Do any of these stories sound familiar?
- You wake up with a stomach cramp that keeps you awake and in distress for an hour before easing off. In the morning, you’ve forgotten all about it.
- You feel a funny bump on the back of your neck. Was it always there? Anyway, it doesn’t hurt, so you put it out of your mind for now.
- A strange but harmless-seeming rash shows up on your forearm one morning. It lingers for about a week then goes away on its own.
The story of your body is, in some respects, universal: both health and illness are a part of all our lives. And our bodies tell the tale.
But the tales are different from person to person. When you listen and pay attention to the story your body is telling, you enjoy better health and greater self-esteem. You’re also better attuned to the signals your body may be trying to send you when there’s something going wrong.
Know What’s Normal for You
You probably learned all the anatomy and mechanics of the human body back in health class. You were a teenager then, or maybe even younger, and a lot of what you were taught related to a young person’s body. If you’re now a little older, it’s probably a good idea to reacquaint yourself with some simple signs and self-exams aimed at maintaining a healthy adulthood.
But when it comes to the whole story, we’re still talking about you—your body. Only you can know what’s going on both inside and out. So even if you’re quick to say that everything about you is feeling just fine, it’s well worth taking a few easy steps to make sure.
Keep Track of What’s Going On
Keeping a journal of how you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing (in body as well as mind) is a great way to have access to this information. There are many smartphone-based journaling apps out there—DayOne, Journey, Momento, and Penzu, to name a few—that help you fit journaling into your busy life. Other apps—like Symple, CatchMyPain, and Pacifica—even help you specifically track your feelings, moods, and habits. Keeping any kind of health diary will give you a better picture of how your health and well-being are changing over time.
To Feel Deeply, Breathe Deeply
To hear what your body is telling you, create some time and space to listen. Every so often—a few times a day if you can—take time to get away from distractions like your phone, TV, and other people, and breathe deeply and purposefully. When you breathe deeply, you feel more deeply. Just remember to stay relaxed as you deepen your breathing.
If Something Seems Different, Look It Up
Now that you’re listening to your body more intentionally, you’re bound to have questions about what’s going on. An online symptom checker can be a great way to zero in on what you’re experiencing. Once you know what your symptoms might mean, you can use an online health reference, healthcare website, or other medical reference to get more information. Of course, doing research on your own shouldn’t take the place of your doctor. But it’s a good way to get your bearings, especially when you might be worried about your symptoms but can’t reach a healthcare provider right away.
Talk About What’s Going On, Especially to Your Doctor
When you’re really uncertain about what’s going on, or you’re worried about the symptoms you’re noticing, don’t keep it to yourself. If you’ve noticed something that could be a serious health condition, talk with a doctor or other medical professional. And even if it’s not something that can be taken care of right away, it’s a good idea to keep close family or friends informed about what you’ve noticed and the actions you’re taking. They can help you make sure that you follow through in case life gets busy or distracting—as it often does.
Living Happily Ever After
There’s a part in just about every story where the main character has to weigh all the information he or she has so far—and make a decision that changes the course of the story. When it comes to the story of your health, you may someday find yourself in a similar spot.
But compared to that character in a story, you’ve got several strong advantages.
As the author of your own story, you likely have more options—and more resources for change. You probably have more time to think and act. And you have the advantage of being able to take steps, like the ones above, that can help you and your doctor make more informed and timely health decision—whenever that decision point comes.
So when it comes to the story of your health, there’s good reason to hope you’ll be listening to it—and living it—for a good, long time.