What Your Body is Telling You: Marianne Dyer

In life we rarely train ourselves to learn the art of juggling the multitude of activities and priorities before us. Organisational psychologist Marianne Dyer believes that we should all do a better job at managing our work/life balance – before it’s too late.

I remember my first attempt at learning to juggle. Two tennis balls was easy-peasy. Add in a third tennis ball: much more tricky but manageable with lots of concentration. The fourth tennis ball was unthinkable and felt more like a clown act than one of mysterious skill and wonder.

When it comes to juggling our daily life, we probably rarely think about the stress of it all – until all the tennis balls come crashing down. Finding balance is a skill worthy of attention, and the wonderful thing is that our body already has most of the answers.

Our body has the innate wisdom to create homeostasis. When we stay awake for too long, our body sends us tired ‘droopy eye’ signals. When we haven’t eaten, our stomach talks to us with a growl: Feed me! When we truly listen to our body, we will know what is needed to keep the balance. Wisdom is then putting this ‘body knowledge’ into practice.

It is not a sign of weakness to take care of yourself; it is actually plain good sense.

I can guarantee that if you ignore your body signals for balance, your body will eventually get your attention, whether that is the flu, stomach ulcers, depression, addiction or a breakdown in relationships. So let’s be smart, pay attention to our body and notice what is happening in our lives.

Hans Selye (1907–1982), a Hungarian endocrinologist, was inspired by an experiment he was conducting. He was injecting different hormones into mice, but all the mice were exhibiting the same response. At first he surmised that he had discovered a new hormone, but in fact he was observing the impact of stress on mice. The General Adaptation Syndrome was born, the stages he proposed being the initial ‘alarm stage’, secondly the ‘resistance stage’ and lastly – if we don’t listen to our bodies telling us something is wrong – the ‘exhaustion stage’. Curiously, he found that whether one received bad news or good news the body responded in the same way. He called negative stress ‘distress’ and positive stress ‘eustress’.

One of his mates, Walter Cannon (1871-1945), an American physiologist, then came up with the concept of ‘homeostasis’. This is the concept that the body will naturally create balance. In 1932 he wrote a book called The Wisdom of the Body. We are still learning about the wonders of how our body regulates different states to bring about homeostasis. You may have heard of the ‘fight-flight’ concept; this was another of his discoveries and he coined the term in 1915.

Richard Lazarus (1922-2002), a New York psychologist, proposed in the 1980s that we experience stress when we perceive the demands are greater than our resources. Then in 1984 Lazarus and Folkman developed an appraisal model of stress. First we make a ‘Primary Appraisal’ of the stress. Is the stress good, harmful, threatening or just irrelevant? Is being stressed worth it? What might I have to lose? If our appraisal here is that the stress is relevant and potentially threatening, we may then move into more analysis of our situation.

The ‘Secondary Appraisal’ occurs as we consider our resources to meet the demands. Can I do what is being asked of me? Is there too much on my plate? What do I need in order to meet the challenge? If it is our perception that we can’t meet the demands, we will then start to experience stress. According to Selye, if we then continue to feel this amount of stress without doing anything about it, we will reach ‘exhaustion’ when the body will basically take over and send us to bed.

Body wisdom is listening to the messages our body sends us. You can only override the stress signals for a certain amount of time before something serious happens. Let’s be wise and not test our bodies to the limit.

So we need to be our own role model. As Socrates said, ‘Know thyself’. Keeping the balance starts with tapping into your body wisdom. Know what your stress cues are and do something about it right away. Consider balance in your day, across your week and even across your year.

What is your body cue when you start to feel stressed? Mine is a lump in my throat. My behavioural cue is I start to get snappy at other drivers, or grumpy at my son. What is your cue? Not sure? I bet if you asked your best friend or partner they could tell you in a heartbeat. Ask them right now. It is really important to listen to those we trust, because stress is sneaky!

Stress can be the accumulation of many small events or one traumatic event. Your nervous system is like the electrical circuit in your house; it has a finite voltage. Turn on a couple of appliances… no problem. Turn on everything and then the dodgy vacuum cleaner, and you’re probably going to blow a fuse.

Stress is a phenomenon we have been fascinated about for centuries. Socrates once said, ‘Beware of the barrenness of a busy life’. It’s easy to lose what is important in the face of deadlines and traffic jams at the school pick-up zone. The stressful juggle is simply a part of life; it’s more about keeping balance and living a meaningful life.

However, when your mind is fresh, your body vitalised and your relationships healthy, you will be more productive. At the end of the day, our life is really what we choose.

To download a copy of Marianne Dyer’s Stress Management Plan, click here.

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Marianne Dyer

Marianne Dyer is a member of the Australian Psychological Society and has been a registered psychologist since 1993. She has worked in therapy services and organisational consultation - training, private practice and educational settings. For more information visit