Pain is the body’s warning light. It can mean that a muscle is strained, or that you need immediate medical assistance. It can also be something emotionally felt as a result of trauma.
Similarly, feeling sluggish or frequently fatigued can be the body’s way of telling you that it’s not getting enough nutrients or physical activity. It could also be a warning sign of a mental health issue.
When you are managing mental and physical health symptoms, it’s often difficult to pinpoint exactly what is causing you to feel unwell or experience symptoms more intensely than usual. Learning to listen to your body can help.
Emotional and Physical Signals: Cues to Act
Learning to listen to your body involves focusing on your body’s signals and recognizing a variety of cues.
Signals can be emotional: "I am feeling worried and a little agitated."
Signals can also be physical: "My heart is beating fast, and my shoulders feel tense."
When you recognize these signals and see them as connected, it becomes easier to identify what you’re experiencing. The signals in the above example might indicate some level of anxiety.
Effectively managing symptoms can help you feel better overall, so the next step is to talk to your doctor. Then create a plan for steps you can take anytime you notice these signals. This can help avoid more troubling symptoms by addressing them before they add up and begin to feel overwhelming.
Feeling worried? Write down the negative thoughts you’re experiencing. Then rewrite them into more positive thoughts.
If you notice that your muscles are tense, call a friend to join you for a walk. The movement and fresh air will increase your blood circulation and the oxygen it carries, helping you feel better. You can also benefit from quality time spent with a friend.
Exercise is a good way to prevent symptoms from getting worse, so make it a point to take a brisk walk several times a week, or participate in other physical activities that you enjoy.
Here’s another example:
Emotional signal: "I've felt both growing agitation and excitement over the last few days. I feel like I can accomplish anything, so I’m starting three new projects at once! These great ideas are constantly racing through my mind!"
Physical signal: "I've been so busy planning and shopping, and starting new projects, I haven’t slept more than a few hours at a time in two days."
In this scenario, this person may be describing symptoms of a manic episode, which is a feature of bipolar disorder. Symptoms associated with a manic state may lead to risky and physically harmful behaviors. If left untreated, bipolar disorder can worsen enough to require hospitalization.
For people diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it’s especially important to pay attention to mental and physical signals and have a plan to address them early.
- Work with your treatment team to create a step-by-step plan to get support when you begin to notice symptoms. Include a family member or friend, and have a list of contact numbers.
- Keep a daily journal of how you’re feeling, including how well you’re eating and sleeping. This will help you better recognize early cues to call your doctor.
- Remember to self-advocate: write down medications, participate in treatment, and care for both your mental and physical health.
Even if it feels hard to ‘tune in’ sometimes, it’s a habit worth cultivating. As you learn your body’s signals, you will find it easier to talk to your doctor and proactively manage your health.
Listening to Your Body: Self-Check
No pressure — there are no right or wrong answers. This is just information to get you on the right track for your health goals.
Our bodies give us information about our health and wellness every day. True or False?
Answer: True. Seeing our bodies as a whole — interconnected mentally and physically — makes it easier to recognize the signals of feeling well, or that something is wrong.
My doctor is the authority on what my symptoms are, so I don’t need to worry about treatment options. True or False?
Answer: False. It’s important to advocate for your health, through open and honest communication about what you’re experiencing and whether treatment is working for you.
Emotional and physical cues are different and have no impact on each other. True or False?
Answer: False. Both emotional and physical symptoms are important and can influence overall health. Heart disease and depression are one example of mental and physical conditions that frequently occur together.
Being "in tune" with how I feel emotionally and physically helps me understand the full picture and have better control of my health. True or False?
Answer: True. Listening to your body is important as you advocate for your health. Sharing information with your treatment team and playing a part in your health is empowering.