Why you need to care about your ‘BQ’ (and how to improve it)

When you feel stressed, depleted or distressed how do you instinctively manage it?

If you try to turn the volume down on how you feel, or switch it off completely, then you’re like many other Australians.

While there are myriad reasons we don’t listen to our bodies cues – and the majority of us don’t sleep enough, move enough, eat well enough, or are kind enough to ourselves – one may be your body intelligence or BQ.

BQ means recognising our body’s cues and responding to them.Credit:Tanya Lake

“[BQ is] the ability to notice body sensations, listen to them, then respond in a way that respects the body’s needs, so enhancing our quality of life,” wellbeing and productivity advisor, Thea O’Connor explained at last week’s Happiness and Its Causes conference.

“In my work, I’m constantly seeing people who are really smart – they have good EQ and IQ, but they don’t take care of their bodies,” she tells me later. “And the default in the workplace is to override your body.”

It is a default that is familiar to many of us: When we’re tired at our desks we, don't rest, we drink coffee or eat sugar for “energy”, when our body’s ache from slouching over our computers or yearn to get up and move, we stay stooped in our seats and when we’re busy, we push through our mental fatigue, our hunger and thirst.

I’m constantly seeing people who are really smart – they have good EQ and IQ, but they don’t take care of their bodies.

“In the workplace, in particular, we get a lot of recognition for our output,” says O’Connor. “But stopping for a while can make us more productive. Slowing down and stopping can actually help us get ahead.”

Indeed, research shows that regularly taking short breaks, in the instance of this study about 9 minutes every hour, has no impact on productivity but improves workers' wellbeing. Other research shows regular short breaks lead to improvements in both productivity and wellbeing.

But, it’s not just inside the workplace that many of us – myself included – can lack BQ.

According to the Stress and Wellbeing in Australia report, not enough of us are finding healthy outlets; of those who report severe levels of stress, 61 per cent drink alcohol, 41 per cent gamble, 40 per cent smoke cigarettes and 31 per cent take recreational drugs to manage stress.

Sometimes we do need to plow ahead or care less about it all, as global best-selling author, Mark Manson would wisely advise, and sometimes only wine or strong black coffee will do the trick. The problem is that many of us override or ignore our own body intel all of the time.

The result of is we get fat, we get sick and we get burnout. For the first time, in May, The United Nations agency listed burnout in its latest International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), defining it as a “syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.

Ironically perhaps, O’Connor says the people she knows with the highest BQ are often those who have been through burnout. “They know painfully the cost of not listening to their bodies,” she says.

This gives them a “clear resolve that the other way doesn’t work” and means they are able to choose what their body needs during the times that lead the rest of us to “desert our bodies”.

Most of us, we only know buzz. Very few people know stillness on the inside.

“They know they have to do this, so they won’t feel as guilty about leaving work on time or not checking emails at home,” O’Connor says.

Thankfully, the rest of us don’t need to experience burnout to improve our BQ.

While I sit here writing this, having done less than 2000 steps today, and having barely moved from my computer in hours, I take heart in the small changes I have made to improve my BQ in recent years (not that I labelled it that).

I know I think more clearly and am sharper when my body has moved, and there is an abundance of research to show exercise improves cognition. So even when I have no time, I generally try to make time to get my heart rate up, whether it’s a five minute sprint around the block, some mountain climbers on the floor or at very least getting up to stretch every 90-120 minutes (research shows this is about the length of an “ultradian rhythm” where we naturally ebb and flow between high energy and low).

I double dump coffees less, rely less on wine to unwind, I no longer ride the wave of my own adrenaline, trying to whip it faster when it flails and, after a lifetime of eating according to the number on the scales – denying when it was too high and gorging if it was not – I listen to my body. It’s not bulletproof, but it doesn’t need to be.

O’Connor insists BQ is less about purity than paying attention and letting our bodies be heard.

“Most of us, we only know buzz. Very few people know stillness on the inside,” she says. “We often don’t want to acknowledge what’s going on underneath … [because] we’re going to feel some level of discomfort about what’s not working in our lives.”

But, she adds, the discomfort is worthwhile: “We can’t afford not to value recovery.”

How to improve your BQ

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