Listen to Your Gut

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Did you know that you have a second brain? Yeah, it’s in your gut. You might feel nauseous before making a big decision; that’s your gut telling you you’re stressed. You might feel like you have a knot in your stomach after you did something you knew was wrong; that’s your gut holding you accountable. You might feel flutters when you get into a heated debate; that’s your gut reminding you that you have limits.

Here’s what PsychologyToday had to say:

There’s an entire ecosystem of bacteria and a vast neural network operating in our guts. This ecosystem is our second brain, and comprises some 100 million neurons, more than the spinal cord.

It goes on to say:

The enteric nervous system is a mesh-like network of neurons that lines the entire digestive track. It causes the sensation of nervous butterflies or a pit in your stomach that are innate parts of our psychological stress responses. Up to 90 percent of the cells involved in these responses carry information to the brain rather than receiving messages from it, making your gut as influential to your mood as your head is.1

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I’m certain you’ve been told, at least once, to listen to your gut when you were between a rock and a hard place. The funny thing is that there is some logic behind this semi-frustrating response. No matter how unhelpful you might think this advice is, if you notice a pit in your stomach, then your gut might be trying to communicate with your head.

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So, does this mean that if we get butterflies, then we should automatically avoid doing whatever it is that is causing them? Not always. I get butterflies when I’m hiking a mountain but that’s because I’m scared of heights. If I let my fear of heights deter me from hiking mountains, well, my life would be very sad. (I absolutely adore the mountains.) It does mean that whatever is giving you butterflies definitely requires your acute attention, at the very least. For instance, I enjoy hiking and I am scared of heights. These two opposing feelings can exist at the same time. So, when I am hiking I have to remind myself that my fear of heights should not hinder my love for exploration and nature.

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I find that your gut tends to scream at your head most when you are doing something you know is wrong. My favorite example of this is how parents, even before all the research, would say “This hurts me more than it hurts you” when they would spank their child. Why would it hurt them? They are only being “good parents”, right? What pain would they be experiencing? Well, the pain of knowing that striking a small child is inherently wrong. And again, before all the research the only way they would know that is by the pangs in their stomachs.

I would argue that making an effort to religiously listen to your gut is probably one of the best things you can do as a parent. Here are a few reasons why:


1) Knowing when you need a minute.

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Your gut will notify you of your limits, probably before your head does. On the day that you missed lunch because you had a doctors appointment, an empty fridge, spelling tests to prep for, and notice your son just carved your kitchen table with his pencil, your gut will likely scream before you do. If you have made it a habit to listen to your second brain, then you will notice the pit creeping into your stomach and you can compose yourself instead of exploding. Everyone has their limits, but what defines us is how we react once we’ve reached them.

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2) Asking for help.

While your gut can’t actually ask your family to help you, it can basically tell you to do it. Maybe you have taken on too many projects. Maybe your spouse is slacking in some area. Maybe you feel that your children aren’t following the house rules very well. Maybe you feel that you are neglecting yourself. But you seem to feel like you’re drowning, except for all that water isn’t killing you; it’s going into your stomach. If you have been attentive to your gut, then you will better be able to figure out what that pain is all about. Once you realize that it is due to stress you can ask your family to help lighten the work load. If you ignore the signs that are telling you you’re stressed you will likely not ask for help and your stress will emerge in your communication with your family.

There’s not always something someone can take off of your plate when you’re stressed out. For instance, sometimes I’m torn between writing and spending time with my brothers and mom on the weekends. This may cause me stress because I don’t want to miss out on time with family but I am also committed to writing. Well, surly, my husband can’t write for me or spend the day with my family for me but maybe he can offer some comforting words, or some things to consider.

3) Choosing good playmates for your child. 

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Obviously, you don’t go to a playground and hand pick the kids that you don’t want your child playing with. Chances are, if you’re at a playground you’re not too worried about it because you’ve taught your child how to communicate with other children properly. Plus, won’t be seeing this child daily. But what about the child that lives next door? The one who is bullied by their parents and then needs constant supervision when playing with your child. The child whose parents you would never hang out with because they’re so dysfunctional. Your gut will warn you about this family and it is your job to listen to it. I know that no one wants to stop children from playing together but the same way you have to cut off friends that hinder your growth during your journey, you have to make sure your children don’t develop deep connections with people that will hinder theirs.

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Side story: There was a child in our neighborhood whose family life made my stomach turn. The more I learned about them, the more I realized that my initial judgement about them was spot on. Their child was 4 and I never saw her with a genuinely happy smile. You know the smile that says, “I’m a happy kid.” My husband and I decided to follow our instincts. We figured the best way to handle this would be to give them one of my cards for my peaceful parenting site. If they were parents who were willing to examine themselves and change, then we wouldn’t have to prevent our children from playing. My husband simply told them, “We notice that our children really enjoy playing together and we would really like them to continue playing together. *Handing them the card* Here’s a parenting blog my wife authors. We would appreciate it if you took a look at it. We want to make sure we are all on the same page for raising our children.” After this short conversation, we never heard from them again.

Now, I am not saying that people have to agree and follow everything on my blog. The point is that if we are so far apart on values that you can’t even appreciate the topics I discuss, then our children probably aren’t suitable companions. This isn’t a regular occurrence (this is the only time we’ve felt the need to do this) but when it happens it’s nice to know I can rely on the pit in my stomach to guide me.

4) To teach your child.

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My mother has told me to listen to my gut since I was a little girl. “It doesn’t matter whose feelings you hurt. It doesn’t matter if you offend someone. It doesn’t matter if it makes someone mad. If you have a feeling that something is wrong, then listen to your gut because it’s probably right.”, she would say. This is something that we need to be teaching our children. Of course, they have us to protect them but they need to be able to rely on their own senses in order to protect themselves later. Children are natural observers. If we teach them that it is not nice to notice something about someone, then they will silence the part of their brain that helps them to judge if they want to interact with this person. Now days people like to say things like, “It’s not nice to judge.” Fine, it’s not nice but judging people is the only thing that can protect you from them. Well, that and a shotgun; and sometimes you need both. I would rather have a safe child than a nice one!

When something isn’t right you will feel it in your gut. Don’t let what your stomach is trying to say be ignored; it could cost you.

Sources:

1) The Pit In Your Stomach is Actually Your Second Brain, By Richard E Cytowic M.D., on January 17th, 2017, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-fallible-mind/201701/the-pit-in-your-stomach-is-actually-your-second-brain

May 23, 2017
June 8, 2017

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