April 11, 2022

Managing Stress by Tuning into the Wisdom of the Body

What if you had within your possession something that gave you instant feedback on your stress levels? It could tell you in real-time what emotions you felt or if you’d gotten a crummy night’s sleep. It even could tell you if you were making good decisions for yourself.

You actually do have such a thing, and it’s not an iWatch, a Fitbit, or an Oura ring.

It’s your body.

Ever since philosopher Rene Descartes penned the words – “I think therefore I am” – we’ve emphasized the wisdom of the mind over the wisdom of the body.

But the body is deep. It’s primal and intelligent. And it continually speaks to us through the language of sensation, telling us not only about our basic needs – whether we’re hungry, tired, or cold – but also about the more subtle aspects of how we’re functioning in every moment.

Your body has probably been speaking to you a lot lately – maybe even shouting at you with tension headaches, sour stomachs, and aching backs – telling you: “Enough already!”

Unprecedented Stress on Our Bodies 

According to a recent survey from the American Psychological Association, the ongoing pandemic, the rise in inflation, and the war in Ukraine have created unprecedented stress levels. 

The survey also revealed widespread grief over the loss of life, global uncertainty, and economic hardship. You can add hopelessness to the list as well, which might explain why many of us are using unhelpful coping methods instead of tuning in to what our bodies truly need. (According to the AMA’s survey, we’re all drinking and eating more and moving less.)

Tuning in to the body’s wisdom and listening to what it has to tell us isn’t always comfortable. A pain in the neck is, well…a pain in the neck. But receiving the body’s messages – physical sensations and those we deem emotional – is a powerful way to manage our stress. (Research shows that almost 60% to 80% of primary care office visits are stress-related.)

Pressure in our upper back might signify we’re overburdened. A sinking feeling in the gut might tell us we’re about to make a wrong decision. And feeling exhausted is a neon-lit billboard blaring; we need rest.

Some physical aches and pains indicate we’re unwell or injured. Other sensations require interpretation. Either way, mindfulness helps us become more attuned to our bodies, boosting our BQ (body intelligence quotient.)

When we attend to our body, we become more familiar with the physical and emotional patterns that tell us how we’re relating to the circumstances of our lives. For some, the telltale sign they’re enduring too much stress is a nagging backache. For others, it might be digestive issues.

Receiving such signals helps us collaborate with our bodies to take better care of ourselves before we’re in distress or unwell.

Over time, the more we practice paying attention to sensations, the more tolerant we become of them. And the more we learn not to blame our bodies for the messages they send us but instead to heed them and have compassion for ourselves in the process.

Try A Body Scan Practice 

Try the following body scan practice to become more attuned to the body’s wisdom, manage your stress with greater ease, and tap into your intuition. 

  • Find a comfortable place to sit. Adopt an upright but not uptight posture. Take a few relaxing breaths to help you settle.
  • Bringing your attention to the top of your head, notice any sensations that might be present. If you can’t feel any sensations, enjoy the peaceful absence of sensations.  
  • Allow your attention to cascade like a waterfall down through the body, landing on whatever body part calls to you next; your face, shoulders, chest, arms, hands, back, legs, and feet. 
  • When your attention lands on a body part, stay there for several seconds, noticing sensations, whether tingling, vibration, heat, coolness, pressure, or heaviness. If a sensation becomes too bright or bold, stay with the gentle movement of your breath or sensations in neutral areas of the body, such as the hands or feet. 
  • When you’ve scanned your attention through your body, take a purposeful breath to close your practice. And, as a result of tuning into your body, if you’ve discovered that you’re hungry or tired, irritated or lonely, take good care of yourself.

Written by: Kelly Barron