Come to Your Senses: Tips for Managing Anxiety

One in a series of articles on anxiety and other psychological topics. As all the best disclaimers say these articles are not meant to substitute for psychotherapy.

Our physical senses—sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste—are built-in tools for managing anxious feelings. When we shift attention to what the senses perceive, we are escaping from anxious thoughts about a situation, and anchoring ourselves more firmly in the here and now. Senses bring information in a different, deeper language than the word language of the left brain. Give it a try.

Taste, really taste the food on your plate. Hold it in your mouth, roll it around and experience it as if this is the first time you’ve used this sense. Notice where, on your tongue, the taste is sharpest. Concentrate on the experience.

Look around. Notice shapes and colors, movement and stillness. Notice the difference you feel when you look at yellow, as opposed to grey. Listen, really listen to your favorite artist, or to rain, or silence, or your own footstep. Allow sound to come to you.

Touch and notice texture, temperature, and quality of a surface. Hold an ice cube in your hand. Touch denim or a steering wheel.

Smell. Take a deep breath and focus on a scent. Lavender can be very soothing but you may have your own favorites: cinnamon, wet grass, leather. With each sense, you are returning to the solid present, lowering your anxiety, and preparing yourself to move forward more calmly and with more capacity for pleasure.