Engaging the senses to overcome anxiety
When you’re feeling very anxious, a number of things happen to you physically. As your fight or flight reaction is triggered, you may find your breathing becomes shallow. This kind of breathing has a domino effect, leading to physical symptoms like chest pain, dizziness and pins and needles.
Some people will also experience depersonalisation or dissociation. This can cause you to feel as if you’re not in your body or as if the world around you isn’t real.
Mindfulness is a technique recommended for people who struggle with anxiety as it roots them to the present moment. Anxiety can often be triggered by thoughts of what might happen or by ruminating on what has happened in the past, so the aim of mindfulness is to help you centre yourself in the here and now, letting go of anxiety-inducing thoughts.
If you’re experiencing anxiety symptoms and moments of dissociation, it can help to take things up a notch by engaging the senses. Below we’ve listed a few ideas for each sense to try when you’re feeling anxious.
Engage your sense of touch
This is perhaps the easiest sense to engage and can quickly bring you back into your body. Try stamping your feet on the ground or picking something up and focusing on how it feels in your hand.
Having a grounding object can be helpful here. For example, if you keep a rock or crystal you can reach for it whenever you feel anxious. Run your fingers over it and notice every ridge and crevice.
Engage your sense of smell
Scent can have a powerful effect on the body, as well as helping you be more present, a relaxing oil like lavender, ylang-ylang or rose can help you mentally and physically relax.
If you’re at home, try burning essential oils or using an oil diffuser. If you’re out and about, keep an aromatherapy rollerball with you and rub some oil onto your wrists and temples when you feel anxious.
Engage your sense of sight
To help you feel ‘back in the room’ take a look around you and try to pick out five things you can see. Notice the colour, the way it moves (or doesn’t move) and any distinguishing features.
Focusing on a calming sight for a few minutes can be helpful too, you might want to try watching a video of waves crashing on a beach or simply go outside and notice the clouds in the sky.
Engage your sense of hearing
Just like our sense of smell, what we hear can impact our physical state. Try to tune into what sounds you find relaxing. Some people enjoy ASMR videos (these include sounds that for some people result in a pleasant ‘tingle’ sensation) while others like sound baths (where gongs and crystal bowls are used to immerse you in sound).
Keep a playlist of relaxing sounds handy so you can put your headphones on and centre yourself whenever you need to.
Engage your sense of taste
Our sense of taste can often get left out, but it’s another easy (and often delicious) way to feel more present. We recommend drinking herbal tea such as chamomile, which will both engage your taste buds and help to encourage you to relax. Take this a step further by turning the tea making and drinking ritual into a mindfulness practice in itself.
If you are struggling with anxiety, know that you’re not alone. The advice we’ve given here can help with the symptoms of anxiety and may help you in the moment, but speaking to a professional and getting to the root of your anxiety is key.
Talking to a therapist can give you the space and time you need to understand why you feel the way you do and what you can do to manage it.
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