'Listening to your body' is something we're often told to do as a way to prevent illness and to make the best lifestyle and diet changes for general health. Unfortunately, what's less common is being told just how to do that: it's not like we can talk to our intestines…
As a general rule, our bodies will adapt to whatever we throw at them. If you train, you will get stronger. If you go out every night, you will get better at surviving on little sleep. And if you work long hours because you have a deadline, you'll find your body seems to be able to stave off illness.
But if you push hard enough for long enough, burning the candle at both ends and ignoring your body's requests to slow down, then eventually you will find your limit and this will result in you becoming very ill or 'crashing' in terms of energy.
The question then is, what precisely are the signs? How do you know when it's time to give yourself some time off?
The number one sign that you're overdoing it is tiredness. While being acutely tired is normal after a busy day, feeling tired constantly and struggling to get out of bed isn't. This is a sign often that you're not recovering and that you need to take some serious 'you time' to get back to your base level.
Lack of Motivation
One of the biggest signs that you've been overdoing it in one way or another is a lack of motivation. When we're firing on all cylinders, we can sometimes feel like superheroes: coming up with great ideas, keeping the house clean and tidy, doing great workouts and doing fantastic work in the office.
Unfortunately, this can only go on for so long. Once you have been going full throttle for a certain amount of time, you'll eventually find you run the tank empty and you lose any motivation, ingenuity or energy. That's why you find yourself constantly procrastinating at work and crashing out on the couch at home. The solution is not to push yourself harder, but to instead invest in your own recovery and listen to your body. If you take a few days off, the work you do on your return will be much higher quality because you'll feel motivated again.
Aches and Pains
Particularly if you are pushing yourself physically, you might notice yourself starting to develop numerous niggling aches and pains. This occurs as a result of the intensity of your exercise/activity, but also because your body won't be getting the rest time it needs in order to recovery properly. If you seem to be collecting aches and pains then, you need to spend some time resting and getting proper sleep in order to recover and get back to full health.
If you're starting to make mistakes at work, if you seem to be tripping over and dropping things or if you're becoming forgetful, then this too might be a sign that you're fatigued. Concentration actually requires a lot of energy and if your body is currently playing catch-up then you might not have the resources available necessary. It's important to take time off before those small mistakes turn into something larger.
Getting a cold is often a sign that you're run down, as it means your immune system wasn't strong enough to fight it off. Likewise, you might not actually have a cold, but may nevertheless notice some symptoms of a cold such as a scratchy throat, tiredness, headaches and sinus problems. If that's happening, then your body clearly lacks the energy to win the battle. If you don't take time off soon, you'll be forced to.
Have you ever been told by your Mum that you 'look terrible'? Don't be insulted: she means well. When you have been working too hard and you've run your body down, you will find that it starts to show physically. Your hair, skin and nails might not be getting rejuvenated the way they would do if you were getting proper sleep and weren't constantly stressed. Likewise you might develop bags under your eyes, an uneven skin-tone and a generally 'worn look'. If you look in the mirror and get a nasty shock… then it might just be time for a holiday!