Gina Behm, MA, LCPC
Sensing the Calm
Hey y’all, happy Fall!
As this new season begins, I wanted to touch base on some skills to help reduce anxiety and stress during times of transition. These skills are really going to be a throwback to the basics because guess what, you’ve known them since kindergarten!
Every. Single. Day. I have clients walk into my office and tell me they need help figuring out how to manage their emotions. So if you feel like your toolbox is empty, you are definitely not alone. I’m going to share with you the same exact skills I give to all of my clients right off the bat. There are five of them (well… six if you are a believer…); do you know what they are yet?
If you guessed the five senses, you got it! Pat yourself on the back. If you didn’t, then again, you are not alone. People look at me like a have three heads when I say this. “Seriously? Use my senses? That’s it?” Yup. That’s it. We often take for granted the skills that we have already built into our lives. Using the senses as a means to regulate emotions is not only free, it is versatile. I mean, c’mon, there’s five of them. So let’s get into it.
We all know our five senses, right? Sight, sound, touch, taste & smell. Our senses serve a purpose; historically they were used for survival, but over time as the world advanced and humans relied more on technology than themselves, senses became less valued. The benefits of utilizing our senses are endless. Utilizing our senses can ground us in the present, change our moods, refocus our brains, bring back memories and even create literal physiological change in our bodies. We touched base on a few of these senses in my 10 Ways to Destress post, and if you need a list of more typical ways in which to intentionally utilize your senses, check out this worksheet I pass out to clients for ideas. But what we are going to focus on for the rest of this post is how to incorporate these senses around us so they are effortlessly a part of our day to day lives, serving as buffers and reminders to decompress at any given moment. So here we go:
Sight: The go to here is often looking out the window at nature. Well, I don’t have a window in my office, and even if I did, SOMETIMES IT RAINS. So how do I incorporate visually appealing sights into my day? I paint my nails bright colors and buy pretty phone cases. My fingers and my phone are always with me! I also invest in visually appealing throw pillows, because.. why not.
Sound: MUSIC, DUH! Well, we can’t always blast our jams, can we? In the absence of being able to actually listen to our favorite song, hum the tune or set a phone alarm on the hour that plays your favorite verse of it.
Touch: There isn’t usually a go to on this one, but some typical options in therapy are putty, ice and sand. To have these things on you at all times isn’t totally feasible, so I suggest wearing jewelry! Metal that is cold to the touch or something that has a texture to it (bonus here is that jewelry can also be colorful!)
Taste: This one is tricky because you can only eat/drink so often in a day. What I would suggest here is being intentional and mindful about what you are tasting. Are you drinking that cup of coffee out of habit, or are you really in tune to the rich flavor as it travels down your throat? Are those leftovers going to satisfy your craving for something spicy, or should you invest in your needs in this moment and get something different? Sometimes it is more important to take care of ourselves than do the practical thing.
Smell: Do we all know the go tos here? Cologne, candles, oil diffusers. These are all great, but seem to fade easily or our noses get used to them. My suggestion to incorporate smells more long term? Spray a good smell directly on your pillow every night, keep flowers in your office (also colorful! we are killing it with this doubling up stuff), use a good smelling shampoo so everytime you turn your head, you catch a whiff!
Oh and also, I wasn’t kidding earlier about the sixth sense for believers! Okay, you caught me, I’m not talking about ghosts - I’m talking about movement. While people disagree on if movement should reeeeally be considered a sense, it is undeniable that moving our bodies releases stress. I’ll let you make your own decision about if movement counts as the true sixth sense, but if you are in need of an additional skill to reduce stress and anxiety, this one is the next go to. Hit up a yoga class or go for a walk outside. Set an alarm on your phone at the end of each hour to get the wiggles out; dance around, stretch over exaggeratedly, anything silly to move about.
I am challenging all of you to be intentional in your day today, and find a way to incorporate all five senses into your next 24 hours. To start, just go ahead and and look around the room you are currently in. What are 5 things you see? Four things to hear? Three things you feel? Two things you smell? One thing you taste? Look! You did it! You just mentally, emotionally and physiologically relaxed yourself! How does that feel?
If you felt at the beginning of this post that your toolbox was at zero, you just increased your knowledge of how to destress by sixfold. Stick around for more posts to come on more ways to build your toolbox. Thanks for tuning in.
Until next time!