Along with some of the longest nights and shortest days of the year, the Pacific Northwest boasts some of the fewest days of sunshine and is home to arguably the largest spectrum of gray shades the world has to offer. Many of us have spent more days at home in the last year than we ever have. Maybe you have been experiencing a recent bout of “cabin fever” where you want something, anything, new to happen, but know the best thing for your community is to keep outings and travel to a minimum. Perhaps you’re feeling overwhelmed by the flood of information and ever-changing guidelines, wishing you could just press pause. How do we manage to find time to rest and at the same time create new moments and memories outside the daily sameness? Oh, yes, also while still social distancing? One answer lies within finding a few minutes each day to intentionally explore how we use our senses.
Whether we realize it or not, during our waking hours we are constantly processing details that are flooding in from each of the senses to help us make decisions. Since we cannot physically turn our senses into the “off” position, we can easily feel overwhelmed. Because our senses are closely connected to memories and emotions, they can have a big impact on how we are feeling. Think about how at ease, relaxed and at peace you may feel savoring a cup of coffee in a mug that you picked up on a memorable trip, listening to a cherished favorite song, or gazing at the wispy clouds in a sunset sky. Alternatively, spilling said cup of coffee in your car, waking up to the sound of construction, or seeing an unexpected request from your boss can all be things that make you feel anxious, irritable and uncertain. If you begin feeling that you aren’t in control, you know it’s time to slow down and tune into your senses. When we are thoughtful about using our senses, we may feel less bombarded by our surroundings and better able to notice the new and noteworthy things happening all around us. Let’s practice some sensory experience exercises to enhance your well-being, either to begin the day or to help you relax at its end.
Indoor: As the days get colder, we may feel less comfortable outdoors and prefer to stay bundled up inside. By cultivating a cozy environment, we can expose our senses to an array of details sure to leave us feeling calm and rejuvenated. Spend several minutes sitting or lying still, alternating between your senses–sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.
- Light candles or put up string lights, noticing the glow that appears to soften any room.
- Gather up a large pile of soft blankets and pillows. Focus on the texture of the blankets and pillows and how soft they feel when you sink into the luxurious heap.
- Enjoy the sweet scent of candles, rich freshly brewed coffee, or the sharp tang of a ripe peeled orange.
- Holding and sipping on your favorite warm beverage provides both information to touch and taste senses.
- Turn on your favorite music that relaxes you, or nature sounds like the forest, thunderstorm, or ocean waves.
Outdoor: Take a walk outside, preferably somewhere where you can be in nature, maybe at your local park, arboretum or trail system. Begin to alternate your attention between your different senses. Sight might be our strongest, and most obvious sense, but after viewing your surroundings, start to expand your awareness.
- Observe the unique displays of light and shadows in your surroundings, the colors of the leaves, the texture of the moss and the earth. Focus on what parts of nature are smooth, which are rough, soft or prickly.
- Look to see how many different types of plants you see just in the small area around you and how different each of their leaves and stem structures are.
- Think about all the colors of the rainbow and try to find something around you in each color.
- Listen to the sounds around you and consider closing your eyes—by “turning off” one sense, you are more likely to pay more attention to incoming information from your other senses. Are there birds chirping, leaves rustling in the breeze, or a squirrel scurrying in the trees above you?
- Reach down brush your hands across the grass, feeling how the delicate stems tickle your fingers.
- Take a few long, slow deep breaths in through your nose, and exhale fully. What smells do you notice lingering in the air?
- Feel the cool air on your skin and notice how quickly your nose starts to feel cold and your cheeks begin to flush.
- Pick a bouquet of greenery for yourself or a loved one or collect some small pebbles to remember your experience.
Our senses are meant to help us process information about our surroundings, helping us to navigate and make decisions through life. Whenever you feel overwhelmed, or are seeking something new, remember that our senses are a wonderful gift that allow us to enjoy the simple pleasures that surround us. Despite the challenges we are facing this year, remember to pause and explore the rich details each of your senses bring in, finding gratitude and peace during for a few small moments each day.