As the seasons are changing, we are reminded of the cyclical nature of our world. Everywhere you look, there are cycles: night and day, summer and winter, feeling well or unwell… to name just a few, and we respond to each of them with certain behaviours: being active or resting, spending time outside or cosied up at home, feeling good or bad.
Most living beings have a circadian rhythm: an internal process that regulates our sleep and wake cycle. We are no exception and it is crucial for our health that we listen to it. Despite what Strictly Come Dancing has us believe; we all have rhythm. It is not only sleep and wakefulness that dictate our days but also things like feeling hungry or full, happy or sad, hot or cold, in control or overwhelmed - I’m sure you can think of many more.
In the world we live in, we have become very good at finding ways to disturb our natural cycles, in order to satisfy our minds’ demands. For example, you may have thoughts like “I really need to binge that new box set tonight” or “I’m not actually feeling hungry” or “you really do need that bar of chocolate” or “I’m too old for this”. Additionally, we have invented things to help us cheat our natural cycles, like stimulants such as coffee, energy drinks, sugar or screens, to certain medications or drugs that help numb us and keep us from listening to what our body tells us.
As our brains have evolved to be intelligent, we can override our instincts to follow the cycles created within our environment, unlike in the animal kingdom. This is both a blessing and a curse: for example, we can do shift work, which is great as we all might need a doctor during the night at some point in our lives. But it also brings with it the danger of us “losing our rhythm” which will ultimately lead to disease in one form or another.
Obviously, the solution is not to stop shift work, to ban sugar or to never binge a box set again. Those things are important, but we need to know how often and why we are doing them. And always make sure that we also have a break from them every now and then.
Check in with your body: are you feeling tired? Maybe this would be a good time to go to sleep instead of looking at your phone screen to see Lady Gaga’s latest post. It is dinner time: how hungry are you? Do you need to cook a bigger or smaller portion today? Feeling restless? Maybe a walk would be just the right thing to get rid of that extra energy rather than playing a video game. Feeling sad or concerned? Have you got a friend or relative who could listen to your worries instead of numbing it with sugar/alcohol/drugs?
We are designed to experience the cycles in their entirety: the joy as much as the pain. The gain as much as the loss. The hunger as much as the fullness. The tiredness as much as the alertness. The moment we start interfering with them, we confuse the biological and chemical processes in our minds and bodies.
If you’re worried about sleep, weight, certain behaviours or thoughts, do share them with me. We can work with you to find a better rhythm. We can discuss how you can respect your cycles whilst still living life to the full.