Trusted guide to mental healthduring an argument with your spouse to help you cool down? Or reach for a stick of gum when the traffic grinds to a halt on your commute?
Everyone responds to sensory experiences a little differently. What some people find soothing and relaxing may be unpleasant or even stressful to others. For example, certain kinds of music may relax and calm one person but do nothing but irritate someone else. So, in order to master quick stress relief techniques, you need to first become a “stress-busting detective,” and track down the sensory experiences that quickly make you calm and alert.
There is a difference between sensory experiences that are pleasant and sensory experiences that are intense and enjoyable enough to quickly make you feel both calm and alert. In the time it takes you to stroke a small smooth stone that you keep in your pocket, recall a few bars of music that move you, or taste the sensation of biting into a piece of dark chocolate, for example, you should feel your stress begin to ease, your head start to clear, and your sense of control returning. If it takes you six cups of tea and several hours to regain your balance, then try something else. If the effect is too subtle, keep investigating.
Each time you feel stressed, try a different sensory experience and note how long it takes for your stress levels drop. Remember: you’re looking for something that works almost immediately.
As you experiment, be as precise as possible. What is the most perfect image, the specific kind of sound, or type of movement that affects you the most? For example, if you’re a music lover, listen to many different artists and types of music until you find a phrase or a tune that instantly makes you feel more in control of yourself—just by thinking of it.
If you’re a visual person, try to relieve stress by surrounding yourself with soothing and uplifting images. If there’s nothing visual within reach, try closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, and imagining a soothing image.
Are you a music lover? Or a nature lover? Experiment with the following:
Vocal toning can be a speedy way to use your breath and voice to relieve stress—even if you can’t sing or consider yourself “tone-deaf.” Try sitting up straight and simply making “mmmm” sounds with your lips together and teeth slightly apart, listening intently. Experiment by changing the pitch and volume until you experience a pleasant vibration in your face and, eventually, your heart and stomach.
Vocal toning can have two interesting effects. Firstly, it can help reduce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, making it an effective means of stress relief. Try sneaking off to a quiet place to spend a few minutes toning before a meeting with your boss and see how much more relaxed and focused you feel.
Secondly, vocal toning exercises the tiny muscles of the inner ear (the smallest in the body). While this might not seem like a big deal, these muscles help you detect the higher frequencies of human speech that impart emotion and tell you what someone is really trying to say. So not only will you feel more relaxed in that meeting with your boss, you’ll also be better able to understand what he’s trying to communicate.
Scent can be a powerful memory trigger. The smell of freshly cut grass might remind you of your childhood or a particular perfume might remind you of a romantic partner. If the memory is a pleasant, reassuring one, you can use it to help calm or invigorate you.
Experiment with your sense of touch, playing with different tactile sensations.
Slowly savoring a favorite treat can be very relaxing, but mindless eating will only add to your stress and your waistline. The key is to indulge your sense of taste mindfully and in moderation. Eat slowly, focusing on the feel of the food in your mouth and the taste on your tongue.
If you tend to shut down when you’re under stress or have experienced trauma, stress-relieving activities that get you moving may be particularly helpful.
It’s not easy to remember to use your senses in the middle of a mini—or not so mini—crisis. At first, it will feel easier to just give into pressure and tense up. But with time—and lots of practice—calling upon your senses when you’re stressed will become second nature.
Learning to use your senses to quickly manage stress is a little like learning to drive or play golf. You don’t master the skill in one lesson; you have to practice. Once you have a variety of sensory tools you can depend on, you’ll be able to handle even the toughest of situations. Here are tips to help you make quick stress relief a habit:
Becoming adept at quick stress relief will help you successfully navigate stressful situations. It will also be an invaluable aid in learning and practicing the Ride the Wild Horse meditation that fosters social and emotional connection.