5 Senses Calming Technique
Are you feeling anxious? Is your mind racing? Are you having one of those moments, or days, when your brain is on overload? It’s like a speed train moving from one thing to the next. OR maybe it’s stuck, reviewing one or two thoughts over and over and over and it’s making you feel anxious. Your thoughts are going crazy and so maybe now your heart is pounding. Your body is responding and it’s fired up. Even though you’d love to relax, it seems like the thoughts in your brain won’t let go. You are craving rest and calm but all you can do is think and worry. What in the world is going on??
The first step, almost always, is to breathe. Just breathe. Take in a breath, hold it after the inhale for 1-3 counts, and even take another little inhale in if you can, and then let it go. Repeat this 3 or 4 times and your body will begin to shift gears into a more relaxed state. This type of slowing down breathing will help your heart rate to slow down a little and will give your brain a break, just long enough to practice this technique.
So let’s talk about what’s happening in that crazy fast-paced brain of yours. Ever heard of the amygdala? Well it’s a part of your brain that is the alert area. It can be very helpful as it is designed to alert you when you are in danger in order to keep you safe. The amygdala is looking for harm and then letting your nervous system know if it needs to fight or flee. Right now, your amygdala, unless you are truly unsafe and in danger, is likely fired up and overreacting to something that is disturbing but not threatening. Unfortunately, it’s reading it as a real threat or danger, likely causing your thoughts to get away from you and your heart to pound.
Lots of people deal with a recurring, over-reactive alerting amygdala. When this happens, we need to help calm down the nervous system, and reassure it that we are safe and that we are not in danger. We want to help the amygdala to avoid reacting to a thought causing anxiety when you are not actually in danger in the present moment but are just experiencing an uncomfortable thought. We can learn to tolerate discomfort and utilize practices like this one to calm our bodies and help our amygdalas make accurate assessments.
Now that you know a little bit more about what’s happening in your body and that you can help it get to a better place, here is an exercise you can practice. Practice is a really important word here by the way. It’s important that you do practice these types of mindfulness techniques so that your body and mind get used to them and know how to use them well. They will become more and more accessible to you with practice.
Okay, so go back to the breath. Inhale, hold it for a count of 3, take another little inhale and then gently push the exhale all the way out. Repeat 3-4 times, however long it takes for you to start to notice your body calming down or when you notice a small shift in your ability to tolerate your anxiety. Next, you are going to walk through each of your senses, in order to help your mind and body know that in this present moment you are safe and out of harm’s way. Help your amygdala make an accurate assessment as you walk through your 5 senses.
Seeing-notice what your eyes see and describe it. I see three people sitting on a bench. I see my blue sweater and the threads winding together. I see a green sign on the side of the road.
Hearing-listen. Are there any sounds around you? Describe this in your head…I hear birds chirping. I hear the air conditioner revving. I hear someone walking upstairs.
Tasting-notice any tastes that you have…are you eating? Are you drinking? Can you think of a favorite taste that you enjoy having? See if you can just about taste it.
Smelling-notice any smells. Take some deep breaths and see if you can smell anything or imagine some of your favorite smells. Smell can be a powerful way to get your brain to the present moment.
Touching-what is touching you? Notice the seat under your body, the touch of the clothes you are wearing, the floor your feet are standing on. What does it all feel like? Is it soft? Is it cold? Warm?
Go through all that you notice with each of your 5 senses at least once, but feel free to repeat until you have a sense of the present moment. Help your brain and body understand that you are safe, right here right now and that you can in fact relax. Remember, practice is key. Neuroscientists have helped us learn that “neurons that fire together wire together” which means that we can teach our brains to process in different ways but we need to continue to offer opportunities for our brains to feel safe and calm on a regular basis.
If you are someone looking to find relief from stress, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and worry, there are therapists such as myself that specialize in supporting these needs. If you are looking for more support, please contact me here. I offer free 15 minute consultations where I’ll try to get an idea of what you are dealing with and how I can help. I can let you know if I think therapy would be a good fit for you. We will get a good sense of each other and can decide if I’m the best fit for you. Together we will make a plan for the next steps.