Anxiety, Stress & the Five Senses

Memories are made and recalled through the five senses – if we have a memory of having fun that involved the smell of a particular flower or the sound of a special song, the positive feelings from those memories can be brought back by revisiting those smells and sounds. The same came be said for negative memories: seeing a violent scene on TV can upset an adult who witnessed abusive behaviour as a child, for example.

When we are stressed or anxious, something that can help us to calm down is indulging the five senses with things that will invite positive, calming feelings. If you ever feel overwhelmed with stress and anxiety, it can be helpful to have a list of items relating to each of the five senses – things you can turn to when your heart’s racing, your chest is tight, and/or you’re struggling to get your breath back.

Here are some ideas:

1. Sight

  • Waves lapping at the ocean
  • Running water, such as a creek, river or fountain
  • A fire place or campfire – flickering flames
  • Clouds
  • Gardens
  • Captivating artworks
  • A favourite movie or TV show
  • A starry night
  • A good book
  • Other natural views (e.g. mountains, lakes, fields, forests etc)
  • Friends and family
  • Cheerfully coloured things, including flowers

 2. Smell

  • A favourite flower or herb (e.g. jasmine, roses, wattle, lavender, coriander,  freesias, gardenias etc)
  • Spices and seasoning
  • Candles
  • Scented oils
  • Fruit (e.g. mandarins, oranges, mangoes etc)
  • Hot bread
  • Your favourite food
  • The ocean
  • Country air
  • A new book
  • Perfume
  • Rain
  • Freshly cut grass
  • Animals, such as horses
  • The bush

3. Sounds

  • Music
  • A particular instrument (e.g. guitar, flute, piano)
  • Bird songs
  • Water lapping (whether that be a lake, river or the ocean)
  • Laughter
  • Poetry
  • City sounds
  • Crickets, a cat purring and/or other animal sounds
  • A fire crackling
  • Rain/storms
  • Wind chimes

4. Taste

Without making unhealthy food your answer to every stressful event, there are some tastes that can help you relax:

  • Tea, including herbal teas such as peppermint, camomile, apple and cinnamon etc
  • Your favourite meal
  • A mint
  • Lemon/lime water
  • Chewing gum
  • Fruits and nuts
  • Dark chocolate

 5. Touch

  • Hugs
  • Massage
  • Warm sheets/blankets
  • Fluffy pillows
  • Soft toys
  • Pets, such as a cat or dog
  • Hot baths or showers
  • Sunshine
  • A gentle breeze
  • Misty rain
  • Grass
  • Sand
  • Moisturising cream
  • A stress ball
  • Being immersed in water (i.e. swimming)

Overall, there are many things people find comforting, so try and come up with your own list of things you can turn to in moments of stress and anxiety. Often it will be things you can relate to existing positive memories (e.g. the sound of rain on a tent may remind you of camping with your family), and that’s more than okay. Treating yourself to at least one in each category is a way of looking after yourself, giving yourself a chance to rejuvenate, and creating a calm space in a noisy world.

It is also good to know what sensations cause anxiety and stress in your life and to limit them where possible, or to have a strategy of how to work through them if and when they enter your life. While focusing on the negative is not the aim, it may be helpful to create a list of sights, sounds, smells, touches and tastes that you need less of in your life (e.g. traffic sounds, the smell of fumes, the sight of a mess, etc).

Of course, there are other long-term resolutions that should be sought if stress and anxiety is something that continually reappears in your life – if this is the case for you, here is some further suggested reading:

10 Ways to Reduce Stress

Fear & Anxiety (Part 3) - Overcoming Anxiety