What does it mean to ‘listen to your body’?

You’ve probably been offered this nugget of wisdom at some point when you’ve been unwell or exhausted: “Make sure you listen to your body.”

It’s a good sentiment. But what does it actually mean to ‘listen to your body’? And how can you do it when there are so many other voices demanding attention? There are the things you have to get done – I can’t just not take the kids to school, for example. And then there are the other things that can feel like must-dos – our culture values busyness and we can feel a pressure to keep going. Whether it comes from FOMO or a sense of duty – this feeling that we ‘can’t stop’ can be very powerful, and its easy to lose perspective on what’s important.

I was exhausted at the weekend and spent both Saturday and Sunday afternoons under my duvet sound asleep (very grateful to my lovely husband for taking Tiny and Small out on bike adventures!) Although it felt like a huge waste of precious weekend time, I also know that I was giving the messages my body was sending the attention and seriousness they deserve.

Learning your body’s language

I’ve found it can be helpful to consciously identify the messages my body gives out just before I hit a flare or crash, so that I can take steps to prevent fatigue taking over. Aside from more obvious symptoms like joint pain, here are a few of my body’s signals that it needs a break:

  • A desire to sleep rather than do other activities
  • Not wanting to go upstairs to fetch something
  • Not wanting to put anything in the diary, even with my best friends
  • Not getting round to jobs I would normally do without even thinking
  • Forgetfulness
  • A feeling of dread on waking up

You may recognise some of these indicators – maybe they’re the way your body shouts at you to take a rest. Or maybe there are other signals you can identify. Over the years, I’m getting quicker at identifying my signals and listening to my body.

Responding to your body’s messages

The next part of the process is to act on those signals. I’ve tried ignoring them in the past, but it never goes well! Sometimes it’s so frustrating and disappointing to change plans, but I have found there is peace in giving your body what it needs.

Again, these will be different for everyone, but here are some of the ways that I take on board my body’s requests for rest:

  • Blocking out ‘nothing times’ in the diary
  • Rescheduling non-essential plans
  • Not being shy to chuck guests out when it’s bedtime!
  • Listening to podcasts with my eyes closed rather than watching TV
  • Giving social media a rest

Whether you live with a chronic illness or not, your body will, at times, hold up red flags and send you subtle (and not so subtle) signals to slow down. In my experience, it’s worth listening. Adapting or cancelling plans is never fun, but it might just be necessary to give your body time and space to heal.

1 Comment

  1. I seem to have to keep relearning this lesson! But I did manage to listen to my body yesterday when I woke up feeling awful. I went back to bed after breakfast. One of my warning signs is often hard for me to spot in the moment – dark emotions, like unexplainable depression or anxiety – often accompany in impending crash.
    Great post and a good reminder for ll of us!
    SueLive with ME/CFS


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