It’s important to have a toolkit for self-soothing. Keep a list of many different ways to pull your thoughts outside of yourself and ground yourself in the moment. If I find myself becoming overwhelmed with frustration or anxiousness or my mind is occupied with nagging negative thoughts, my go-to calming and grounding tool is deep, slow breathing – breathe in for a count of 5, hold for 5, exhale for 7, repeat. I am trying to expand my toolkit, and have recently found that I respond well when I employ the 5 Senses Mindfulness technique.
5 Senses Mindfulness
The premise of this exercise is to focus on the world around you and to live in the moment. It stops the whirl of thoughts. The physical reaction to the intense emotion and feeling starts to fade – shallow breathing becomes slower and deeper, tensed muscles begin to relax, the quick heart-rate that flushed your cheeks begins to calm.
For this exercise some people sit quietly. I like to move within the space so I can shift what my body is experiencing. Sit in each sense for one minute (or longer). Notice the experience. Focus your attention but don’t try to control what you see. Push nothing away. Cling to nothing. Steady your breathing. Describe what you experience (to yourself or a friend). I like to participate in the space, actively experiencing my environment.
I start with my eyes closed to minimize distraction. What are all the sounds you hear, internal and external? What do the sounds sound like? Is it soft or loud, near or far? Is it shrill or like a whistle? Is there a rhythm or melody? Can you describe the timbre – is it brassy or clear? Is the frequency pitched high or low? Does it sound hollow or well-rounded, or is there an echo? What is the duration?
Shift your attention away from your ears to your nose. There are no good or bad smells. They just are. Try to differentiate the different scents around you. Can you describe the various odor profiles? Can your distinguish between floral and sweet? Smoky and woody? Fruity and citrus? Minty (camphor) or green? Is there a metallic or chemical aspect? Maybe it’s sour or rancid.
If you’ve had your eyes closed, open them. Focus on one thing at a time, describing all your can. What is the color – the hue, tint, and tone? Is it bright or dull, pastel or muted, warm or cool? What is the shape, size, and texture? Are there details you generally overlook? Are new things revealed if your move closer or farther away? How are light and shadows at play? What can you sense peripherally? What about depth perception? Is your site blurry or sharply focused?
Without even putting anything in your mouth, try to describe what your mouth tastes like. Then, find something to nibble or drink. Savor the flavor. Salty, sweet, sour, salty, bitter, acidic, spicy, or umami. How to the flavors mix? How does your tongue react? Is the flavor effected by the smell? What is the texture on your tongue? Is it grainy, rough, slimy, creamy, or dry?
Touch whatever is near or keep a kit of items for this exercise, like a bit of fur, a rough stone, a bag of beans. What is the texture, hardness, shape, temperature, or weight? Is there a reaction in your skin – pleasure, pain, an itch or a tickle? Actively focus on the properties of an object or passively experience something touching you. What other things might you feel or sense, such as music or other vibrations or nausea?
If at any point you get distracted or those nagging thoughts weasel their way back in, just acknowledge them and dismiss them and start again. In the end, I always feel calm, grounded, and more resilient.
Two Weeks of Daily 5 Senses Mindfulness
My “homework” from therapy is to practice and explore this mindfulness exercise, and so I figured I would briefly log each day’s experience here, in a separate post.