When dealing with anxiety, it is always a good idea to have some tools on hand for the inevitable attacks. One of the best natural ways to relieve anxiety is by having tools for each of your senses to ease your whole body. Science tells us that each of our senses helps us to perceive the world around us by sending information to our brain. If we are able to calm each of those senses then we can better manage our anxiety.
One of my favorite tools for sight is what I call, “5-second vacations”. Essentially, you find small pictures of something that you find calming. For me, that’s nature. Mountain scenes, any body of water, sunsets, and the like. You can use pictures of flowers or art or if you like the abstract, perhaps architecture or bridges gets you thinking about interesting lines or engineering rather than your worries.
You can use old calendar pictures (yay repurposing!) or postcards, or you can even print something off the web. If you are artsy, or know someone who is, perhaps a drawing or piece of artwork gets your mind to a different place. The idea here is to find something that draws your attention enough to break whatever thought cycle you are stuck in.
Another option is to use actual objects, such as flowers on your countertop or a favorite tree in your backyard. If you are stuck somewhere and you can’t get away (work meeting or at a restaurant) find something around you that you find visually interesting and focus your attention there.
Once you have targeted a visual, think about your breathing as you draw your attention to the object you see. If your mind wanders, focus again on your breathing. The goal is to redirect your thoughts. Once you can focus on the object and your thoughts stay with it, then you can try to return to what you were doing previously.
I think everyone can agree that music has a way of creating a mood. Who doesn’t listen to sad music when they are feeling down or upbeat music when they are feeling good? It has a way of helping you to feel your way through the emotion you are experiencing or by just helping you enjoy the moment. It is important to be able to process emotions rather than try to block them out but sometimes they happen at very inconvenient times. Or, as is the case with anxiety, you have been processing but you are cycling back through it.
We want to try something different here. For hearing, we want to use music or instrumentals or soundtracks (think nature) that help to calm us. I often enjoy the sound of water, like a babbling brook or a waterfall, sometimes even the rain. Find a few moments to yourself where you can plug in your headphones and either close your eyes or use visuals while you focus on your breathing. Practice deep breathing while focusing first on your breaths, then on the audio.
Many people already practice natural ways to reduce anxiety using smell and they may not even realize it. Candles are a popular option as are aromatherapy tools. My daughter has a bracelet and a necklace for aromatherapy and I will admit, I have borrowed them both on more than one occasion.
There is a whole science behind smell and the various feelings certain scents can induce. I won’t go into detail here but a few of our favorites are lavender, peppermint, and citrus. I do want to mention that if you use larger aromatherapy tools, such as a diffuser, you want to be sure that your scents are safe if you have small pets.
As a bonus, peppermint is said to be helpful for headaches, which I get a lot of with anxiety.
To calm your body using your sense of smell, simply find a scent and delivery method that works well for you. Once you light your candle, or utilize your essential oil, spend a few minutes just as with the other senses, and focus on your breathing first as you make your way with your thoughts to your scent. Maybe it reminds you of a happy memory or maybe you like the way it lingers in the air. Whatever it is, focus on that while you relax and practice some deep breathing.
One of my kids was diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder at a very young age so we had to learn a lot about how touch plays into either calming anxiety or engaging it. Have you ever had a day when the seam of your sock was just driving you nuts, or is there a certain fabric that makes your skin crawl? That’s the kind of stuff that used to bother our youngest all the time and he was too young to be able to tell us about it so it took a lot of investigation.
If you find yourself particularly irritable or anxious, do an inventory of what your body is feeling. Sometimes little things can really set us off when we are already maxed out on other problems. Imagine if pinching jeans were the catalyst of an anxiety attack when you could take a minute in the bathroom to smooth them out and tug them from your nether-regions. Hey, it’s a thing!
Now that we’ve covered how touch can set off anxiety, let’s talk about how we can use it to relieve anxiety.
Here is where those squeezy stress balls come in handy (punny!). Or perhaps you have a fabric that you just want to pet repeatedly, like a blanket or a sweater. If you want to be discrete, get a few swatches of different fabrics that can pull your attention when you need a little extra help.
It doesn’t even have to be a stress ball or fabric. Some people like the feel of a rubber band and the way it feels in their fingers when they snap it back and forth. Whatever it is that keeps your mind and your fingers busy, utilize it. And be creative!
One of the easiest tools to use here is lotion. Not only will your skin feel more hydrated but you can meet the sense of smell here too. This is a good practice in self-care as you are also caring for your skin.
If you have fur babies (also known as pets), you already know how cuddling your kitty can melt away anxiety or how your big dog who thinks he’s a lapdog is good for a giggle when he tries to snuggle you. Along with their many charming qualities that add value to our lives, did you know that petting your fur baby will lower your blood pressure? This is a lesser-known benefit of having a furry companion.
There is an argument to be made here that if you don’t have a fur baby and you have the room and the means to care for one, that your life will be greatly improved – as will your anxiety – if you find the right one. It has been my experience that you will find the right one at a shelter. Rescues are the way to go. If you don’t have a lot of experience here, start at your local Humane Society. They are a wonderful source of information and can help you find the right fit for your personality and lifestyle.
Ahh chocolate, how I love thee. No, but really, we can’t all run around eating chocolate all day so aside from an obvious favorite go-to, there is another way to indulge our taste senses without gaining calories.
Gum. If you are looking for an option that doesn’t force calories in you then try gum. You can manage your sweeteners and if you find one with a scent enjoyable to you then you can manage your sense of smell at the same time.
If you are not concerned about calories and you just want natural ways to manage anxiety, then try a square of chocolate. Another thing to mention here is that if you are feeling anxious, think about how long it has been since you had a meal as well. Oftentimes we can start crashing emotionally and mentally when our body is not properly fueled. If it has been a while, then use this opportunity to eat something. Chances are that will make you feel better without much other effort.
Bringing it All Together
We covered the five basic senses and some natural ways to relieve anxiety by using tools related to each of the senses. All of these tools can be used separately, but you can also use them together for a more whole-body experience. If you are dealing with anxiety on a regular basis then it might be good practice to take some time each day to utilize these tools as a way to prevent anxiety attacks or at least lessen them.
I like the idea of having a small bag with all of your favorite portable tools that you can carry with you when you go to work or are just out and about. It might even be beneficial to have one that you can leave at work or in your car (provided you don’t have anything that will melt on hot days or freeze on cold ones).
The basic idea when meeting all the senses together is to find compatible tools (some can double for two senses – such as touch and smell) and a place where you won’t be disturbed for several minutes. You can take as long as you need but if you are limited on time, try to get at least a few minutes in, enough to reset your thinking. Take these tools and use them in an order that makes sense to you.
Be sure to spend a few minutes during this time practicing deep breathing and drawing your attention to your senses. If you practice meditation, this would be a good time to begin. Let the anxiety drift away as you breathe and trust that you are taking a step to manage your anxiety, which is a step toward mastery.