Following your gut

Gut instinct. It’s underrated in my opinion.

My gut has always been very sensitive and I have strong physical reactions in there to emotional situations.

My gut instinct has always been strong and it’s never steered me wrong – when I’ve listened to it.

But before I found mindfulness I spent years suppressing it and ignoring it, and, in particular, letting others convince me that it was wrong.

As such, I became very out of tune with my own gut and it was not happy about it. I’ve spent years battling with gut-related problems and it’s only recently that I’ve begun to explore the link between my emotional wellbeing and my gut.

The mind-gut link

There’s a reason we talk about “gut feelings” and that we get butterflies in our stomach or feel physically sick or queasy when we are in frightening or uncomfortable situations. Our minds and our guts are intrinsically linked. And this link has been given more and more airtime in scientific, medical and wellbeing circles in recent years.

Research showing the link between stress, anxiety and depression with gut health has also become of huge interest to me given that I am prone to suffer from all of the above as well as gut issues, in particular bloating and painful cramps.

The gut has been referred to as the “second brain”. It is where the majority of our hormones, neurotransmitters and chemical messengers that help control our mood are made.

So while some people may brush off gut instinct as being some airy fairy concept, there is actually now some real evidence behind it.

Emotions and the gut

For me my emotions are the most powerful guidelines I can follow, when I allow myself to listen to them and what they are trying to tell me. And I don’t mean acting on high emotion once it’s got out of control (which I’m also very guilty of).

No matter how rational we think we are, we all act impulsively because of our emotions at times, particularly when we are under extreme stress.

I went to a fascinating talk with Dr Gabija Toleikyte, a neuroscientist and business coach, a couple of years ago about the neuroscience of emotions where she explained the difference between our emotions, feelings and moods.

In short my understanding of what she said was that our emotions are the primal and instinctive signals we get to protect us from danger or that tell us when something is good for us.

They come on suddenly without time to think about it and manifest in response to a situation outside of us. If we ignore them they just keep getting stronger and stronger and knocking on the door until we listen to them. That’s their purpose.

They are also a warning system, responsible for initiating the fight or flight state when they sense imminent and life threatening danger (like a hungry lion in your path).

The main human emotions are:

  1. Anger
  2. Disgust
  3. Fear
  4. Happiness
  5. Sadness
  6. Surprise

Of course today we are unlikely to encounter hungry lions on a daily basis, however, the physiological response to modern stressors is the same.

Moods are a different kettle of fish. They are triggered by chemical reactions in the brain that are caused by an imbalance and be affected by hormones, food or substances that change our brain chemistry, such as drugs or alcohol. The mood only changes once the imbalance has corrected. This is why after a heavy weekend many people feel sad, fearful and depressed because they have depleted their dopamine levels.

Feelings on the other hand come as a result of our thoughts. Ever sat and thought about something sad then found yourself in tears when moments before you were absolutely fine and there’s actually nothing in that present moment to be sad about? We can all certainly make ourselves feel annoyed by ruminating on something someone has done to us too.

It’s my feelings that most often trip me up because I’m a terrible over thinker and I can create a problem in my mind when there isn’t one.

So what’s my point?

Gut instinct or gut feelings don’t involve over thinking. They are an immediate and often strong feeling or understanding of something without thinking about it. It’s something you just feel at your core.

Our emotions are powerful indicators that something is good or bad for us. And when I feel an emotion I always, always feel it in my gut first. The warm sensation of love, the fluttering feeling of excitement, the churning anxiety of fear, the burning rage of anger or the physical repulsion of disgust. My gut tells me when something is right or wrong for me. I know in my gut when I feel safe or when I don’t and listening to that no matter what other people’s opinions on how I should be feeling or acting is something I’m working on. But it’s not easy.

Telling someone you are doing something because your gut is telling you to often leads to raised eyebrows and a few forceful opinions about why you are wrong. So sticking to your guns, or in this case, your gut, isn’t always easy.

Trusting your gut

I’ve recently felt under pressure to make decisions or do things that I don’t want to do or am not ready to do and my gut is uneasy. This is a huge indicator to me that, despite what other people think I should do, it is not right for me or in line with what I feel or believe. When I’m at peace my gut is at peace. When I’m anxious and full of fear I’m in all sorts of trouble stomach wise.

For me learning to trust my gut instinct is about being authentic. It’s about listening to myself and doing what I feel deep in my gut is right. Right now.

How mindfulness can help

In a bid to get back in touch with my gut and to tune into my body and the signals it gives me I’ve recently been doing a number of things.

It started when I went to a solar plexus workshop where the focus was on the gut.

During this I realised that a lot of my focus and attention had been on that area as an area I don’t like about myself (internally and externally) I was frustrated by how it looks when I’m bloated and it’s where I store most of my excess fat. It also makes me feel psychically uncomfortable when various symptoms are present.

One of the things that stood out for me was that they said people who have an imbalance in this area often struggle with issues around control, which is definitely me.

At the same time as doing this workshop I was reading You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay. She talks about the stomach and bowels here and says that gut-related problems are a sign of holding on to or being stuck in the past and fear of letting go. She also says it’s about fear of new ideas and experiences and that people who experience these issues often feel like there is not enough and hold on to old relationships that give them pain or stay in jobs that make them unhappy.

Hay suggests practicing affirmations and so, as well as following the workshop advice and sending loving thoughts to my gut, I’ve also been using affirmations to help me release and let go of the past.

At the moment I’m in a situation that a lot of people in my life have opinions on but one where I have a very definite gut feeling that I’m doing the right thing. And so I’m going to follow it and see where it takes me. No matter what the outcome when I follow my gut I know I will end up exactly where I am meant to be.

Vicky

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