If you’re like most of my counseling and coaching clients, you could benefit from cultivating a stronger connection with your five senses in order to be more present. Sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste are not only sources of information and pleasure, they are also your lifelines to the present moment. Learning how to grasp these lifelines with intention is a valuable life skill that can help you feel happier, more at ease, and more connected to the world around you.
This skill can be especially important for clients who come to therapy for anxiety. One of the tragedies of anxiety is how it steals your ability to fully inhabit your life. When you’re busy worrying about things that haven’t happened and may never happen, it’s impossible to appreciate the tiny moments of beauty unfolding around you every day. But your senses are powerful tools for returning to the present moment and appreciating it fully, and this article will show you how to use your senses to be more present.
If you’d prefer to listen, I’ve also created an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. It’s a conversation between myself and the fantastic Gretchen Rubin, the author of several New York Times bestselling books on happiness and human nature. We’re discussing her latest, “Life in Five Senses: How Exploring the Senses Got Me Out of My Head and Into the World.” You can find the episode on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen.
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Mindfulness and Anxiety
Does this sound familiar? You’ve been feeling pretty balanced all day as you work, take care of your kids, or run errands around town. Then you lay down in the quiet of your dark bedroom, and anxious thoughts immediately begin racing through your mind. Your anxiety may be quiet all day long, but the moment your mind isn’t engaged in something else, it starts chattering.
Of course, anxiety can strike at other times. You could be sitting with friends at dinner, half listening to the conversation and half running through all the things that could go wrong at work this week. Or you might be driving home, barely noticing the passing scenery as you worry about all the things you need to do. It’s even possible to watch an entire movie, then realize as the credits begin to roll that you weren’t really paying attention because you were so preoccupied.
As anyone who struggles with anxiety knows, you can’t “just stop worrying.” Blanking an anxious thought out of your mind only leaves a void that another anxious thought will soon rush to fill. To stop your anxiety, you need to replace your anxious thoughts with something else, and I recommend starting with the easiest mindfulness technique ever: savoring.
Your senses offer you an anchor for connecting to the present moment. When your thoughts begin wandering off into the frightening territory of the uncertain future, you can savor one of your senses to pull them back to the here and now. Try watching leaves flutter in the wind, or noticing the distinct flavors in your cup of tea, or listening closely to all the ambient sounds you can hear in a quiet room.
Even if you only do this for a few seconds, your anxious thought pattern will be temporarily broken as you turn your attention toward your present experience and away from your internal commentary. You’ll also be seizing an opportunity to appreciate a moment in your life, rather than missing it because your mind is so busy with anxiety. You’ll feel happier instantly, and the benefits over time will add up as well.
If you make a habit of this, the constant mental chatter will lose some of its insistence. Your muscle for redirecting your thoughts to the present will grow stronger, until mindfulness becomes effortless for you. This will help you feel less anxious and more connected to the fleeting moments of your life — rather than feeling like they’re passing you by.
How to Be More Present Using Your Senses
There’s a reason that people who lose one of their senses often feel profound grief. Even if the loss isn’t disabling — for example, people who lost their sense of smell due to a covid infection — losing a sense is like having the light turned out on an important part of your experience.
But when our senses are functioning normally, we don’t spend much time thinking about them. Every day you receive a wealth of information about how your life looks, smells, sounds, feels, and tastes — are you making the most of it?
Many people are determined to take their senses seriously, and to derive as much enjoyment, peace, and present-moment connection as they can from them. They might be artists, sommeliers, or chefs, or they might be ordinary people who intentionally seek out sensory experiences to cultivate contentment, richness, and pleasure in their lives.
Listening to music without distractions, or paying close attention to the flavors in your food, or even just buying yourself a nice candle and keeping it on your desk for an occasional sniff are all ways to become more aware of your senses. As you do this, you’ll learn more about the textures, aromas, flavors and sounds that make you feel happier and less stressed.
Support for Mindful Living
You deserve to feel calm, confident, and connected with your life. A good therapist can help you gain new tools for managing anxiety when it arises and designing your life for greater peace and wellbeing. If you’re interested in therapy for anxiety with a clinician on my team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation.
xoxo, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
P.S. — For more tips on mindful living for a happier life, check out our mind-body wellbeing collection of articles and podcasts.
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Music in this episode is by Brian Eno with their song “Reflection.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://brianenoallsaints.bandcamp.com/. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
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