Did you know that your body has its own built-in warning system, similar to a car’s “check engine” light?

Just like in a car, when that light comes on, it means something is wrong and needs immediate attention. If we ignore it, the damage will be worse in the long run.

You body innately wants to be well. Its natural state is one of balance and health. If something is out of balance, pain or discomfort is your body’s “check engine light.” It’s way of letting you know where it needs some attention.

If you lean up against the hot eye of a stove, it hurts! The pain alerts you that something is wrong and you move your hand.

We tend to think of these aches and pains (like a runny nose, fatigue, or perhaps an achy joint or muscle) as a nuisance. Ignore them. Push through. Take an ibuprofen. Have a cup of coffee or something sugary for a boost.

But the longer you ignore it, the louder your body will yell.

You can even keep it up for days, months, even sometimes years of pain or exhaustion. Your body has an amazing ability to continue doing what is asked of it, even when it’s being mistreated.

But if you ignore the early warning signs, it has to eventually shut down in order to heal, rejuvenate, re-charge.

I know this cycle well. Several years ago, I became the primary caregiver for my father who was dying of lung cancer. I also had two small children and was working part time. I was determined to care for everyone else and in the process pretty much completely neglected my own needs.

My battery was about as low as it could be.

For stress relief, I would run, an activity I have always enjoyed. But it wasn’t enough just to get out of the house, get some fresh air and jog off some stress – I had a goal. I signed up to run a half marathon.

Looking back I realize I was literally running away from my emotional pain.

My knees started aching, but only a little, and only after my long runs. I kept pushing.

I signed up for lots of 5K runs and even some 8 and 10K races. The aching got worse but there was no way I was stopping short of my goal.

On half marathon day, around mile eight, I tore my right meniscus (cartilage in the knee). Although I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time. It was a sharp, screaming pain every time my right food hit the pavement. Pride and ignoring my own body’s signals kept me running to finish.

THEN I decided to rest. But by then it was too late. I had ignored all the early signals and the inflammation and injury in my knees required two surgeries to repair cartilage, months of resting and physical therapy to heal and get rid of the inflammation, and three years until I was able to run, jump or do anything high impact at all.

Because of this forced rest period, I took up yoga and swimming – both very meditative, restorative activities. I realized that body movement doesn’t have to feel like pain and punishment to be beneficial.

Don’t get me wrong, I still LOVE, LOVE, LOVE hard core sweat sessions but I try to balance those with other activities and listen to the signals my body sends me when I’m doing too much.

What signals is your body sending you that you’re ignoring?

Low back pain? Could be you need to get up from your desk and stretch throughout the day or schedule a massage or chiropractic appointment.

Fatigue? Maybe you need to get to bed earlier at night or delegate some of your responsibilities.

Upset stomach? Perhaps you’re not eating the right foods or you’re under too much stress.

Stop. Pay attention. Listen. Giving your body what it needs when it’s whispering is a lot easier in the long run than if you wait until it screams.