About two months ago I developed a mild case of heartburn. It wasn’t a huge deal, but over the course of the day, what I was eating turned into a small fire that returned to haunt me later. I cut out drinking alcohol, spicy foods, onions, and tomatoes in an attempt to get my digestion to calm down, to no avail. I began to examine my stress profile, as I believe that in many cases of poor digestion, stress is the culprit. But no, life is good here. I love my work, I’m appropriately busy, make the most of my leisure time, and have no toxic relationships that need my attention. So, WTF?
Clearly my body was sending me signals that something was amiss. I call them love notes—those early signs or symptoms that your body sends out to let you know that something’s up. In most cases, whatever is going on is something you can control. I see this all the time with my patients where they are just beginning to experience a symptom and aren’t sure what it’s about. With a few questions and a little insight, we’re usually able to decipher the purpose of the love note they’re receiving and act accordingly.
In the case of my heartburn, it took a little sleuthing, but like most health issues, it wasn’t just one thing causing the problem. I realized that it was a combination of working through lunch and wolfing down food while standing up in the back room, combined with a few too many glasses of wine during the week and (this is true!) poor posture while I was eating.
The thing about these love notes, is that your body always tells you when things aren’t right. Unfortunately, all too often we ignore these notes until our health gets out of control and the road back to well is a long one. Often you know exactly what’s going on, but you don’t want to make the changes that your body is asking of you—so the message gets stronger. Sometimes you have no clue as to what’s going on. All you know is that you’re having this weird, new, or uncomfortable symptom, and you want it to stop, now.
While they can have many different meanings, and may take some time to understand, here are some of the most common love notes I see in my clinical practice:
-Sleep issues. This can mean trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, getting no sleep at all, waking up hot, or changes in your sleep patterns. In Chinese medicine, there are about a dozen different reasons why you don’t sleep, and in many cases, your sleep is the first thing to go when you are having health issues.
–Digestion. Considered to be the entire process of taking in food and turning it into nutrients, blood, and energy, funky digestion can be an early sign that all is not right in your world. In many cases, poor digestion has an emotional component, as your gut is considered to be your second brain. Stress, strong emotions, and emotional upsets are notorious for disrupting your digestion.
-Appetite. Hand in hand with your digestion is your appetite. When you’re stressed or upset, your appetite shuts down signaling that digestion is closed for business.
-Energy. Your energy is a reliable barometer of the state of your health. You need enough energy for a myriad of tasks, including keeping your body warm, digesting your food, movement, immunity, and mental capacity, to name a few. If you find yourself struggling for energy to get through your day, fatigue after meals, feeling cold, getting frequent colds and flu, or struggling with your digestion, chances are that your body’s love note topic is all about energy.
-Emotional or mood issues, such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks, or just plain lack of joy are all signals that something’s not right in your world. You are meant to have emotional highs and lows, based on the circumstances of life. However, if negative emotions are your default regardless of the highs and lows, you are receiving a love note not only on the physical level, but also on the mental and spiritual level, that needs your attention.
-Pain can also be a love note. New or unexplained pain can be an early signal to pay attention to your health. It can be a sign of inflammation, injury, infection, ischemia (lack of blood flow), nerve pathology, entrapment, or trauma. In most cases, pain is your body’s way of telling you to stop whatever you’re doing and change course.
-Not feeling well in general. For some people, the love note they receive is a general feeling of being unwell. They may not be able to put their finger on why, but they’re getting the message. In this case, help from a health practitioner—whether a practitioner of Chinese medicine or Western doctor—is advisable, as they can help translate the body’s messages.
Admittedly, the signals that your body sends you can be a pain in the butt. It may mean that you need to stop what you’re doing, make some changes, and reverse course. That said, as annoying as these love notes are, if you listen to them, they will help keep you healthy. In my case, it involved carving out some time for lunch, a few dietary changes, and physical awareness of where and how I was eating my meals. I’m actually thankful for that little bout of heartburn. Problem solved.