You know the metaphor with the airplane oxygen mask that people use with busy moms all the time? The one where you are supposed to put your oxygen mask on yourself before your children or you can’t help your children. Thankfully, I have no knowledge of what happens on crashing planes, but I have seen that women aren’t so great at actually following that rule in real life.
And it’s not just moms who need that rule or are seemingly unable to follow it. Women in general are hard-wired to do everything for others first, including pay attention to them. While this may seem noble, it can get really dangerous. So many illnesses and medical risks may be reduced with early detection. Unfortunately, early detection means you have to be paying attention. And that seems to be where we women fall down.
We spend so much time going and going and doing and doing that we don’t listen to our hearts or our brains or our breasts or lungs. And if we do sense something is off, we don’t give it enough weight. We just press on and assume it’s the price to pay for being a woman.
The nagging cough that lingers is a nuisance, not something we might actually slow down to examine. The tenderness in our breasts is taken for granted as hormonal because stopping to investigate it isn’t in the schedule. The dizzyness or shortness of breath goes virtually unnoticed except in the minutes that it is acute. Maybe until it is too late.
I know I had grown so used to feeling bad that it took my husband pointing out that people aren’t supposed to go through life that way. Until he told me that unless he’s actually sick he feels good most days, it never occurred to me that things could be any better. I had accepted my sore hip and knee, my chronic headaches, fluttery heart and shortness of breath as normal and then pushed them to the background to focus on getting through the everyday. I put on my smile and “chose” to feel good every day, even when I felt like crap. I thought that’s what life was about – choosing to ignore the bad stuff.
I’m eternally grateful that it didn’t take a major medical scare to shake me up. When you finally go to the doctor and complain of all these things, they tend (if they are good doctors) to ask you questions. Questions like, when is this happening? How often? What else is going on when you feel these things?
Not only was I embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know the answers, I was mortified that the solutions may be simple if I just slowed down and paid more attention. So, I started listening to my body. I changed my diet. I increased my exercise. I learned stress management that I could practice in my bedroom with the spare six minutes a day that I had allotted. I adjusted my schedule. I learned to laugh more and stop racing through life.
Guess what? No more chronic heart palpitations or shortness of breath. No more chronic headaches or sore knees. Like my husband, I feel pretty great most days now and when I don’t (c’mon, we all forget sometimes) I know exactly why. I know I need to get back on track and put my oxygen mask back on first.
Most importantly, I know my body now, so I can be on alert if anything changes that might indicate something is really wrong. Instead of generally feeling bad and having true problems go unnoticed, I generally feel pretty great so I’m ready for anything that comes my way.
How about you? Are you paying attention to what your body needs? Tell us how.