Do You Know Your Body’s Rhythms?

Do you feel bound to the tides, to the moon, to rhythms that stretch beyond your body but are part of it? Do you recognize when you’re hungry, when you’re tired, when your emotions are worn beyond expressing? Or for that matter, when you’re feeling terrific?

Women, health, and well-being

“Bound to the tides and moon” is a romantic notion, isn’t it? Still, there’s no question that women are subject to distinct rhythms. Sure, our monthly cycles are powerful, but it’s something more – emotional, physical, and social needs that seem to ripple through our organs and our moods, as unrelenting as any hormonal surge.

When we listen and act on these signals that reflect health and well-being, we feel upbeat and energized. But too often, we are finely tuned into the emotional needs of those around us – in the workplace, out in public, and at home – giving those messages precedence. When it comes to the emotional and physical requirements of our own bodies, we ignore them in favor of worrying about what others think, what others feel, and simply stated – nurturing others without nurturing ourselves.

And so we exist: eating too little, too much, or poorly; living on caffeine, sugar, pills, or alcohol to “get through;” sleeping restlessly, engaging mechanically, or feeling pulled in so many directions that we’re rarely content with our capacity to manage any of them.

Parents – of either sex – know this dynamic all too well, certainly when children are young. But women suffer from an additional culturally conditioned response: we feel guilty if we pay attention to what our bodies whisper – especially if those whispered words suggest something to do with the self.

May I admit this has always been my case? And I still struggle with this tendency.

Women’s health: hunger, fatigue, and other basics

Do you know your rhythms, but ignore them? Do you shush your body’s signals?

When you’re hungry, do you set your hunger aside if you’re busy at the office, caring for a child, or in the midst of a project to help out the boyfriend?

When fatigue sets in, do you grab for coffee, a coca cola, chocolate, or a cigarette – so you can keep going?

Do you let your morning run fall by the wayside when your 12-year old forgot his homework and you make a second trip to school? Or does evening time on the treadmill slide, if the science fair presentation isn’t complete, and you find yourself at midnight, gluing papers to a project display board?

Do your children always come first? Your spouse or significant other, second? And yourself, third on the list? Or perhaps your spouse and children “tie” for top billing in the whatever-it-takes department, and then you’re next?

If you need more help, shouldn’t you speak up? Do you?

Women’s health: sleep, eating patterns, reduced stress all fuel dreams and positive attitude

I’ve been wrestling an old demon these past months, a lifelong challenge (a night’s sleep), but one that I’ve managed until recently. Adequate sleep has become exceptional. And not because I’m up in the wee hours caring for an infant, not because I’m working two jobs and dealing with kids in the single mother’s whirlwind schedule.

Intense stress kicked a sleep disorder into overdrive, and it’s been months since I’ve felt “normal” – and that means five or six hours of sleep a night. Complicated by other pain, exercise has disappeared from my daily routine along with a general drop-off of quality of life.

For two weeks now, I’m back to five hours of sleep a night. My mind is clear, and my attitude is more positive. I attribute the sleep change to seeing a good physician (at last!), and that alone relieved some stress. The result – just enough more sleep to dramatically improve my cognitive abilities and alter my overall sense of well-being. Pleasant dreams are retaking center stage, as the possibility of entertaining my dreams and desires is resurfacing.

Women’s health: exercise, sex, socializing 

In addition to eating well and sleeping sufficiently, like most of us I need:

  • Regular exercise
  • Regular sex
  • Socializing

The first two are out for now (there’s only so much we can control!), but social interaction is something I believe we all need. The extent of that need (like exercise, libido or anything else) varies. But when we spend our days and nights caring for children, or we live and work in isolation, socializing is critical. Human beings need contact, communication, touch. Energy exchanged with others.

As I write this, I am fully aware that our Latvian guest has upped the dynamism in our home with talk talk talk and laughter. He has injected a jolt of vitality we needed around here.

When your body speaks, do you listen?

Women tend to acquire behaviors that involve physical and emotional self sacrifice. At times, we have no choice. At other junctures we do, but putting ourselves last on the list becomes habit, and is detrimental for the long haul. I believe we sense it, even as we set aside our bodies’ rhythms, not paying them the respect they are due. Isn’t this benign neglect not only of the child in each of us, but of the deserving adult?

  • Shouldn’t we give ourselves permission to listen, and not feel guilty about doing so?
  • Shouldn’t we attempt to balance a portion of our needs with the needs of those we love?
  • Why does this remain so difficult for many of us – across age brackets?

It isn’t easy to change a lifetime of conditioning or habit, reinforced by media, peers, and family. It means learning and unlearning. Listening closely, to our bodies. And at times, it means challenging choices when it comes to those who inhabit our most tender spaces of the heart. Carefully chosen “yes” and equally so, “no.” So we may attend to our own health and well-being, and possibly our dreams.

Isn’t that what we want for our children? Shouldn’t we “own” it, and therefore teach by example?




© D A Wolf


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Comments

  1. You were right. I did need this post.

    My question is–how do you go about getting that time for yourself? Especially when finances are tight (you understand this better than anyone), your spouse is gone at school or work all day (or you don’t have one), and you don’t have (helpful) family around?

    Say you want to read a good book, that means a trip to the library or bookstore, and a few moments to yourself. Both are things I can’t seem to find the time for (or the patience) these days.

    I know it sounds like I’m making excuses, but I really am asking for suggestions beyond this post. This is my life right now, I know that and am handling it–whether it be good or bad–not trying to complain. I do know that I need time for myself. I just don’t know how to find that.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Ah Amber. I get this. It was my life for many years (and still is, to some degree). The constraints of no money and no family around, and you aren’t making excuses or complaining. Some suggestions forthcoming…

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      OK, Amber. I promised, so here goes.

      In general, when you don’t have a fat wallet, you need a stout amount of creative problem-solving. When I haven’t had cash (or credit) for certain services, I’ve found many others in similar situations, who were happy to “exchange services.” So, first off – keep that in mind. Secondly, there really are angels in the world. People who are kind and give, for no reason except it feels right to them, and they can. And of course “givers” feel good about giving, so in that way (if receiving genuine appreciation and not taken advantage of) givers also “receive.”

      And you know that you are a giver as well, and you give back in many ways. And will.

      Now, while I was technically married for many years, I was largely alone with my kids – much of the time, since the ex traveled. And of course in the past 9 years or so, it’s been me with the kids “officially.” And no family. It’s easier as they get older (you can pool resources with other parents you meet at daycare, pre-school or elementary school), and a little trickier when they’re tiny.

      Some thoughts:

      Is there anyone you trust to spend even an hour with Manly and the Queen during the day? Someone from church for example? Where you might be able to drop them by for an hour – or better yet – someone who would be willing to come and sit (gratis) for an hour, possibly two?

      Is there a neighbor or fellow stay-at-home parent you know and trust, who would bring her child to your place – perhaps at nap time (if there is one that’s predictable) – again, even for an hour, or 90 minutes?
      If yes, you can offer to trade off another day – and perhaps do something like this once every other week – try it, see if it will fly.

      An hour and a half to two hours would let you go to a local bookstore, sit and read (without buying), just watch other people (and maybe stream-of-consciousness write about them), or wander the aisles and poke around whatever is of interest.

      That same amount of time would let you go to a nearby department store and meander. Try the perfumes. Talk to strangers. Talk to no one. (Leave the credit card or check book at home – if I can do it – you can do it!)

      You have a strong religious community from what I understand (I didn’t); can you speak frankly with your clergy about finding other moms in your situation, and meeting them if you don’t already know them? Perhaps providing each other a bit of relief in these same “safe” incremental amounts of time?

      When I could get even an hour to myself (rare), it was easy enough to make a thermos of my own coffee (thus, virtually free), walk somewhere I could sit and watch people (a neighborhood park, even benches outside at a mall, or inside a mall) – and I would literally sit, sip, and watch. I took great solace in getting out of my own head in that way, enjoying the diversity of the world moving around me – and all entirely free of charge. No need to talk to be or do anything in particular. Part of the world, in the most unobtrusive way.

      I used to be an avid quilter. I’m a Type AAA (big surprise) now “mellowed” to an A, yet I found quilting – especially the drawing and piecing of the top layer, to be incredibly creative and relaxing. I always quilted in small bits, and by hand – not machine, and therefore my sewing was portable.

      I actually began quilting in this way when I was 17, in college, and I continued to do it into my late 30s when I had my babies. Even if I was stuck at home, alone, weary and depressed, I found that the piecing and stitching by hand was soothing. I could also see that I was making something (baby quilts, of course). That made me feel good. I was accomplishing, creatively, and in a way that was useful, while “re-purposing” bits of fabric at the same time.

      If you have something creative you can do that is portable – and possibly with your hands – it is very soothing. (Some people knit or crochet; hey – you could do origami, and make mobiles out of the folded creatures with a bit of yarn and popsicle sticks!)

      Finally: sometimes you just have to walk out the door. If your husband is there – even if he’s tired – he’s got to take the reins, and you have to get in the car and drive, or walk, or whatever. And he’ll get that.

      * * * *
      Re “exchange of services” – if you like massages (for example), and you know someone who gives them, and maybe they need you to proof business correspondence or help with some other task – that is the sort of thing that people might exchange now and then. It’s a “win” for everyone. Just one example.

      * * * *
      I don’t know if any of this will work for you. Even now, I feel like my kids “own” my time, and I’ve slowly been taking chunks back over the past 2 years or so, but it’s tough. Especially with no one to call and hang out with, and no budget to even go to a movie. And books get old (can you believe I just said that?), because they aren’t people and movement, and the stuff that feeds you and fuels your writing. At least, not as a steady diet.

      Last resort: host a Latvian. Find one who will babysit if possible! And while it adds to the food bill, the laughter alone is worth its weight in gold. Or rather, dzintars – and you know that is very precious indeed, and means Amber.

  2. Great post – wow, it’s spot-on to how I’ve been feeling too. Last week was filled with a trance-like lethargy that I am thankfully not feeling this week, and part of it, I think, was not listening to my body and continuing to be on the go, lots of workouts, not enough rest. Very insightful and you are right-on with regard to needing socializing in your life for balance. I firmly believe and embrace that!

  3. You’re right, this does seem to be an especially difficult issue for women. Even though I don’t have children, I feel a certain guilt when I get a massage or take an afternoon nap. But these things are so important – they aren’t luxuries, they are necessities at times.

    I’ve tried to listen to my body much more in the past year. Dealing with depression, I realize how terribly important it is. For me, sleep is the key to controlling my mood, to having the energy to deal with stresses. And exercise is important for my self confidence.

  4. Thanks for the nudge out the door, BLW. I did just beg off a commitment tonight because I am still feeling emotionally off after yesterday. I probably owe at least one person an apology for “snapping” at him – or what I look back at now as “snapping” – last evening. I need more sleep tonight so will go out the door now for my run in the sunshine, looking at a thermometer that says 34F but wind chill in the mid 20′s.

    I remember the struggles Amber speaks of all too well. I remember not being me for quite some time. I had someone today tell me I was going through a second adolescence but no. I am just listening to me more than the world as I make choices.

  5. After studying yoga and learning how to listen to my body, I have once again gotten out of touch with physical sensation since having my boys. I ignore the physical manifestations of stress and lack of sleep and then wonder why I feel sick and tired a lot of the time. Your post is a heady reminder that taking care of my own health is important not just for me, but for the example I’m setting for my kids.

  6. Interesting article about body rhythms. I think it’s so important to listen to what our body is saying to us. And how many times do we ignore it? Thanks for visiting my blog the other day and leaving a comment. Good luck with your blog! Kathy

  7. I love it and I agree!! Even right now, I need to go fill up my water bottle but I’ve been putting it off to finish other things. And yes, we do always put others first!

    I can also feel when I don’t get enough sleep because I’m staying up too late to talk to Rascal or do chores. I can feel it. And I become not so happy anymore. That is why I’ve been so overwhelmed lately. I’ve been ignoring my body!!

    Thank you for the reminder! Great post!

    Now, I’m off to get some aqua for this body! :)

  8. Another interesting and provoking subject. I think women as nurturers have a hard time listening to our bodies because we are so busy taking care of others. I think we often hear or feel these rhythms but ignore them. I think we focus more on them we were are stressed to the point that our bodies scream to be heard. Now, that my children are less needy, I am getting more in tune with my body.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Suzicate I think you just said a mouthful. That we don’t start listening to our bodies until we’re stressed to the point that they scream to be heard. Yes. Quite right. And then it’s so much harder to regroup! And we’ve also set a pattern of expectations that becomes harder and harder to maintain.

  9. Ignoring the fact that JUST TODAY I had to run some work to school for my son, I’m pretty good at taking time for myself. Or maybe I should say “selfish?” I don’t know what brought home my fragility to me – my chequered medical past, my tendency towards depression even while knowing I’m a “happy person,” my past weight problems, but you can bet that, at the expense of my life and sanity, my stuff is always on the schedule and doesn’t get missed, period.

    And though it drives my husband crazy when I have lunch out (and it does form a time crunch) still, you are right, the mere activity of having lunch with friends, of schmoozing. Ahh. I can just feel my soul relax.

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