This year listen to your body


My New Year’s note from 2009

Happy New Year! What if this could be the year you made peace with your body?

New Year's resolutions are usually about getting things done: Losing weight, planting a garden, cleaning out the garage. Whatever it is, I vote less stress.

Given a reasonable choice, I'll choose two errands over five and reduce the cortisol in my system. But many of us don't give ourselves a choice. Rather, we succumb to the pernicious internal loop: “I must get everything done, I must get everything done.”

Question unconscious priorities

Accepting that anything can wait another day is harder than you might think, mostly because we each have our own long-standing habit around being a "good person," which usually means working right up to the edge of stress and exhaustion.

We set up unconscious priorities around the outcome we want: to check off our to-do list or reduce stress. Of course, it feels good to knock off the to-do list. And if failing to get things done feels unthinkable, it makes the to-do list, or whatever else we are doing, subject to the dangerous and unhealthy doctrine of “any means necessary.”

If you continue to do something over and over again, playing an instrument, climbing fourteeners, or running around getting everything done, over time you will get good at it, even receive kudos for your high degree of skill. However, if your skill is based on the dictum of “any means necessary," creeping pain and stress will snare you in the end.

Long-term stress results

The Mayo Clinic says the long-term activation of the stress-response system—and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones—can disrupt almost all your body's processes. This puts you at increased risk for:

• Anxiety
• Depression
• Digestive problems
• Heart disease
• Sleep problems
• Weight gain
• Memory and concentration impairment

As you can imagine, a build-up of stress does not promote wise, healthy decisions about how much we can tackle each day.

Overall, our culture doesn't support wise, healthy decisions, although we certainly crave it, as the three-thousand self-help books published every month can attest.

I suggest turning toward ancient self-help in the form of Seneca's small book: On the Shortness of Life.

He promotes reflection over squabbling, humor over complaining, and using the life we are given instead of wasting it.

Toward that end, listening to what your body is telling you can inform your wellbeing on unprecedented levels.


There is more reason in your body than in your best wisdom.
— Fredrich Nietzche