Life can often become overwhelming, throwing us into a whirlwind of stress, anxiety, and emotional turmoil. During such times, it’s crucial to have effective strategies to help us regain our balance and find moments of calm. One powerful approach is self-soothing by engaging our senses, mindfully reconnecting with the world around us. Below are some examples of how to use hearing, sight, taste, smell, touch, and movement to provide relief and manage stress.
Hearing – Notice the sound of the wind rustling leaves, the clock ticking, cars rumbling by, or the patter of rain. Take in the sounds without judgment, just as part of the auditory environment. Curate playlists for your emotions with your favorite songs, or explore websites like rainymood.com and asoftmurmur.com to provide calming background noise. If your ears are sensitive, try noise-muffling earplugs or noise-canceling headphones.
Sight – Choose a single item to focus on and observe its details, specific shapes or shades or imperfections. Look out a window or at nature photography, or if you can, get outside; nature-based imagery can be an effective intervention for anxiety. To reduce stimulation, use an eye mask or place a cloth or pillow over the eyes.
Taste – Have a snack and mindfully engage in its flavors and textures as you eat. Brewing tea at home or walking to the local cafe may provide distraction and relief. When feeling panicked, sharp tastes like citrus, peppermint, and sour candy can be grounding.
Smell – Light a candle, use your favorite soap, spritz a room mist, take a deep breath outside, or take a moment to literally smell the flowers. You might notice that certain scents feel more invigorating to you while others are more calming.
Touch – Experiment with different tactiles to find what works for you – a fidget toy, thick yarns or unique fabric in your clothes, weighted blanket, or rubbing a stone between your fingers. A warm shower or massaging lotion into your hands can be a form of comforting self-care for some. You also might enjoy touching or hugging a friend, pet, or stuffed animal. When in crisis, cold temperatures can be very effective in soothing the body; use ice cubes in your water, a cold pack on your chest, or even a bag of frozen veggies held to the nape of your neck.
Movement – Although movement is not typically considered one of our senses, we can use physical activity as a way to connect back to the world, engage with our bodies, and decrease stress. Forms of bilateral stimulation – walking, cycling, swimming, gently rocking or swaying side to side – can soothe the nervous system. Finally, matching movement to emotion can be helpful, like running or dancing to release intense energy, or progressive muscle relaxation to calm down.