The idea of becoming more aware of your physical experience and signals is grounded in the mindfulness process. I’ll write more about that at a later time but if you are interested, just do a quick search of mindfulness.
It’s my belief that the majority of mental health issues come down to a combination of feeling depressed, anxious, or both and struggling with how to cope with these feelings. This is a gross simplification, but in the end most conditions have an anxious or depressed underpinning. I often ask patients how you know you are depressed, anxious, or both. How do you know? Most describe an event (or many) that explains a change in their emotions and behaviors. This is an appropriate response, but it usually doesn't include a description of how their body is reacting during times of duress.
About those body signals. I start with fairly easy, straightforward questions. How do you know you are hungry or thirsty? How do you know you are hot? The answers are obvious: stomach growls, throat is dry, you sweat or feel warm. The same rationale applies to depression and anxiety or any emotion for that matter. Your body almost always tells you when you are happy, sad, angry, etc.
Even when feeling depressed your body sends you signals. Common symptoms include but are not limited to lack of energy, somatic complaints (aches and pains), decreased appetite, and tears from eyes (also known as crying). As for cognitive issues, symptoms include poor concentration, negativistic thinking, and memory problems.
For anxiety, common cognitive symptoms include but are not limited to excessive worrying, difficulty concentrating, and attention issues. Physical symptoms include sweating, tremors and shakes, chest pain, fatigue, and nausea.
Increase your body awareness when in an emotional state. Specifically, ask yourself what is physically happening when you are happy, sad, etc. Making connections between bodily cues and emotions will lead to an improved quality of life. For example, if you know you have trouble paying attention when anxious, by identifying the anxiety you can then intervene with relaxation techniques before the anxiety impacts your thinking. If you have unhealthy conversations when feeling hurt, recognizing your emotions will assist you in coping with your hurt feelings until you are in a psychological state where you can have a healthy conversation.
A good exercise is to reflect on the lowest and highest moments of your day (or any memorable experience), how you felt, and what if anything was happening with your body. As you do this more often, you will become efficient in identifying the body-emotion connections. Soon you’ll be able to recognize how you feel during that emotional experience instead of afterwards. I’ll write much more about how to become more mindful of your body and experience in the coming weeks.
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