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IS YOUR "CHECK ENGINE" LIGHT ON? HOW TO LISTEN TO YOUR BODY'S URGENT SIGNALS


My relationship with my body in the past is best analogized by my relationship with my car. Useful, and I do need it, but I don’t move it very much, and when I do, I just want it to work, you know?

Despite my husband’s insistence that I check under the hood before I go somewhere, I am loath to be rushing out the door and then have to stand there, all tarted up and ready to go, and fuss with checking oil and water, getting my hands dirty, chipping my nail polish and potentially destroying my outfit right before I have to freaking leave.

So it should come as no surprise, then, that little lights blink on my dash from time to time. Check oil. Check water. Check engine. If you’re anything like me, nothing will kill your buzz faster.

I try my best to ignore it, hoping it will just go away on its own. (I do drive a BMW, so half the time she does get over it on her own, and sometimes she honestly likes to just complain for no reason.)

I try my best to ignore that little check engine light because I don’t want to have to face some very uncomfortable truths:

  1. I wasn’t maintaining my little car and showing her the love and appreciation she deserved;

  2. As a direct result of said neglect, she is now trying to tell me she needs my urgent attention;

  3. I am now going to have to spend considerable amounts of money (and cause great inconvenience to my time) to have her repaired;

  4. Without urgent attention, she will completely break down at an incredibly inconvenient moment, like at an intersection on a busy Wednesday afternoon (which has happened to me).

In other words, because I was trying to save myself a small inconvenience in one moment, I have now caused a significant (and costly) inconvenience in the next.

I’m a firm believer that the external world you experience is a mirror of your relationship to self. In other words, if you ignore warning signs in the external world (like your check engine signal), you're likely ignoring internal warning signs too.

Anxiety can creep up similarly: it starts with a few warning signs, like shortness of breath, or feeling irritable. And you ignore it, because hey, you’re busy, right? That’s why you have anxiety in the first place.

You hope it will go away on its own because you don’t have the time to deal with it right now. And then BOOM - you have a giant panic attack in the middle of your Tuesday afternoon team meeting. It seems to have hit out of the blue: but your body’s “check engine” signs have been blinking for a while now.

Another example is with my physical body. It's very good at communicating with me what it needs: more water, more sleep, more plants, maybe go a bit easier on the gluey cheese, yuck, I hate kale, please for the love of God, NO MORE KALE!

In all seriousness, our bodies are always communicating with us. But over time, we learn to ignore that little “check engine” light. We’ll get to it later. We don’t have the time/money/energy to deal with it now.

Sometimes, we even think that our bodies are just being silly and there’s nothing to worry about. So we move on with life. Then we get sick, we get injured, something drastic happens to our periods, et cetera.

In other words, it's not until something critical happens that we’re forced to finally stop and pay attention to what’s going on under the hood. And because we’ve left it so long, now it’s a mess.

We cannot afford to wait until something goes majorly wrong before we stop and tune in to our one beautiful body and mind. To truly listen to your body and honor its message is an act of self love far deeper than taking care of the "surface stuff".

The good news is that this is a skill that can be learned. We can learn to be more attuned to our bodies, keep them running optimally, and respond quickly to that “check engine light” - sans the procrastination. Here’s how.


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Step #1: Check in with your body and mind daily

Check in with how you feel in your body and mind the second you open your eyes in the morning.

  • Do you feel sore, achy, or tender in places? Where? Where do you need to be gentle with your body today?

  • What kind of movement (if any) would feel wonderful today? How does your body need to move and express itself? Is it a hearty run? A gentle walk? A joyful dance? An extra bendy yoga practice to smooth out the kinks? Or maybe some heavy weights to celebrate your strength?

  • How do you need to eat today? Is your body trying to ground through heavy foods, or does it need elevation through lighter foods?

  • Did you sleep well? Are you feeling tired? Do you need moments of rest today, or do you feel energized and reinvigorated?

  • Are you thirsty? Do you need a glass of water or two before your coffee?

  • How does your skin feel? Is it dry, tight and irritated, does it feel soft or luxurious, or is it over oily? How can you best nourish it today?

  • How do you feel emotionally? Do you feel ready to charge ahead and seize the day, or do you feel the need for slowness? Are your thoughts calm and focused, or do you find them racing, catastrophizing, or unhelpful?

  • How do you need to show up for yourself today? Do you need extra compassion, or do you need to give yourself a gentle push and “tough love” to do some important things you’ve been avoiding?

This check in takes moments, but has the potential to transform how you approach the day. When you make a habit of it, you'll be able to stay in tune with what's going on "under the hood".

It's important to do this exercise without judgment and simply from a place of observation and curiosity. The aim here is to learn to be more aware of your body and mind, and how you're feeling so that you can tend to its signals before they devolve into an emergency.


Step #2: Become aware of your own “check engine” signals

Our bodies are very good at communicating with us when things are "off". The problem is that in today’s fast paced productivity culture, we’ve become very good at tuning out those signals, squashing down our symptoms, and pushing ahead.

A practice I learned when I was healing my panic attacks was to go back through and “reverse engineer” the events leading up to the fact. It was like being a CSI investigator, doing the forensic work to find out what had happened.

What I always found was that check engine signals were going off for days, weeks, or even months before I had a panic attack, like shallow breathing, sleep problems, and being self-critical.

On their own, these little things may not seem like much. However, they were all “check engine” signals, screaming that my body was producing too much cortisol, and an anxiety attack was imminent.

Everybody is different and will have different “check engine” signals. Start to become aware of yours. Pay attention to recent changes in:

  • sleep

  • energy

  • appetite/digestion

  • breathing rate and depth

  • bodily aches and pains

  • regular emotions

  • how you show up in relationships

  • productivity

  • motivation levels

These may be signs from your body telling you that something needs attention.

Step #3: Get regular doctor checkups

I can’t remember when I made annual checkups a thing. I think I was about 30. Regardless, they have become a must.

Biting the bullet and going in for a checkup is an important act of self love, just like taking your car in for a service. You get all the unpleasantness done in a day, peace of mind that it’s “all good under the hood”, and any potential problems can be caught early.

Some tips for your annual checkup:

  • Ask for a double appointment, or even longer: This way your doctor can go over you with a fine-tooth comb, and you have plenty of time to cover all the bases, talk over any concerns you have, or tackle potential issues in one appointment.

  • Book an early morning appointment if you can: This way there is less chance of your doctor running late, and you can move on with your day, or get follow up tests done.

  • Before you go, write a list of things you want to talk about. Maybe you’ve had some “check engine” signals blink on recently. It’s hard to remember everything on the spot. Having a pre-written list to talk over with your doctor ensures it gets covered.

  • Write a list of all the medications and supplements you currently take.

  • Make a list of known chronic medical conditions, significant family history, health problems, or mental health issues, even if they're well controlled.

  • Wear loose-fitting clothing that is easy to slip in and out of: In case you need an internal exam or need to get into a gown. It just makes everything less awkward.

  • Get your bloodwork done: For an annual physical, your doctor will likely do this anyway as a matter of course, but make sure you don’t leave without a referral.

  • For the ladies: Just get a pap smear. I know it’s literally the worst and technically you don’t have to get it done every year but it’s worth it. To make it suck a little less, book an appointment right after your period (it’s the least painful time - during ovulation and PMS things down there are uber-sensitive). And also - take some ibuprofen just before you leave home.

  • Get a skin check: Make sure you ask the doctor to look at any moles you find concerning.

  • For any follow-up tests: bloodwork, radiology, skin checks, dentistry, optometry et cetera, make a point to head straight there after your doctor’s appointment if possible. You’ll be less tempted to stash that referral in your purse and forget about it. Plus, you can get it all over and done with and just move on with your life, you know?

Joyce Sunada says words to the effect that, “If you don’t take time for your wellness, you will be forced to take time for your illness.” Truer words were never spoken!

Paying attention to your body and tending to its needs is the highest, most ultimate form of self care. Fortunately, it’s a skill that can be learned, and by making even one of the above steps habitual, you will be well on your way to mastery.

What are your body’s “check engine” signals? How do you tend to them? Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments below.

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INTUITIVE EATING - Evelyn Tribole A GUIDE TO BODY WISDOM - Ann Todhunter Brode YOU CAN HEAL YOUR LIFE - Louise Hay HOW TO BE YOUR OWN BEST FRIEND - Mildred Newman & Bernard Berkowitz

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