Are you listening to your body?

My wake-up call rang while lying on my red microfiber couch. I thought I was having a heart attack. After EMTs poked and prodded, one of them asked, “ma’am are you under any stress?”

A mom of two small boys, one with special needs, serving two churches, and working through a strained marriage? Of course I was stressed.

For me, overwhelm is serving or living from an empty cup. It’s being available for everyone but yourself. I know when it’s happening because my body begins to break down. Brené Brown, a wellness researcher at the University of Houston, says our bodies get the first crack at our emotions, and I certainly feel that.

Even when overwhelm presents as a body issue, too often I’ve repressed or ignored my emotions in favor of adding another appointment or project to my planner or the latest organize-my-life-and-work app. Like many of us, I suffer the consequences of overachieving and extreme productivity.

You see, that day, I did have a heart attack — an emotional heart attack. My buried feelings unearthed in the form of spasms and pulsating pain.

Since then, emotional health is the touchstone by which I measure my OK-ness.

Here are three keys to practice for overcoming overwhelm:

Write Permission Slips
Give yourself permission to do or not do, say or not say. Place the slip somewhere you can access it, like your laptop, the console in the car, or your pocket. When I’m on my A-game, before bed I look at the day ahead and write permission slips I need. You can write these anytime in the day — before a meeting or a hard conversation, for example.

Name Emotions
We can experience multiple emotions at the same time. I used to cancel emotions with logical deductions. If I felt happy and then sad, I must be sad. But emotions — all emotions — can be experienced at the same time. Take a moment to ask yourself, “What feelings am I experiencing right now?”

Talk To Yourself Like Someone You Love
Overwhelm still gets the best me, especially during certain seasons. I’m cultivating the practice of self-compassion by talking to myself like someone I love. Instead of critical and berating self-talk, I try to talk to myself with the same love I express with my boys or my best friends.

That day on the couch was seven years ago. Today, I’m doing better honoring my emotions and working through them, and it’s not easy. Because heart matters are hard matters, it takes courage to address what’s really going on inside. Here’s to our heart health!

Reflect for a moment and rate on a scale of 1 to 5 (low to high) how true each statement is for you:

  • I listen to my body when it’s tired.
  • I take naps, enjoy lazy days, and sleep in sometimes.
  • I practice daily moments of silence, prayer, or meditation.
  • I use all of my vacation time.
  • I have one or more days off a week.

Don’t judge your answers. Now, in light of your reflection, consider one of the three keys to practice.

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