Posted in Mental Health Wellness

Natural Ways to Relieve Anxiety – Use Your Senses

Heather Sargent is a freelance writer and mother who believes in the motivating power of coffee and deadlines. Her work has been published in various school journals and online. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College where she was an Associate Editor for The Pitkin Review and before that a BA in English Literature from Washington State University (go Cougs!). She can often be found at her desk alternating between reading, writing, and mimicking the sounds of Facebook games. Of the things she does well, knowing the day of the week is not one of them, but she always finds time for family and friends. Heather is most interested in hybrid writing and works spotlighting social justice issues as she believes them to be important for current and future generations.
Natural Ways to Relieve Anxiety – Use Your Senses Posted on August 5, 201910 Comments
Heather Sargent is a freelance writer and mother who believes in the motivating power of coffee and deadlines. Her work has been published in various school journals and online. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College where she was an Associate Editor for The Pitkin Review and before that a BA in English Literature from Washington State University (go Cougs!). She can often be found at her desk alternating between reading, writing, and mimicking the sounds of Facebook games. Of the things she does well, knowing the day of the week is not one of them, but she always finds time for family and friends. Heather is most interested in hybrid writing and works spotlighting social justice issues as she believes them to be important for current and future generations.

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.

Sight

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.

Fall-Obxbow

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.

Hearing

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.

Smell

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.

Candles

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.

Touch

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.

Taste

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.

Heather Sargent is a freelance writer and mother who believes in the motivating power of coffee and deadlines. Her work has been published in various school journals and online. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College where she was an Associate Editor for The Pitkin Review and before that a BA in English Literature from Washington State University (go Cougs!). She can often be found at her desk alternating between reading, writing, and mimicking the sounds of Facebook games. Of the things she does well, knowing the day of the week is not one of them, but she always finds time for family and friends. Heather is most interested in hybrid writing and works spotlighting social justice issues as she believes them to be important for current and future generations.

10 comments

  1. Heather, thanks for your sharing here. I have enjoyed reading your article. Let me share my own personal experience of how I cope with anxiety. I usually go for a walk under sunshine in the morning. This greatly soothe my tense emotion. Sometimes I take a stroll in the park (different routes). Looking at the sunshine and mountain in the mountain makes me feel much better. I agree with you that chocolate helps too. I enjoy eating dark chocolate. So sometimes I take a bite when I am not in a good mood. For the music, I go on the YOUTUBE channel and find some calm down music. It helps too. But overall, I think sunshine helps the most.

    1. I completely agree with you about the sunshine! I always joke that I am solar-powered and I do have a sunlamp, which helps when you live in the Pacific Northwest with all the rain.

      Thanks for sharing your tips.

  2. Oh, I love this post. I enjoy using my senses but I didn’t realise how powerful they were until more recently. They have a genuine way of bringing us back to the present when anxiety is getting hard to manage. My favorite is being out in nature, in warm sunshine in brisk mornings among the trees and plants, smelling the fresh air, feeling the warmth of the sun and looking at the green nature around me. Ah, this is simple but effective. Thanks for sharing a valuable helpful post.

    1. Thanks Kat!

      I also love walking in nature, especially with the sun on my back. It is such an effective activity that encompasses many of our senses at once.

      Thanks for sharing!

  3. Hi Heather
    You are clearly a brilliant writer and I liked your post explaining all the coping mechanisms and tools and tactics available to manage anxiety and I agree that all are valid and have their place.

    I really liked the way you have succinctly explained how all the senses play a part in our positive health and wellbeing and what we can do when we are dealing with anxious thoughts. I particularly liked your description of all the senses, sight, hearing, gustatory and olfactory – all of the senses involved in thought processes.

    As a psychotherapist here in the UK I have been helping people cure and not just manage their anxiety and other anxiety related issues, for a number of years through my work with Anxiety UK and it saddens me that there are still billions of people in the world suffering from an issue, which with the right knowledge, understanding and help can so easily be dealt with.

    I suffered for many years needlessly and know only too well how debilitating it can be. During my career I have helped numerous people from musicians, entrepreneurs, children, moms, dads, the elderly, those who have been abused, people afraid of dying, people suffering with anxiety related psychosexual issues, in fact so many people that I have lost count.

    Most therapists talk about managing anxiety with guided visualisation, meditation, yoga, anchoring, hypnosis, cutting out certain foods from your diet, coffee, wheat, soy etc., I have too. I used to think that it was all about management of neurotic conditions, but, I think differently, now. All the advice that you talk about is very worthwhile and the resources you mention are worth learning about and being aware of.

    But, through my extensive experience I have found that the only way to end anxiety and panic attacks completely is a lot simpler.

    You just have to know what they are, why they affect you and how you want to feel instead.

    1. Thank you, Sandra!

      You mention a lot of really wonderful tools here but I particularly like your last point: knowing what anxiety and panic attacks are and why they affect you. Right now I am working on another article incorporating applied behavior analysis (ABA) principles to managing anxiety and it is essentially figuring out what you just said. I find that very helpful in my own life and particularly with my kids.

      Thank you for all you do and have done to help people and thank you for sharing here.

  4. Love your article. I know that when I get really stressed at the office, there is a waterfall in the lobby downstairs. I will just go and sit on the park bench next to it and close my eyes and escape. The smell of fresh water, the trickling of the water, just relaxes my entire body. At home, I use a diffuser with lavender oil and it is amazing.

    1. Thanks Donna!

      I love that you have a water source nearby. One of the calming effects of water is caused by the negative ions (which help us feel refreshed) that are created with falling water.

      Lavender is so effective for calming, keep some near my desk for quick use.

      Thanks for sharing!

  5. Great article! People really do need more natural ways to relieve anxiety. Especially considering that there are so many drugs out there for anxiety that are ultimatle not good for our bodies. We should all start moving toward these natural ways now so later on in life maybe we won’t gravitate toward powerful drugs with unwanted side effects.

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