As we gaze at our empty calendars from our (make-shift) home offices, finding peace of mind seems to be high up on our to-do list. While some stress is a necessary motivator that gets us to work, having too much of it can be counter-productive, or even worse, harmful for our overall health and wellbeing - something we truly aren’t taking for granted these days.
Along with the ample internet resources about how to stay calm, cool and collected during the current crisis, there are five physical tools you already have on hand for keeping your mellow. We begin to develop them as soon as we’re born, and yet somehow, in the hustle and bustle of our adult life, we forget these most rudimentary tools we have: the five senses.
The relationship between our senses as a gateway to our feelings has been long studied. Think of it this way; touching something slimy will automatically make you feel the jitters, while listening to the sound of a gentle rainfall may help you doze off to sleep. Our senses are the way we perceive the world, and in turn, affect the way we feel.
In our new reality where so much is out of our control (isn’t it always?); nothing feels more certain than relying on oneself for one's own tranquility. If there’s one thing we maybe can try to control, it's “biohacking” our senses to bring on those rare moments of serenity we’re so desperate for. If there's ever been a time to connect, mind, body, and spirit - this is it.
So how do we do it?
Our skin is our largest organ, home to touch receptors that help us navigate the world around us. It helps us identify surfaces and potential dangers, and can make us feel more grounded and centered. While we do find ourselves in a time where “no touching” is the new norm, there are plenty of ways to still use the sense of touch to bring about calm.
For some, it can be in the form of kneading dough (everyone on the internet seems to be doing it). Apart from the satisfaction that comes from handling dough, the constant repetition pulls out both physical and mental stress.
If baking isn’t your thing, perhaps it’s working on an arts and crafts project, or even embarking on the DIY tie-dye trend that’s overwhelming our feeds. It may exist in the form of feeling the mat beneath you as you complete an online yoga class or other at-home exercises.
If you’re lucky enough to be quarantined with a pet, give them some extra belly rubs and attention. Cuddling our loved ones causes us to produce oxycontin (known as the cuddle hormone that gives us that warm fuzzy feeling) and decreases the secretion of cortisol (aka the stress hormone). In the absence of our human family members, touching our dogs creates a similar effect.
Ever wondered why the sound of the rain is so soothing? Or white noise helps you fall asleep? In short, it relaxes your nervous system. By contrast, we all know the feeling of hearing loud traffic and city noise that instantaneously makes your heart skip faster bringing about a wave of stress. If there is anything at all to be gleaned from this global pandemic, it’s the re-emergence of birds chirping formerly drowned out by cars honking. Listening to environmental sounds undoubtedly affects our frame of mind, and has been a tried and tested way to bring about relaxation.
Whether it’s a live guided meditation, a sound bath, a personalized soundscape, listening to the right sound will put you in the right mood. Even a Cardi B ASMR video can potentially create a tingly feeling of chill (Yes! You just read the words “Cardi” and “chill” in the same sentence). If you play an instrument yourself, all the better! That doubles the benefits by incorporating your sense of touch along with the sound.
Aromatherapy, as it sounds, is therapy through aroma. Dating back to ancient Egypt, the use of aromatherapy has been used to alter our moods everywhere from spas to our favorite Muji store.
Our olfactory sense, most interestingly, is the one most associated with memory. That’s why passing by a bakery can suddenly take you back to your childhood home. Or the smell of the ocean can take you back to a favorite vacation; or why sometimes you smell something as you walk along the street and suddenly you can’t get that *someone* one out of your head. Since smell is so intertwined with memory, it’s one of the most important senses we can leverage.
Use essential oils to transport you to serenity - or to create new memories. Essential oils such as lavender, rose, and camomile can not only relax us but can also help us sleep better.
Anyone who’s gone down a Youtube rabbit hole knows how satisfying watching dominos fall, closeups of fruit cuttings or slime can be. This satisfaction aka #oddlysatisfying provides a form of “brain massage” as it has been coined, to the effect that these videos have garnered millions of views, and relaxed millions of minds.
On another note, different colors also have different effects on our moods, with certain colors traditionally more soothing such as the color blue. But beware, blue light from our phones does not count. Quite the opposite - blue light from our phones and screens not only age you but also send a signal to our brains to stay awake.
Should your location permit, try lifting your gaze (you’re getting tech-neck anyway) and look beyond your screen and out the window. Night or day, stargazing or staring at the sky may provide that calm you seek. Remember the simple act of watching the clouds go by?
Most of what we perceive as flavor (the taste of food) is actually derived from the way it smells.
Eating slowly and taking time to take in the flavors, textures, aromas of the food increase our enjoyment and the way we perceive it’s taste. Rather than gobbling down food like a chore, take the time (we have a lot of it) to taste every note. One common advice is that one should chew their food thirty two times before swallowing. It’s another form of mindfulness and meditation, and we already know what happens to your brain on meditation. Breathing in the aromas, and relishing each bite will not only lead to better digestion, but it will also create a more meaningful and satisfying experience.
We’ve been gifted with five senses, all of which can be used to work towards a more relaxed state of self and mind. And if these are the tools we’ve been given, aren’t we going to give it all we’ve got?