This material is for information and support; not a substitute for professional advice.
Be a Stress-Busting Detective
DISCOVER THE QUICK STRESS RELIEF TECHNIQUES THAT WORK FOR YOU
The stress-relieving power of the senses
You can use your senses to soothe, comfort, and invigorate yourself almost immediately. All you need are a few short minutes. The key is to find out what exact kinds of sensory experiences most quickly help you feel clear-headed and in control.
Do you need to calm down or do you need to get a jumpstart?
Start by identifying whether you tend to get overexcited when stressed, or whether you tend to shut down.
- If you get heated up or agitated under stress… focus on activities that quiet you down.
- If you space out or shut down under stress… focus on activities that are energizing.
- If you tend to get agitated in some ways while slowing down in others . . . focus on activities that provide both safety and stimulation to help you “reboot” your system.
How will I know what works for me?
There is a difference between sensory experiences that are pleasant—that you like—and sensory experiences that are so intense and enjoyable they quickly balance your nervous system. The aim is to find experiences that are strong enough to rapidly grab the attention of your nervous system, instantly making you feel both calm and alert. You’ll know it when you find it. If the effect is subtle, keep investigating.
It’s important to identify sensory experiences that:
- Both relax and energize you
- Have an instant impact on your stress
- Are enjoyable and make you feel good
- Consistently work for you
- Are always available or easily accessible
What has worked to calm you in the past?
What sensory experience put you to sleep as a child, or calmed and soothed you when you felt distressed as a youngster? Was it a soft blanket or cuddly stuffed animal? Was it the touch of a worn leather baseball mitt or the feel of a soft rabbit’s foot? If you found something comforting as a child, you may well still find the same sensation comforting as an adult. Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to carry a thirty year-old teddy bear around with you. Instead:
- Try wearing a robe, hat, or scarf that has a texture you find soothing and comforting.
- If you found movement calming and soothing as a child, try sitting in a rocking chair.
- If music or humming helped you sleep as a child, experiment with different tunes or sounds to find one that relaxes you.
As you practice the Ride the Wild Horse mindfulness meditation in this toolkit, you’ll need to rely on sensory props that help you quickly manage stress, so try to find items that are accessible enough to keep nearby as you listen to the audio meditation.
Experimenting with your senses
Here comes the fun part. 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.
As you experiment, be as precise as possible. What is the most perfect image, the specific kind of sound, or type of movement that affects you the most? For example, if you’re a music lover, listen to many different artists and types of music until you find the song that instantly lifts and relaxes you.
The examples listed below are intended only to be a jumping-off point. Give your imagination free reign and come up with additional sensory experiences to try.
If you’re a visual person, try to relieve stress by surrounding yourself with soothing and uplifting images. You can also try closing your eyes and imaging 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.
- Gaze at a scene from your window that brings you pleasure.
- Surround yourself with colors that lift your spirits.
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 a hum a favorite tune.
- Tune in to a soundtrack of nature, such as crashing waves, 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 & 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.
- Smell roses, lavender, or another type of flower.
- Open the window and enjoy the smell of fresh air.
- Spritz on your favorite perfume or cologne.
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).
- Wear clothing that feels soft or silky against your skin.
Slowly savoring a favorite treat can be very relaxing, but mindless 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.
- Eat a perfectly ripe piece of fruit.
- Enjoy a healthy, crunchy snack (celery, carrots, or trail mix).
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:
- Tap your heels.
- Stretch or roll your head in circles.
- 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, try simply imagining vivid sensations when stress strikes. Believe it or not, the sheer 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 quick stress relief tools.
Keep a stress-busting diary
As you put your stress-busting detective skills to work, experimenting with different types of sensory experiences, ask yourself the following questions (the answers will help you focus on what really works for you):
- What was the situation that made you stressed? Did your reaction to the situation contribute to your stress?
- How did the situation make you feel, emotionally and physically (e.g. sick to your stomach, tense in you jaw)?
- What sensory activity did you try?
- How did you feel afterwards? Emotionally? Physically?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how well did the activity work for you? Did you immediately feel better or not?
Keep a stress-busting diary
Click here for a simple diary to help you keep track of your experiments and progress.