Listen to Your Body When it Tells You to Slow Down

Or it will slow down for you

I remember the first day I stayed home sick from student teaching. It wasn’t a choice I had made. The decision was made for me.

I was incredibly dizzy that day. There was no way I could make the 45 minute drive to the school that day. But I was angry with myself and knew I should be there. It was close to the end of my internship, and missing a day was a big no-no. But my eyes were blurry and my head was spinning. I couldn’t see straight, and and as the day wore on, I couldn’t even walk across the room.

Eventually, the dizziness led to constant vomiting. I lay on the couch, the room spinning around me, and could only crawl to the bathroom. I don’t remember how, but I ended up in my doctor’s office, and she sent me immediately to the hospital for fluids.

Only they never gave me fluids, just medication for nausea, and I became more and more dehydrated, to the point that my eyes rolled to the back of my head and I ended up delirious and disoriented.

I don’t remember much after that.

Nonstop

Student teaching was a blur for me. It’s a full-time job without pay. Our daughter was a toddler at the time, and my husband was working at minimum wage and we had no money. Family and friends were keeping us afloat, but we were waiting on me to graduate and get a teaching job so we could out of that hole.

The pressure was on.

I remember breaking down one day at the school, and my mentor teacher just told me to not let the students see me cry.

The anxiety was so fierce that it caused indigestion all day long at the school.

I was living at too fast a pace that I could no longer keep up, and now we’re back where I started — in the hospital with severe vertigo, nausea, dehydration, delirious, and disoriented.

I wish I could say I learned my lesson. I wish I could say I knew after that that I couldn’t let this world dictate the way I live. But sometimes, we don’t have that luxury, do we? Sometimes we just don’t have the opportunity to slow down.

Or so we think.

Our Bodies Know

Our bodies are smart. Our bodies know better than we do. And when we think we just can’t take the time to slow down, they force us to slow down anyway.

The vertigo was trying to tell me something. Only I didn’t listen until it forced me to pay attention.

Another story:

I recently had a miscarriage. The second this year, actually. And since it was such an early loss, I apparently didn’t think that I needed to recover. I dove head first into a brand new job while I was still bleeding (not to mention reeling emotionally from two traumatic losses in a row).

I ended up at my doctor’s office (sound familiar?) sharing that I had zero energy and was in pain. I was having trouble eating and my anxiety was through the roof.

“You didn’t take time to recover. You need to slow down.”

I was in shock. I hadn’t taken time to recover. Here I was, living at a hundred miles an hour again, immediately after a miscarriage — no wonder I was nearly passing out at work.

I wish I could tell you I slowed down. I did take time off work, but then I lived at an insane pace at home instead. And now I’m sitting on the couch after a night of sickness, typing up this post because I need to tell you my story. I need to tell you to slow down, too.

Listen to your Body

Our bodies give us clues that we need to slow down.

Headaches, backaches, dizziness, anxiety, indigestion — these are all signs your body may use to tell you when you’re living at too fast a pace.

Those of us with chronic illness or mental illness know it too well. What I didn’t mention before was that after that episode of vertigo and dehydration, I dove right back into school. I mean, I had to, right? I wouldn’t graduate if I didn’t. Yes, this is slightly reasonable, but what ended up happening was my anxiety accelerated to the point that I went manic. It was my very first manic episode, with psychosis, from so much anxiety and overwhelm and exhaustion, and once again I landed myself in the hospital and was soon diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

These may be extreme examples, but think through your life — how many times have you overdone it and ended up sick? It happens to all of us.

When we live a mile a minute, our immune system just can’t keep up with our frantic pace, and our body rebels. It tells us a great big fat NO, and now we’re sick. Now we’re in pain. Now we literally don’t have the choice to continue at that pace. Our body has the final say.

Humble advice from someone who is still learning this lesson:

  1. For starters, pay attention to the aches and pains and anxieties. They’re trying to tell you something.
  2. When you feel those aches and pains, slow down as soon as you can. Take a day off work. Everyone needs a day off. Don’t fret about missing work for one day. It will be okay. (And remember — if you don’t head it off first, your body will take you down for longer eventually. So you might as well do it now.)
  3. Take a “lazy” day. Yes, I put that in quotes for a reason. It is NOT lazy to practice self-care. We all function at our best when we take time for self-care. It is necessary.
  4. Take small breaks for yourself throughout the day. Don’t rush from one thing to the next. Take a moment, or two, or more, between tasks to just breathe.
  5. Slow down in general. Reassess all the things on your plate. What can go? Is there something you’re committed to that is just sucking you dry? Is it not worth your time, or is it something you’re just not passionate about anymore? Well…can it go? Really take the time to analyze what can go and what needs to stay. Plus, when you cut what is just taking up space, you have more energy to put into the things that matter. Say “no” to the less important things so you can give a more emphatic “yes” to what really matters.
  6. Stop and smell the roses. It’s cliche, yeah, but it’s important. Practice gratitude for what you have in your life, and suddenly, the meaning of the most important things will become clear, and you’ll know what’s really worth your time and energy. I mean it — smell the roses. They’re beautiful.

I’m telling you because I’ve learned it the hard way — our bodies know us well. They know when we’re on our way to overdoing it, and they send up those red flags along the way. Don’t ignore them. The signs are there to help us after all, not hinder us.

Only when we take care of ourselves, can we truly live our lives to the fullest.

What is one small thing you can do today to practice self-care? Leave it in the comments and let’s start a conversation. (After all, I can clearly use the advice too!)


Katie Andrews Potter is a mother, author, educator, family historian… a storyteller, and a woman on a pilgrimage.

You can find her at her blog, Storybook Ancestor, writing about family history for kids. Katie can also be found at Indie Mama Reads, a blog about the bookish life she runs with her friend and sister indie author, Stephanie Pitcher Fishman.