You take your car to the mechanic when the check engine light comes on. (Well – maybe not right away, but you get there.) Do you ask him to just turn the light off, or do you ask him to diagnose and fix the problem? The light isn’t the problem. It’s a signal to look deeper.

Your body works much the same way. Symptoms are your body’s check engine light. If you treat them as mere annoyances and reach for over-the-counter or prescription relief, you are both missing an opportunity, and taking a chance.

Your body continuously reacts to how well you are providing the simple physical requirements that support optimal function, such as nourishing foods, sufficient movement, enough rest, etc. It will invariably respond according to how well those requirements are met. These responses can range from very subtle to very obvious and are often provided in real time.

We learn from these symptoms about our body’s limits of tolerance and what agrees with us and what doesn’t. These are built-in guides for living well. The closer you pay attention, the more you notice. The more you notice, the sooner you can choose differently. “Check yourself before you wreck yourself”, the saying goes.

For example, low back ache can be a symptom of lack of movement, tight hamstrings or general physical fatigue. Shoulder and neck pain pain is increasingly common as our preferred upright and open posture closes and rounds slightly forward – often for hours at a time – to view a screen as we work or study, or surf. Maybe you’ve already equated that dull, mild headache to be a symptom of hunger, eye strain, even dehydration.

Sure – it’s nice to know that we can turn off our check engine light with a pill when we overdo or do wrong, or just need to get through the day. Sometimes we know the source of our discomfort and it’s an isolated event. Other times, our reach for the pain reliever is a casual (or stubborn?) refusal to address a larger problem and take the time to design an alternative.

Keep in mind that there’s a cost to consistently overriding your body’s “check engine light”. Are you sure that vehicle will perform as expected every time you need it to?

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