When Anxiety Strikes, Five Senses Provide Relief

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I admit, I like to have a plan. Knowing what’s going to happen next helps me feel like I’m in control of my life. Of course, this doesn’t always work out. Plans change, fall through, or simply aren’t possible much of the time—and that’s when anxiety can rock my world.

Having a mindfulness practice is really helping me these days. Mindfulness simply brings attention to the present moment without judgement, creating a micro-suspension in time where plans are irrelevant because all that exists is the here and now. When I’m truly in the moment, my anxiety fades away. The challenge is finding a way to get there amidst the fast-paced events of my day and swirling thoughts in my head.

The most common mindfulness method of bringing attention to the present moment is focus on the breath. This is what people often think of as traditional meditation, and it doesn’t only work while sitting quietly in lotus pose. You can practice mindfulness breathing at any time, under any circumstances—while stuck in traffic or waiting in line, for example. However, anxiety can be hard to reign in, and focusing on my breath doesn’t always work for me. 

Something that is working for me lately is bringing my attention to my five senses. As a writer and an introvert who processes information a lot in my head, I can tend to get so wrapped up in my thoughts that I don’t even notice what’s happening with my body. Pausing to intentionally hone in on each of my senses gives me an opportunity to connect with my body, notice sensations that are happening in this very moment, and take a mental break.

Ideally, when I focus on my five senses, what they are experiencing should be pleasurable. To facilitate this, I’ve been keeping props around my desk, car, and purse that help me take a “five senses break” throughout the day. I stop what I’m doing, slow my breathing, and focus in on each of my senses, one at a time. I have aromatherapy oils for smell, yummy treats for taste, a few beautiful cards and photos for sight, a small, soft pillow for touch, and my favorite playlist for sound. The key is to take in each sensation slowly, with non-judgmental attention.

Even when I don’t have my props available, I’m making more effort to seek beauty in my surroundings multiple times a day. Sometimes the best moments of my day are when I’m walking across a parking lot and get a whiff of sweet jasmine wafting through the Spring air, or I notice the delicious sensation of breeze on my cheeks after a full day of working indoors. I experience deep gratitude in those moments, as if my senses are a gateway to my heart.

Our five senses are how we experience our world and are therefore an excellent way to tap into the present moment, especially when our minds are anywhere but here and now. Although anxiety can be a powerful force to reckon with, it exists within the mental construct of the mind. The body is rarely anxious without the input of the mind, unless it’s missing what it needs for survival. To calm my mind, I find that nothing works better than shifting my attention to my body. Thankfully, I have five magnificent senses that keep me seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, and hearing my world with wonder.