On this blog, I talk a lot about how yoga can relieve symptoms of stress and anxiety, and it’s true. Regular yoga practice can be incredibly powerful in reducing the symptoms of anxiety and stress, even depression (1). When you combine the physical asanas with meditation and mental exercises like this one, it’s even more effective.
I learned this exercise when I listened to this great podcast this week from one of my favorite bloggers, Crystal Paine author and founder of www.moneysavingmom.com. In this episode, she interviews Aundi Kolber, therapist, and writer of the upcoming book, Try Softer. During the podcast, Aundi describes a mental technique for grounding your mind and getting out of “fight or flight” mode.
When your experiencing anxiety, you aren’t thinking clearly and you will easily catastrophize things, blow challenges way out of proportion and cause you to think irrationally, which even prevents you from savoring all the beautiful things your life has to offer. This exercise is great for when you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed, it brings you back to earth and helps to center yourself so you can respond with clarity, presence, and compassion.
Aundi reccomends getting outside, which is a great tactic but I’ve had success doing this exercise indoors too. You want to try as much as you can to tune into your senses. You want to first look around, and identify 5 things you can see. I like to pause and think about each of the 5 things and how they are bringing joy into my life at that very moment. It could be a family member, a view outside your window, a beloved pet or even just a rug you like in your home. Meditate on each object for a moment or two.
Next, try to identify 3 – 4 things you can actually feel at the moment. I like to think of things I can physically fell and think about how they are comforting me at that moment. It can be the softness of a sweater, warm running water (while doing the dishes!), the ground beneath your feet, a cool breeze, a hug, etc.
After sight and touch are covered, move on to identifying 2 – 3 things you can hear and smell. Finally, move on to something you can possibly taste. Maybe just remembering something you just ate or drank (for me – hot chocolate!).
I’ve been really stressed out for the last week, so I’ve been running through this exercise in my head several times a day and it really does help to calm you down. I’m feeling much better! I’ve also been doing a lot of downward facing dog and other inversions.
There has to be some kind of therapeutic connection to the senses and restoring calm. Maybe it just helps you to feel grateful, or maybe it brings you back to living in the present moment. I have never been in therapy, but I feel like this must be a common type of de-stressing exercise that therapists use.
I distinctly remember going to a stressed-out mom seminar within the last few years that was offered for free at a local library, where a specialist walked me, along with a group of moms through a very similar anti-stress activity which focused on the physical senses. She passed out a hand out that had us imagine and write down several things to focus on that made us feel calm and happy. This was completely imaginative and could be anything we wanted.
She then had us meditate and imagine seeing, feeling, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting some of the most calming things in the world to us. It really worked!
For sight, I listed:
- My husband playing with my kids
- My kids happy, smiling and laughing, playing together
- A specific image I have of my husband waiting for me to walk down the aisle
- The beach with rolling waves
- The forest
- The lake we take our kids to every summer
- A snowy mountain
- Snow falling outside my “window room” in my new house
- My new home
- *The specific beach and snorkeling spot we visited on our honeymoon in Maui
*In case you didn’t recognize it and haven’t traveled there, the image I included at the beginning of this blog post is the site in Maui where we went snorkeling on our honeymoon called the Molokini Crater!
For sound, I listed:
- Rolling waves
- A crackling fire
- A cool breeze
- My kids saying “I love you mom”
- My husband saying “I love you too”
- Christmas music
For touch, I listed:
- A hug from a loved one
- A soft sweater
- A soft blanket
- The warmth from a fire
- A cool dip in the lake
- Going in the hot tub
- The ground beneath me
- My dog’s coat
For smell, I listed:
- Christmas pine
- Wood-burning fire
- Fresh baked chocolate chip cookies
For taste, I listed:
- Hot chocolate
- Warm chocolate chip cookies
- Chamomile tea with honey
Hopefully, this can give you a few ideas to get started on your own list.
So, if you’re feeling a little stressed, (and who doesn’t from time to time, especially moms!) take some time to go through some of these exercises. You will be amazed at how much calmer you feel afterward.
And if you have time, check out Crystal and Aundi’s helpful podcast via the link below.
Best wishes, and namaste.