May 9

91. When "Listening To Your Body" Goes Off The Rails

Sometimes your body is tragically wrong. #TrueStory

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“Listen to your body.”

This is a VERY common refrain in the self-help and personal development space on the Internet. The idea that your body is telling you that it needs something is an idea that we hear all the time from people with very large audiences that are attempting to help. Let me inject some clarity here.

For someone that might be overworked, stressed out, taking on too many responsibilities, or trying to do too much (welcome to western society), this is not bad advice at all. When you work yourself into continuous headaches, a knot in your stomach, and a perpetual short temper, then your body may indeed be telling you that you need a break.

HOWEVER (note the capital letters) for someone dealing with an anxiety disorder, the messages from your body and brain have themselves become the source of stress and fear. Listening to those messages has become a way of life full of escape, avoidance, retreat, and restrictions that you are probably trying desperately to break out of. Listening to your body tell you that you’re broken, ill, having a stroke or a heart attack, or about to pass out … again … is leading you down a path where you are constantly being ruled by the boy who cried wolf. You’re ready to listen when he cries again, then unhappy with the outcome when you do.

When you become afraid of your own normal bodily sensations, listening to your body is not really great advice at all. As with many aspects of dealing with disordered anxiety, the best moves are often exactly the opposite of the moves we think we should make or are told to make. General mental health, “healing” and personal growth advice is often not in any way targeted at our community. The people handing out that advice often have no understanding of the mechanics we are dealing with. They want to help, but they’re giving out advice that simply does not apply in many cases. I’ve talked about this many times.

For those of us that develop panic disorder, agoraphobia, GAD, OCD, health anxiety, and other related anxiety problems, listening to our bodies goes off the rails quickly and makes things worse rather than better over time.

Consider this. Recognize what happens every time your body yells “RUN!”, and you obey. Think about what happens when you listen to your body, treat yourself like you are ill or damaged, and hide in your bed for three days straight. What’s the outcome there? At least try to accept the idea that your body might be giving you bad advice and information and that you should generally not be listening to that information, especially when its been shown to be wrong so often in the past.

I know sometimes I sound like a broken record here (old reference for the win), but this is important. When I saw someone insisting last week that she might have to “listen to her body” and cancel a dentist appointment for the 6th time (true story), I felt compelled to address that, so here I am.

Most people should probably listen to their bodies. I know I should listen to mine. But I can only do that because I do not have an anxiety disorder any longer. One day, when you don’t either, you can listen to your body again too.

Hey it’s Monday and that means that today at 2 PM Eastern I’ll do my “Recovery Monday” livestream on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Come join in!