Woman with her eye magnified

If your daily mantra is “Go-go-go,” you are not alone! Our schedules are so filled with events and to-do lists that we often suppress the signals to slow down that our bodies send. Signals such as fatigue, headache, cracked lips, irritability or brittle nails could mean we need to slow down and take care of ourselves.

Ignoring these body signals demonstrates a lack of self-awareness. These signals may be gentle taps on our shoulders alerting us to deeper imbalances or problems. We need to stop, pay attention and decode the messages. For instance, our first reaction to a slight headache shouldn’t be to take a painkiller, but rather to take a moment to figure out why we have a headache. It could be a sign of dehydration, stress or something deeper.

Here are a few examples of health issues and the signals we may be receiving.

  • Gut health: Studies show that unexplained gut health changes, such as variations in bowel movement habits, unintentional weight loss, chronic bloating, lack of appetite or unexplained nausea, are signs to which you should pay attention. Gut problems can stem from a variety of serious issues. They also can lead to other issues. Constipation, in particular, can cause a multitude of inflammation-based health problems that could affect not only your digestion, but also your skin, heart, brain, hormonal balance and immunity. To keep our gut healthy, we should eat a diet rich in fiber. The National Academies’ Institute of Medicine recommends daily fiber intakes of 25g for women and 38g for men. Our gut needs a variety of whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables as well as adequate water.
  • Iron-deficiency anemia: According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, signs of a common mineral deficiency — iron-deficiency anemia — include a feeling of weakness or fatigue, without or with exercise; headaches; trouble concentrating or thinking; pale skin; a craving to eat ice or other non-food things; brittle nails; lightheadedness when standing up from a seated position; abnormal shortness of breath; and a sore tongue. Before taking iron supplements, seek medical attention to have your iron levels checked. A physician is best equipped to provide the correct dosage and monitor care. To prevent iron-deficiency anemia, consider including these iron-rich foods in your diet:
  • chicken or turkey
  • dried lentils, peas or beans
  • fish
  • meats (liver is highest in iron)
  • peanut butter
  • soybeans
  • whole-grain bread
  • oatmeal
  • raisins, prunes or apricots
  • spinach, kale or other greens
  • Dehydration: Some common signs of dehydration include dry lips, mouth and skin. Other indicators include slow skin turgor — test this by pinching the skin on the back of your hand; the skin snaps right back if you’re well hydrated, but takes much longer if you’re dehydrated — fatigue, dizziness, confusion, muscle cramps, fever and chills, a craving for foods (particularly sweets), headaches, bad breath, yellow or orange urine, three hours without a wet diaper in infants or young children or less frequent urination in adults, and yes... irritability. Dehydration is a serious condition, especially for children and the elderly. Staying hydrated could prevent serious problems such as seizures brought about by electrolyte imbalances, low blood volume shock, heatstroke, urinary tract infections and kidney problems. Paying attention to our bodies' thirst cues is key to staying hydrated. According to the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine, general recommendations call for women to consume approximately 91 ounces (2.7 liters) of water from all beverages and foods each day. Men should consume an average of 125 ounces (3.7 liters) of total water per day.

Generally, the more self-aware we are, the earlier we can seek help or respond to body signals in ways that will help prevent problems from growing. So next time you feel a gentle shoulder tap, try to decode the message and respond appropriately.



Mayo Clinic.
Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. 2004. Dietary reference intakes: Water, potassium, sodium, chloride, and sulfate.
National Institutes of Health. Iron deficiency anemia.