Phoenix VA Health Care System

 

The basics of quick stress relief: Engage your senses

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Woman watering flowers
Tuesday, December 6, 2011

     There are countless techniques for preventing stress. Yoga and meditation work wonders for improving our coping skills. But who can take a moment to chant or meditate during a job interview or a disagreement with your spouse? For these situations, you need something more immediate and accessible. That’s when quick stress relief comes to the rescue.
     The speediest way to stamp out stress is by engaging one or more of your senses—your sense of sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or movement—to rapidly calm and energize yourself.
     Remember exploring your senses in elementary school? Grownups can take a tip from grade school lessons by revisiting the senses and learning how they can help us prevent stress overload. Use the following exercises to identify the types of stress-busting sensory experiences that work quickly and effectively for you.
Sights
     If you’re a visual person, try to manage and relieve stress by surrounding yourself with soothing and uplifting images. You can also try closing your eyes and imagining the soothing images. Here are a few visually-based activities that may work as quick stress relievers:
• Look at a cherished photo or a favorite memento.
• Bring the outside indoors; buy a plant or some flowers to enliven your space.
• Enjoy the beauty of nature–a garden, the beach, a park, or your own backyard.
• Surround yourself with colors that lift your spirits.
• Close your eyes and picture a situation or place that feels peaceful and rejuvenating.
Sound
     Are you sensitive to sounds and noises? Are you a music lover? If so, stress-relieving exercises that focus on your auditory sense may work particularly well. Experiment with the following sounds, noting how quickly your stress levels drop as you listen.
• Sing or hum a favorite tune. Listen to uplifting music.
• Tune in to the soundtrack of nature-crashing waves, the wind rustling the trees, birds singing.
• Buy a small fountain, so you can enjoy the soothing sound of running water in your home or office.
• Hang wind chimes near an open window.
Smell and Scents
     If you tend to zone out or freeze when stressed, surround yourself with smells that are energizing and invigorating. If you tend to become overly agitated under stress, look for scents that are comforting and calming.
• Light a scented candle or burn some incense.
• Lie down in sheets scented with lavender.
• Smell the roses-or another type of flower.
• Enjoy the clean, fresh air in the great outdoors.
• Spritz on your favorite perfume or cologne.
Touch
     Experiment with your sense of touch, playing with different tactile sensations. Focus on things you can feel that are relaxing and renewing. Use the following suggestions as a jumping off point:
• Wrap yourself in a warm blanket.
• Pet a dog or cat.
• Hold a comforting object (a stuffed animal, a favorite memento).
• Soak in a hot bath.
• Give yourself a hand or neck massage.
• Wear clothing that feels soft against your skin.
Taste
     Slowly savoring a favorite treat can be very relaxing, but mindless stress 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:
• Chew a piece of sugarless gum.
• Indulge in a small piece of dark chocolate.
• Sip a steaming cup of coffee or tea or a refreshing cold drink.
• Eat a perfectly ripe piece of fruit.
• Enjoy a healthy, crunchy snack (celery, carrots, or trail mix).
Movement
     If you tend to shut down when you’re under stress, stress-relieving activities that get you moving may be particularly helpful. Anything that engages the muscles or gets you up and active can work. Here are a few suggestions:
• Run in place or jump up and down.
• Dance around.
• Stretch or roll your head in circles.
• Go for a short walk.
• Squeeze a rubbery stress ball.
The power of imagination
     Sensory rich memories can also quickly reduce stress. After drawing upon your sensory toolbox becomes habit, another approach is to learn to simply imagine vivid sensations when stress strikes. Believe it or not, the mere memory of your baby’s face will have the same calming or energizing effects on your brain as seeing her photo. So if you can recall a strong sensation, you’ll never be without access to your quick stress relief toolbox.