How to stop trusting our thoughts and ignoring our bodies
“I think, therefore I am.” We have all heard Descartes’ philosophy. A lot of importance and value is placed on our thinking capacity and intelligence. Even now, reading this article you may assume that I am going to impart some clever knowledge through the medium of word, to improve you in some way.
We look to our mind to solve problems and provide answers. It is often seen as a positive outcome when we can be “logical” in situations. This idea has been used for many years in gender stereotyping and undermining women, “women are more emotional” and more likely to be “taken over” by emotions than “rational” men. We talk about “irrational feelings” vs “rational thoughts.”
The language we use creates a dichotomy; “It was a battle between my heart and my mind.” Our body and mind are pit against each other as if they are two opposing forces, not part of the same living, breathing, organism. We are told we can trust our minds, but not what we feel in our bodies.
This is ironic, and here’s why.
Trusting our thoughts
It has been estimated that we experience approximately 6,000 thoughts a day. How do we begin to keep track of these thoughts, and how much do we need to attend to them? We all know that our mind can play tricks on us. From memory glitches, recalling that we put our keys down on the table, only to return to the same spot later and they are nowhere to be found. To negative assumptions, ‘Everyone is going to notice that I made a mistake and realise I’m a terrible person.’ Therefore, it would be reasonable to deduce that our thoughts are not always accurate or helpful.
So, why do we continue to place so much importance on them? Often, it seems, in contrast to the importance we place on our body. I am not saying that we should ignore all our thoughts, just that we may need to be a bit more discerning when a) we assume our thoughts are facts, b) we allow our thoughts to trump information our bodies might be trying to communicate.
Disconnect from our bodies
Life encourages us to not pay attention to our body. To increase societal productivity the message remains, “Keep calm and carry on,” this could read as “Keep working”. As a result, we tell our bodies, “You must get up at 6 am”, “You must eat at 12 pm”, “You must sleep by midnight”. You must take a break…never.
If we do not listen to our body and simply throw commands at it, how do we even know what it is telling us? If our body wants to do these things? We can easily become disconnected from, and even tune out its messages completely.
‘I’ll just stuff one more doughnut in’ (despite our stomach feeling full). ‘I’ll just pull an all-nighter tonight’ (despite our heads and bodies feeling heavy). ‘That heat rising in my body is not anger, I’m fine.’ Before we know it, we can become cut off, or desensitised, to different sensations and emotions we may experience within our body.
Connecting to our bodies
The question you are probably asking at this point is, “so how do I listen to my body?” Well, whilst we may be disconnected from our body most of the time, when we break a leg or get sick, we are forced to listen to it and realise all the phenomenal things it does for us, and allows us to do. This is also the case when our back feels achy from sitting at a desk all day or we experience a headache due to overtiredness.
Often when we cannot avoid the feeling of pain, we realise something must be done to rectify this. So, it is possible to acknowledge, listen and respond to our bodies, and we do, but wouldn’t it be nice if we did not wait until it was screaming at us to listen? As a psychologist, I come across experiences time and time again of clients who have become so used to ignoring their bodies or emotions that they are not sure what they are feeling, or how to develop an awareness of their body.
How to listen to your body
Doing a body scan is a great way of connecting to your body, and it is so quick and easy. All you need to do is sit or lie down and simply notice how you feel. You can do it right now.
Scan your body and try to notice any tension, aches, or pain you feel. Start at the top of your head, work your way down your neck, shoulders, arms, hands, stomach, legs and down to your feet. Try not to judge the sensations you feel, just notice. There might be an ache in your feet, suggesting your feet are asking for a gentle foot rub or soak. Your head might feel tired or full, can you take a nap, or get to bed earlier tonight? Also, your body may alert you to emotions you need to attend to.
Is your heart beating fast and your palms sweaty? Maybe you are feeling more anxious by everything you must complete by the end of the day than you realised, can you delay some things and shift them to tomorrow’s to-do-list instead? Enlist some help, or reprioritise, and let others know that you will no longer be able to do the tasks you were hoping to? At the very least, if nothing can be done/ needs to be done to ease or aid struggles in your body, you are starting to build a healthy practice of checking in with it.
If you would like to develop a better relationship with your thoughts and body you might decide to contact a therapist to help support, you with this process.