Sensing Stress Relief
Did you know that your sensory neurons—the nerve cells activated by your senses—are really powerful? They’re even more powerful than the parts of your brain that are responsible for making you feel anxious.
How is that possible? Well, to be anxious about something requires you to think about it. In that moment, you’re analyzing what’s happening to you, how it’s affecting you, and maybe even thinking about all the possible outcomes. But when you touch something hot or smell a strong scent, you’re experiencing that without having to think about it. This can help your brain focus on what’s happening in the present and let go of past events or future worries, even if just for a moment.
So, what does that mean for you? You can use your senses—like touch, sight, or sound—to help pull yourself out of negative thoughts, difficult emotions, or overwhelming stress. Try engaging your five senses to help you break out of emotion overload and be more in the present.
Engage All Your Senses
GRAB A COLD ORANGE
Notice the temperature and texture of it in your hands. Roll it around. Peel it and smell the citrus in the air. Take your time eating it—savoring each bite you take.
Just remember five, four, three, two, one. Name five things you can see. Then, four things you can feel. Three things you can hear. Two things you can smell. And one thing you can taste. Repeat as needed until you feel grounded.
Take One Sense at a Time
Look at something like you maybe never have before. Try to notice all the little details—colors, shapes, patterns. Scroll through your phones camera roll and take time looking at each photo. Think about that moment—how you felt and who you shared it with. Or go outside. Look at the clouds moving across the sky or the flowers swaying in the breeze.
Discover what’s around you through touch. Pick up an object nearby. Notice the weight of the item in your hand. Is soft or solid? Heavy or light? Does it feel cold to the touch? Grab an ice cube. Think about how it feels at first. How long does it take to start melting? How does it leave your skin feeling after? Or focus on how your clothes feel on your body.
Music can help calm your stress on a biological level. Explore tunes that stay within 60 to 80 beats per minute. Or turn on your favorite playlist and listen intently to each element of music and vocals. Try saying positive affirmations out loud that encourage and support you. Prefer sounds of nature? Take a walk and mindfully listen to your surroundings.
Take time to savor something that nourishes your body. Slowly sip a cup of herbal tea. Feel the warmth and let the flavors linger on your tongue. Make a meal full of healthy ingredients. Focus on each bite—the taste, textures, temperature. If a full meal seems like too much, try starting with a snack.
Explore different smells to find which scents soothe you. Citrus, lavender, or mint are all great options to start. Take a walk and smell the flowers or fresh cut grass around you. Check your kitchen for spices and herbs. Or simply light a candle.
No matter your method, grounding yourself isn’t always easy. It can take time to find exercises that work for you—so try not to give up. If you’re struggling to deal with your stress or anxiety, ask for help. And if you’re looking for more resources, check out our How To Cope page.