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Sharing our thoughts on therapy, mental health, and general wellness.
Posted by: Alice Moses, LMHC
The 5 Senses Technique
I love the 5 senses technique! It's a super quick way to reorient and ground yourself and be fully present for a few moments. You can also do it anywhere and repeat it as many times as you need to feel relaxed.
How it works: start by taking a few slow deep breaths, letting your exhale be a beat or two longer than your inhale. This will begin to relax your body. Then, follow these steps.
5 – looking around your surroundings, notice 5 things that you can SEE that are the color green (or blue or white or brown, etc.)
4 – notice 4 different things that you can TOUCH (things with different textures, if possible)
3 – next, notice 3 things that you can HEAR (things that make a sound or might make a sound)
2 – notice 2 things that you can SMELL or that have a smell
1 – finally, notice 1 thing that you can TASTE (this can even be the taste of your own mouth)
Finish with a few more deep breaths and...that's it! How easy was that? Aren't you feeling more relaxed? If not, repeat the exercise looking for different items than you noticed the first time around.
As we get more and more anxious, our breathing gets more and more shallow. Shallow breathing means your muscles aren't getting the oxygen they need to remain relaxed. Tense muscles ramp up anxiety, and then the more anxious you become, the more tense your body gets. It's a vicious cycle! So, how can you stop this cycle?
Try some deep, diaphragmatic breathing! If you've ever watched a baby breathe, you'll notice that their stomach rises and falls with each breath, rather than their chest. This is diaphragmatic breathing! We're all born knowing how to do it, but we forget somewhere along the way (perhaps as we're told to "suck in our gut"). If you aren't already practicing breathing from your diaphragm, lying on a flat surface can help as you're learning the technique. Here are some articles with step-by-step instructions on learning diaphragmatic breathing: What Is Diaphragmatic Breathing? from Healthline and Learning diaphragmatic breathing from Harvard Medical School Healthbeat.
Once you have the technique down, spending even just 1-2 minutes on slow diaphragmatic breathing can help reduce anxiety and calm your body. The more you can practice (even when you feel good), the easier it will be to remember to use diaphragmatic breathing when you're feeling stressed or anxious.
I'm planning a full post on practicing gratitude for the future but wanted to include practicing gratitude as a quick technique to reduce anxiety. For this mini anxiety reducing exercise, write down 5 things you feel grateful for, right now in this moment (if you have more time, don't stop at five!). Practicing gratitude doesn't take much time and it's free. But best of all, it will make you feel good. Research by Robert Emmons, a leading expert on gratitude, shows that keeping a gratitude journal can increase feelings of happiness and well-being. While we may find it easy to feel grateful when something big goes our way, noticing "small" things or everyday gratitude, as I like to call it, is a great habit to get into because the benefits are cumulative. The more you do it, the easier it becomes and the greater the benefit.
Some examples of everyday gratitude? Spending time with your pet, noticing flowers in bloom, savoring your morning tea or coffee, hearing (or telling) a good joke, finding a beautiful seashell.
Why not give it a try? What are you feeling grateful for right now? To get started, just finish this sentence: in this moment, I'm feeling grateful for...
Bonus relaxation technique!