In 2008, shortly before I suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm that almost killed me, my life was a giant stress ball. My husband and I had just moved to a new city, bought our first house, adopted a dog... and I decided to start my own business.
Usually resilient to change, even this was a bit much for me. But with a smile plastered to my face, I was trying to (like most women today) "do it all" -- yoga, connecting with friends, exercise, relationship time, pursuing my writing and acting passions, making my business successful.
No one was pushing me. Just me: putting all that pressure on myself to "live my best life." Turns out, it was trying to live my "best life" that almost killed me.
Exhausted, stressed out and frantic, I had plastered my butt to a seat on my own private crazy train and refused to get off, though everything in my body was saying, "Maria, it's time to pull over."
One day, I remember thinking, "If I got sick -- not majorly ill, just like strep throat or something -- I could take a small break and get some rest. If I was really sick, no one would judge me and I'd have a legit excuse to just slow down and sleep."
It was as if that one little thought was all the permission my body needed. Sudden mutiny. Enter massive migraine and ultimately, a life-threatening brain aneurysm rupture.
My twisted wish came true. Not only did I get six weeks in a hospital bed (most of it completely wiped from my memory), but I had months of rehab, therapy and learning how to work and function in a whole new way due to new cognitive impairments and emotional side effects.
My nutty schedule? Wiped clean. Ah... relief.
How ridiculous is that?
Why do we "modern women" -- and men, for that matter -- feel it's taboo to just step back, rest and regroup from our crazy lives? Why aren't we allowed to pause for no other reason than our bodies need it?
Maybe we believe others will think we're lazy. Or lack ambition. Or that we're not committed to our work/business/children/volunteer group.
The thing is, the body knows way before we do when it needs a break. And we as a culture need to start listening. We need to encourage "no-excuse" breaks, mental health days and most of all, saying "no."
My good friend Jamie Greenwood is a coach who helps women slow down, get off the crazy train and listen in to what their bodies are really saying. Call her a food-and-body coach, call her a healthy living advocate, call her a lady who knows all about body mutiny and now helps women get in tune before the all-out brawl happens. We've had many talks about why people, especially women, feel they are not entitled to just "step away" and breathe when their body is crying out with tight muscles, headaches, fatigue or more serious health disorders.
Somewhere, at some point, most of us women got it into our heads that we had to suck it up. We're non-complaining, get-it-done types of girls and see our power as being able to take all kinds of hits and keep going. But that drive numbs us from what's really going on. Our striving clouds the fact that our bodies are on the brink and cannot take the pace we are pushing. We must redefine strength. Strength is not telling your body to 'suck it up' for the hundredth time but rather stepping out of the 'doing' stream for a moment's rest.
So where do we start when we know it's time to slow and listen to our bodies before they go on strike with ulcerative colitis, adrenal fatigue or heaven forbid a brain aneurysm? According to Jamie, we start right here:
1. Know that everything is going to be okay. Yep. It's true. Though you think the world will come crashing down if you step back for a quick breath I can promise you it won't. When my brain aneurysm left me lying in ICU unconscious, I missed meetings, left a client in the lurch and even missed a hair appointment. (Gasp!) People adapted. The sky didn't fall. Jamie shares, "What I've seen is that when my women have the strength to take a break, they come back rejuvenated and with more creative juice that they've had in years. When you get scared of stepping off the crazy train, wrap yourself up tight in a warm blanket or in the arms of a loved one and repeat, 'I know in my body, everything is going to be okay.'"
2. Let her speak. Often when Jamie asks her clients what their body is trying to say they are at a loss for words. "We never consider our body to be a living, breathing, spirited being that has just as many opinions as your brain. The problem is that we aren't trained to listen to her language. The brain speak to us in words, which we listen to wholeheartedly and love to think are true. (FYI, never believe everything you think.) The body, however, speaks to us through sensations that, as we mature, we try hard to ignore. We mask our tiredness with coffee, pop aspiring for our headaches and convince ourselves our digestive troubles "aren't that bad." Everything you feel is your body speaking to you. Take a moment and listen to the sensations and ask, "Hey, sweet girl. What are you trying to say?"
3. Find your courage. This is not easy. I repeat, this is not easy. Giving yourself permission to step back and recalibrate towards something that feels good for both your body and your life is terrifying. It can also seem really wacky. Not normal. "Many of us have only ever considered what we thought our brains wanted, not what our bodies want," Jamie says. "The thing is, you know it's time. And think about what 'normal' has gotten you. A gnawing sensation in your gut, restless, fitful nights and constant fear that you'll never get it all done and are running out of time. Your body is telling you that now is the time. Have the courage to answer her with a yes."
What signs is your body giving you that you need a break? Has stress every manifested itself into physical ailments for you? What tips can you share about how you slow down and listen to your body? Please share!