yoga which trains discipline. I teach yoga a lot, so I practice mostly at home now. Something that has come up strongly for me lately is just how much yoga students put themselves in their teachers' hands. When I attend a class now, it's frequent for me to get half way through and think "OK, I'm all done!" My body is all done with that work! I trust myself and sometimes wonder what would the teacher think if I yelled out "I'm cooked!" halfway through and just did 30 minutes of relaxation. I think yoga is beautiful, and can make you so sensitive to your body. I also wonder, how do I teach my classes in a way that invites students to feel what they need, and not just follow along regardless of the bodily feedback they receive. Thanks for the article! -Jen

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Jenni

Aviva, Thanks so much for this great article... it really resonated with me because last year after months of feeling tired, foggy, and in pain, I realized I had adrenal fatigue. I remember thinking some of these very things - "what is my body trying to tell me through pain?" How does this symptom serve me? I knew (that 'gut feeling') that these symptoms of fatigue and pain were showing up to force me to slow down - to let me know that's what I really needed. I started to step into new territory asking that very question, "Can I meet my needs in a way other than through these symptoms?” I started to look for ways to slow down, relax, and do less. It was a huge period of change and growth for me, and I'm so thankful for the body and how we can listen.

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jo

Can you speak to the mind body connection in vaginisimus and ways women have found to help them break down the mental barriers that lead to the problem?

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    aviva

    Hi Jo, Yes, biofeedback can be most helpful in this regard -- working with a pelvic physical therapist might be a great avenue for you! Therapy -- and particularly with a sex therapist - can be helpful for some women, depending on the background issues. Gentle healing wishes for you! Aviva

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Connie

Wha'ppen? I just went back to reread the article on food addictions, and it's gone! I know it was there yesterday.

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    aviva

    should be there....check again! :)

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JoAnn M. Stark

Just wanted to say thanks for what you do. You are an inspiration.

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    aviva

    Thank you!!!! <3

    Reply
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