Thinking about self-care conjures up different things for different people and I have recently been spending a bit of time really thinking about what self-care means to me, how it works and most importantly, how do I know I’m doing it (and doing it right?).
Although I have always known it, it occurred to me that my amazing body is my very own Inbuilt Automatic Feedback Loop. Wow! What technology!
Whilst my awesome Automatic Feedback Loop is a highly advanced piece of technology, with fine-tuning settings that far exceed those of the greatest sports car or the most highly refined stereo, my care-less self-actions have a major impact on my body’s beautiful ability to receive these messages.
So, what exactly does this feedback loop have the ability to communicate with me about, and how does it do so? Well, it provides me with feedback constantly, in every moment of my day. I have the choice to listen or not.
Some examples I have noticed are:
- Mood – I notice that when I do not eat well or sleep as I need to that my mood can highlight this to me very clearly. I can become snappy and irritable, or feel a bit depressive, or even anxious.
- Breath – When I eat food that is not right for me, or when I do not drink enough water, my breath can get its own little ‘pong’ on. Try ignoring that!
- Weight – Well, my clothes tell me a very definite story about whether what I’ve been putting into my body is right for me or not. No escaping that one!
- Hands – When I am not present in my day-to-day activities, I will often knock or bump my hands. I end up with little sores that last for weeks. They are a reminder for me to reconnect with myself and to be present as I go about my day.
- Energy – My energy levels are affected by what I eat, how much sleep I get, how I choose to react to some situations rather than observe and respond.
- Back pain – This will often signal to me when I have lifted more than I feel is right for me, or when I have been sitting or walking for too long or not exercising enough.
- Skin – When eating foods that are not right for me, my skin will scream it, loud and clear. Pimples erupt and last weeks longer than the momentary pleasure or escape I experienced from eating things that my body needed to process out via pimples.
- Bowel/Bladder – Well, if it smells, is too hard, too soft, too much, or too little, I know that there is a message I need to listen to, and something I need to adjust (e.g., drink more water, eat more vegetables).
- Intuition – When I make a choice that is not right for me, I feel it in my body, from subtle unease to feeling physically ill.
Years ago, I thought that my body needed a lot to keep it going throughout the day. I’d wake at 7am and have a coffee paired with a cigarette (or two), then another coffee with breakfast and another cigarette… fruit to get me through to lunch… a heavy lunch… more coffee… a cigarette… a cup of tea… afternoon tea, (biscuits, chips or lollies anyone?). Then home for dinner, which may have been a dish with pasta or rice followed by chocolate and another cigarette and a few hours in front of the TV.
I would then get to bed by about 11pm, have trouble getting to sleep, and wake up again the next morning feeling tired and groggy. On the weekends I drank alcohol and ate as I pleased. It’s no wonder I needed all of the sugar and stimulation from caffeine to keep myself going.
I allowed relationships that were not healthy and I accepted abuse from other people. My Automatic Feedback Loop was giving me signals that what I was doing was not working, but the transmission was a bit fuzzy. I was carrying a lot of extra weight, I looked bloated, I was regularly constipated and had intense stomach cramps, I was tired and had no energy and my skin regularly broke out. My self-esteem was low and I felt ugly and unworthy.
I wonder now what other feedback my body was giving me that I couldn’t hear over all of the louder feedback. It was a bit like being in a big hall when there are a thousand people inside and a presenter is speaking without a microphone. If the crowd is silent, it is so easy to hear the speaker, but if every member of the crowd is speaking as well, then nobody can hear the presenter unless they are standing right next to them. When I was doing all of those things to my body, I couldn’t hear the more subtle messages that my body was telling me.
Fast forward to now, and my life and habits look very different to how they once were. I don’t smoke anymore and I now end my days with an early bedtime. When my body feels tired, I listen (most of the time!) and respect what I am being told my by Inbuilt Automatic Feedback Loop and I go to sleep. I wake up earlier now, feeling more ready to face the day. I eat a breakfast that feels good in my body. I stopped drinking coffee after a little while of listening to my Inbuilt Automatic Feedback Loop because it gave me some startling feedback: coffee makes me feel a bit jittery. I don’t like that feeling, so after a bit of tussling with myself, I stopped putting it in.
I still eat fruit during the day, but am more selective about which fruit I choose because some fruits are more sugary than others and when listening to my feedback loop, I notice that the sugar can be too much for me. I no longer eat pasta and rice or drink milk because of the feedback I got about how these things affect my body. I feel a slight swelling in my stomach, and dairy gives me pimples and wreaks havoc on my digestive system. I choose my relationships carefully now, and the relationships I choose are those where I feel a deep mutual respect and care.
One of the more subtle messages I never noticed before was the response I got from my body about chocolate. When I was a regular drinker of coffee and caffeinated tea, I never noticed what happened when I ate chocolate. As I gradually removed coffee from my diet, I noticed that I still had the jittery feeling that I so wanted to eliminate. Lying on my bed one day, feeling quite serene, I ate a chocolate bar. It tasted great! Afterwards as I lay there I noticed that I got the jitters – a very subtle feeling, but a feeling that I did not like. I recognised it as the caffeine jitters. But as far as I was aware, I hadn’t had any caffeine, had I? It took a conversation with my partner to remind me that chocolate contains caffeine – Ah ha!
So, what does all of this have to do with self-care? Well, my Inbuilt Automatic Feedback Loop is, I have realised, my self-care activation and alert system.
When I am not engaged in self-care then my Inbuilt Automatic Feedback Loop tells me, pretty much straight away:
- Have some caffeine – and the jitters start.
- Eat some dairy – and listen to my tummy rumble .
- Go to bed too late – and feel cranky the next day.
- And if I put too much into my system –it gets harder to hear the feedback.
What happens when I listen to the communication from my Inbuilt Automatic Feedback Loop?
- I eat well and my mood stabilises – I sleep peacefully.
- Breath – no pong.
- Weight – I feel great in my clothes – everything fits and feels the right size.
- Energy – my energy stabilises – I could work twice the hours I do at work as I don’t have ‘highs’ or ‘lows’ in my energy (or my mood).
- Skin – I glow!
- Bowel/Bladder – quick and easy with little odour trail to speak of.
- Intuition – when I make a choice that is right for me it feels good – I feel good!
This list goes on. And this is my list. This is feedback from My Inbuilt Automatic Feedback Loop. What is yours telling you?
By Monica Hattendorff, Newcastle, Australia