How are you Feeling?

by Eunice J Minford MA FRCS Ed, Consultant Surgeon, N Ireland

A simple observation highlights to me the importance of the difference between what we feel and what we think, particularly when it comes to health. The world we live in gives precedence to the intelligence of the mind and/or the brain without taking full cognisance of the intelligence of the body. Thinking and thoughts are associated with the mind/brain and much weight is given to the acquisition of knowledge and information and the cognitive disciplines in education and professional life. In contrast, feelings are often dismissed or ignored or over-ridden. They may be negatively associated with emotions or a so-called ‘emotional person’ or someone being too ‘touchy feely’ as opposed to the rational, logical thinker. Certainly as a child I was lead to believe that feelings were somewhat irrelevant; I was not encouraged to express what I felt but instead learned the opposite. I thought it was good to be the ‘strong silent’ type who didn’t disclose feelings or personal matters. Everything was always ‘fine’ no matter what was really going on.

Whilst thoughts may appear to arise in the mind, feelings come from the body and are the language of the intelligence of the body. When I do a ward round in the morning, I ask patients “How are you feeling?” not  “What are you thinking?” if I want to know what is going on for them and their wellbeing.

This simple observation clarifies that if we want to know the truth of what is going on in the body and in someone’s health, we ask about how he/she is feeling and respond accordingly. True intelligence is embodied and feelings are the conveyors of that intelligence.

Yet so little importance is really given to understanding the feeling realm within medicine. Medical training itself is a good way to learn how to ignore and over-ride one’s feelings; we often end up using food, alcohol or excess work to numb ourselves and not feel what is really going on. The onslaught of medical training, the hours of work, the vast amounts of material to be learned, having to deal with exposure to high levels of suffering and trauma of various kinds, results in people hardening to be able to cope. Yet it is a false coping mechanism that leads to over-worked, cynical, burnt-out doctors who have difficulty caring for themselves, never mind their patients.

To provide true care for another we must first provide that care in equal measure to ourselves.

This means listening to and honouring our own feelings about how we feel, being aware of when we are over-working and becoming exhausted. It means taking the time to get a good night’s sleep, to eat healthy nourishing food and to be emotionally aware so that we are not dumping our undealt with anger /rage / aggression /sadness etc on our fellow colleagues and patients. I rather ignorantly and arrogantly used to think that my angry outbursts were just part of who I was – that I was made that way and people could ‘like it or lump it,’ not realising that I could take steps to address the root cause of that anger – which had nothing to do with the situation at hand.

I have found that the ability to truly care for myself is something that deepens the more I live it and that there is much more to it than I ever imagined. Indeed, some of my preconceived ideas about what it means to be self-caring have been challenged. For example, there is the general belief that exercise is good for the body irrespective of the nature of the exercise and I have come to realise that aggressive forms of exercise, that push my body harder and harder, are not actually good for it.

Furthermore, I have discovered that the more I truly care for myself, the more I am able to care, both for others and myself. I have also become aware that there are a myriad of ways that can interfere with my ability to care for myself due to my engrained ways of living – yet I know I always have the power to choose that which is truly caring or not. It always seemed easier to care for others than it did for myself and indeed some would consider putting others before oneself is the way to live. Alas, that does not lead to true care, for to know what true care is, it must be lived by oneself and then it becomes but a natural expression of who one is and an equality of care is then delivered to all.

483 thoughts on “How are you Feeling?

  1. ‘To provide true care for another we must first provide that care in equal measure to ourselves.’ This simple and clear statement should be the foundation of every job, even one of the basic teachings taught at every school. Then, we would grow, learn, live and inspire others to also live with true care, which would be so, the basis for true health.

  2. A relevant point you make of how as doctors we can train and study and read and intellectualize things – but if we don’t connect to how we feel and the patient feels – then it is all just theory in practice and not a response to the individual needs of others.

  3. So little importance is placed on the truth we know in our hearts. When we walk into work, we never ask our colleagues, so what are you thinking today? The day usually starts with, “Good morning, how are you today?”. When a big life-event happens, such as a wedding, a birth or a funeral, again the first question is: how are you? or what do you feel? It is never about thoughts, or how intelligent we can be in that situation because deep down we all know that there is no greater truth than the one expressed from the cells of the body.

  4. We wouldn’t cut an organ out of our body and expect to live well, so why on earth do we think ignoring our inner sense is going to work? Our spirit disregards it because it exposes how selfish it is.

  5. “I have found that the ability to truly care for myself is something that deepens the more I live it and that there is much more to it than I ever imagined.” So true Eunice the only way to understand true care is to live it and listen to the body for it will tell us what is true care and what is not. For me it has been a process of trying different things and finding out what works and what doesn’t and as I deepen my self-care things that I would have thought self-caring are now no longer seen as self-care but are a normal part of how I live.

  6. When asking someone how they are feeling it is good practice to actually listen to what they have to say and to give them the opportunity to express in full. Too often I hear people ask on the phone at work ‘How are you today’ but barely wait for the response.

  7. I remember starting to self-care for myself and spent a long time working out exactly what that was because at first I naively thought I had been doing a reasonable job of it, but it is through a far deeper connection to our body that allows us to care deeply for ourselves.

  8. In a world where looking after ourselves first is considered to be selfish it is very liberating to finally know that this is not true in any way, as caring for ourselves first is actually the most loving choice we could ever make, and not just for us but for those around us. And it makes even more sense to do so because when we care for ourselves deeply it naturally follows that we then build a strong foundation from which to care for others. Life would definitely change for so many if this was one of the tools for life we were presented with as a child.

  9. “….to know what true care is, it must be lived by oneself and then it becomes but a natural expression of who one is and an equality of care is then delivered to all.” Beautifully summed up Eunice. It is not until we embody something in full that we are able to naturally share that true expression of who we are.

  10. “if we want to know the truth of what is going on in the body and in someone’s health, we ask about how he/she is feeling and respond accordingly…” When we ask ourselves or another how they are feeling, it offers an opportunity to connect with the body and speak from this connected place… For just this moment, the control of mind over matter is suspended…notice how sometimes it’s a struggle to answer the question of how we feel, because of how much we are distracted away from, or have become dismissive of our body and thus habitually choose this over feeling connected with ourselves.

  11. We seem to give so little consideration to our relationship with our body and the intelligence that we innately have access to, yet it is the vehicle that allow us to precisely know who we are, how to nurture, love and care for ourselves so that we can live and express the fullness of our being with the vitality, health and lightness of being that we are here to live. It is through our connection to our body that the aliveness and multidimensionality of our being can be freely lived and expressed as is intended.

  12. So true – we often reply with “fine” to mean “I am coping with what I am going through, just leave me alone”. I too used to think that sharing what I am truly feeling would make me vulnerable (reads weak) and if I had to express any emotion, anger was my choice.

  13. Taking responsibility for our body in preparation for surgery feels like we are giving our body the best chance to heal at a deeper level throughout the whole process and every detail of care holds the whole of our body in a truly nurturing way allowing ourselves to recover more quickly and smoothly.

  14. “To provide true care for another we must first provide that care in equal measure to ourselves.” So true. I was never taught this in any of my trainings as a nurse, homeopath or any of the other various alternative healing modalities I qualified in – until I came to Universal Medicine. It makes absolute sense. What use is an exhausted nurse or doctor – yet we expect them to work 12 hour (or longer) shifts, sometimes with very few breaks. It is illegal to allow a lorry driver those hours without proper breaks…….

  15. Self-care is a term that can be thrown around but not actually used or taken seriously. Once we start to truly self-care we realise that there are many layers to it and we can keep refining and refining. There is never an end point. Listening to and honouring our body is a constant thing.

    1. When we develop a truly honoring relationship with our body it is then we are guided to know all that there is for us to live and magnify in this plane of life. I agree Rebecca, to which ‘There is never an end point.’

  16. “I know I always have the power to choose that which is truly caring or not.” It’s becoming more and more apparent to me these days that my body comes under massive stress when I ignore how I am feeling. It’s getting to the point where I know that I can (and it is greatly more supportive) to honour and explore what I am feeling to understand a situation, be it external or internal.

  17. We think we know what we feel – but this is just another trick of the head just to be in control. Feeling is a bodily knowing with no logic attached except that it flows from true common sense – our every cell. Thank you Eunice for the reminder not to stay trapped in my head.

  18. What you are sharing Eunice exposes how we have been sucked in to the mechanics of caring, the tasks involved in ‘caring’ for someone. This is definitely part of caring but the way we care for others is capped by how we care for ourselves. Its the details that are missing in the mechanics. The details in the way that one approaches their own care can not but come out very naturally when caring or supporting another. Therefore it is not something that is confined to those who are health professionals, because it is inherent within us all. We have just stopped deepening this with ourselves.

  19. I love that you go around on the ward and ask how people are feeling, and I know that all doctors do this because it gives an indication of the person’s healing/recovery process, but there is something in the way that you do it which is unique because when you ask ‘how are you feeling’ there comes with it an understanding that the question is posed to the intelligent body, which is beautiful in many ways, but most particularly because with your question, you are giving each person the opportunity to express from the intelligence of their body.

  20. When I ask ‘how are you feeling’ I often get a reply that lists people’s emotions and the feeling of powerlessness that comes with those emotions. Feelings leave people empowered.

    1. Great point shared here. When we express what we are feeling with honesty it often gives others the permission to feel this level of openness within themselves.

  21. I’ve noticed that in hospitals there is a measure of 1-10 on pain. That is one level of feeling, but it opens us up far more when asked how are you feeling and the person asking the questions is truly interested in your response, not expecting the bland, ‘Fine’

  22. We glorify people being selfless and going over and beyond their job description, often at the expense of themselves but what care are they truly bringing at that moment if they are not looking after themselves first? I work in the care sector and often see my colleagues tired and exhausted to the point they go through their shift on autopilot, just pushing to get through – I know because I have done it myself. Knowing that I am exhausted but say yes to one or two more clients to help out when someone has gone sick, usually with the result of forfeiting my breaks during the day. My day then not only gets longer but there is no proper rest to be had either – at this point, I question the level of care my clients are receiving.

    1. One of the benefits of exhaustion is numbness. It also gives out a strong message “don’t ask for more”. This may be a more attractive state for people than feeling what is going on around them (and in them) and having constant demands put on them.

  23. When we start to understand energy we will begin to realise how much we all affect each other and start to see that anger or frustration can be more harming than we are at first willing to accept. I know for myself, my whole being changes and while I may think it is subtle and no one will notice it is felt by others. We need to be able to express our true feelings openly, and the best way to do this is to listen to our body and not our mind.

  24. The more I look around and observe life the more I see the extent to which this world has been made about overriding and ignoring our feelings instead of expressing them. It is like we just put up with life thinking it cannot be changed and even if it is changed the intensity of it still seems to remain. It feels like the more we override our feelings the more we make life about what a person does instead of who they truly are. We all lose out when we make life like this. In this way it would seem that there is a massive smoke screen going on because if you ask everyone how they truly feel in their body, most would say they are feeling levels of tension, anxiety, stress and exhaustion. Why have we not got together and asked why life can’t be the true joy it ought to be?

  25. Listening and honouring to how we feel in our body is paramount to be able to truly support ourselves in maintaining our health and well-being and to allow the body to naturally restore and rebalance itself through healing when needed.

  26. You make a great point here Eunice, before we can truly care for another we have to be caring with ourselves first, living in this way opens up the opportunity for a deeper and more true connection with others.

  27. We all have amazing bodies, designed with state of the art senses, and yet we seem to spend most of our time predominantly in our head. It’s like owning a palatial mansion and staying in the cupboard every day. We’re missing out on a grand beauty for the safety and comfort of living in a confined box. Thank you Eunice for this powerful blog.

    1. What a great analogy. We really do restrict and limit ourselves unmercifully when we stay in our heads and live a mental existence. When we allow ourselves to feel there is an expansion that takes place within and when we share those feelings even more space is created.

  28. ” When I do a ward round in the morning, I ask patients “How are you feeling?” not “What are you thinking?” if I want to know what is going on for them and their wellbeing. ”
    I had a laugh at this; it would be a funny question to ask a patient. Yes it’s only from feeling that truth will be delivered, this goes for the patient and physician.

  29. In truly asking the question we offer others the opportunity to connect to how their body feels perhaps for the first time in a very long time – the power of this cannot be underestimated.

  30. Thank you Eunice for emphasising that to know true care is it must be something that is a lived experience and only in this way can we truly care for others. The beauty of this is that it is constantly evolving and as our self-care deepens everyone feels the reflection of that.

  31. Initially, when we first ask ourselves how we are feeling, or another asks us, it can be hard to understand what our body is showing us. It’s like it’s speaking a language we used to know but have forgotten parts of it. But very quickly, if we are genuinely willing to understand and be honest with ourselves, we are able to understand it’s language and realise we were fluent in it all along.

  32. I love what you share here about your ward rounds Eunice. Yes, it is how we feel that is the primary marker of our wellbeing, not our thinking.

  33. Your understanding of this point Eunice..”To provide true care for another we must first provide that care in equal measure to ourselves” is crucial to our own good health. We can’t possibly look after others, when we don’t look after ourselves, the energy we would bring would be so draining, it would become totally detrimental to our health. When this happens, it is the carer who drops down exhausted. Our own health comes first and foremost.

  34. True care for ourselves develops us into people that can truly care for another, and also to be a role model that demonstrates they can truly care for themselves too.

  35. I love this line Eunice: “to know what true care is, it must be lived by oneself and then it becomes but a natural expression of who one is and an equality of care is then delivered to all”. We can fake it, but everyone can feel fake care a mile away, it’s when we live everyday with ourselves then our care for other people becomes naturally part of how we walk, talk and express.

  36. Feelings are so important to share with others as it is also a way that others can get to know the true person we are. Caring is definitely not a one way street for how can we care for another without first caring for ourselves.

  37. ‘ I thought it was good to be the ‘strong silent’ type who didn’t disclose feelings or personal matters.’ I can relate to that sentence, however now I realise how isolating that is, keeping people out, and not letting anyone in. The more we honestly share about how we are feeling, the easier it is for others to open up and share too.

    1. The permission is given in an unspoken way that may not bring a response straight away but a knowing that there is always an offering.

    2. Absolutely – one person being open, transparent and honest makes it easier for another person to do the same and so on and so on – it’s the ultimate domino effect.

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