When I was a kid (pun intended), my family raised goats. Normally we’d feed and milk them at the same time every morning and evening, but on occasion we’d be away from home and evening chores would be overdue by the time we returned. On those nights, as soon as we’d get out of the car, we’d hear it. A rousing chorus of “MAA!” would follow us to the barn and we’d have to be careful opening the pens to prevent a mini stampede. The longer we’d kept them waiting, the louder and pushier they’d be.
Your body is like a goat because it has needs—many of them the same, including food, water, attention, and even milking for some of us. Like goats, infants, and rose bushes (i.e., anything alive that we care for), bodies will scream louder and push harder when those needs aren’t met, unless of course the needs go unmet for so long that they numb out in despair.
Our goats trusted us to take care of them. They weren’t in a position to take care of themselves. No wonder they freaked out when we were late.
Your body can’t take care of itself either. Does that sound crazy? Think about it. If you’re sitting there feeling thirsty for hours but your mind keeps telling you to stay put because you’re working on something important, is your body going to get up and get a drink anyway or is it going to shut down and numb out the sensations of thirst? Your body needs your mind’s cooperation to meet its needs. Put another way, your mind can override your body’s requests. This may be necessary sometimes, but if it’s habitual, it’s unhealthy.
Like goats, bodies need a sense of safety and trust that their needs will be met. Without a sense of safety, our systems start to break down. If you’re not used to paying attention to your physical needs, if you often ignore them in favor of whatever else you’re doing, you’re actively (however unintentionally) undermining your own health. Others have discussed this in depth—I refer you to Gabor Mate and Peter Levine for starters if you want to do more research.
One way to help create a sense of safety for your body is to meet its needs promptly. There’s a lot out there about self care these days, but most of it focuses on activities that are pleasurable or are aimed at stress management. Those things are great, but the picture is incomplete and lopsided. I’d like to expand the definition of self care to include honoring your body’s needs. I think this really needs to be the foundation for self care.
Start noticing your body’s cues. Are you hungry, tired, thirsty, needing to stretch or use the bathroom? Do you need to sneeze, cough, blow your nose, pass gas in either direction, or apply your menstrual product of choice? Are you hot or cold? Do you need to get out of the sun or get out in the sun? Do you need to add or remove layers? Is your body sending you signals about your stress level or health status that need to be attended to?
Go ahead and do it. Don’t wait and don’t apologize. We don’t need to be complicit in our culture’s fear and loathing of bodies and bodily functions. It’s time to normalize all of the above.
If you’re in the habit of ignoring your physical needs, try noticing and meeting your needs more often this week. What happens?
If you already make a point of meeting these basic needs, how does this impact your life?
What do you think about apologizing for or excusing normal, universal bodily functions? Is it time to stop doing that already?