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Sensory Self Soothing Guide for Adults

We all forget to consciously seek out time to take care of ourselves.

Sometimes it simply gets too hard to focus on ourselves when we have so much to take care of with work, relationships, and all other commitments. 

With so many things competing for our time and energy, we often find very little leftover for us.
And this ends up making our needs and wants to be sidelined and ignored.

And I think we all know what happens when they stay ignored for a long time?

Punched by a sudden emptiness on the inside, we are battered from exhaustion and a mental fog develops in our head. We lose our sense of purpose and care towards anyone or anything and it feels damn scary.


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Working at my last job, I used to feel like this constantly day after day. Spending close to 15 hours on work and commute daily led to my night’s sleep turning into hours of blackout. 

With zero motivation towards work or the day, I simply didn’t want to get up from the bed in the morning. (Please share if you’ve gone through these experiences as well)

It was a constant struggle!

Fast forward to now, I’ve been living life on my own terms for almost 6 months since quitting from that job. But, as the saying goes,

“The struggle of life is one of our greatest blessings”

I did find a blessing during this particular period of struggle in my life which would eventually go on to become one of the fundamental self-care practices for my well-being. 

And that is what I am going to share with you today in this post with the hope that it helps you take care of yourself despite whatever difficult phase you might be going through in your life.

I am gonna cut to the chase and share what I have learned about the technique and the process that you can follow to start this self-care practice as well.

Our Five Senses

We all use our five senses to perceive and make sense of the world around us.
Those five senses are Touch, Sight, Smell, Hearing, Taste.

When something feels or smells or tastes or sounds nice or looks good, we generally feel calm and happy towards that thing.

Our senses are tightly intertwined with our emotions.
Researchers define this connection as a ‘conceptual association’ between a product and it’s perceived sensory effect. Our different senses relate to our emotions both psychologically and neurologically about any given thing.

All we have been doing ever since our birth is perceiving the sensory experiences of every possible thing around us and trying to understand how we feel about every single one of those experiences.

Generally, we perceive and identify the sensory experience of something through a combination of our different senses. Like we identify a banana through its color, taste, smell, and shape. 

Then there are things like music that can only be perceived through a single sense, which is by hearing.

And lastly, there are things that instill a cognitive connection along with the sensory experience.
You can think about a song’s lyrics along with the music that exemplifies the experience that the song delivers.

And among these millions of experiences, we all have identified certain sensory experiences that we prefer over others.
Usually, because they feel good. 
The emotions any particular experience delivers help you to make a judgment (This is so nice or this is icky) about the thing that caused that experience eventually shaping your likes and dislikes.

Hold this thought and let’s jump straight into the practice.

The Practice

I want you to remember one of your favorite music tracks.
Not a song (with lyrics), just a piece of music.
It can also be any track from a particular genre of music you love if you don’t have a specific favorite.

If possible, put on your headphones and play that track. 

Make sure that you’re not eating or smelling or touching anything in particular.

Slowly close your eyes as you listen to your favorite music. 

(Just feel the music without any thought and open your eyes when you’re done)

Sensory Self Soothing Guide for Adults
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Done? Awesome!

Now let’s take a moment to analyze how you feel right now.

Don’t you feel a sweet calmness in your mind? And every muscle in your body to be relaxed?

You feel weirdly blissful at the moment, don’t you?
I know it feels great!

And it was just a piece of music which gave you that soothing experience through its combination of sounds. You perceived those sounds through your sense of hearing alone. 

So we can say that you had a ‘uni-sensory experience’ by perceiving the music of your favorite track.

Make Your List

Now, I want you to list down as many as possible things that deliver your favourite uni-sensory experiences, separately for all the five different senses.

Ask yourself which sounds, smells, tastes, sights(colors, shapes, and patterns), and touches do you love
(Avoid things that make you think of something, like chirping sounds will probably make you think of birds)


Here’s my list of some of the things that deliver my favorite uni-sensory experiences for a reference:

  • I Love Hearing – Classical Music, EDM beats, Cello Music, Piano Music, Soundtracks by Hans Zimmer & A.R. Rahman
  • I Love Smelling – Scents of Strawberry, Caramel, Tea leaves, Mint, Tuberose flowers
  • I Love Tasting – Caramel, Dark Chocolate, Mango, Peanuts, Honey
  • I Love Touching – Cat/Dog Furry skin, Cool Dry Soil, Tree bark, Brick Wall, Grass, Moss
  • I Love Seeing – Shape & Colors of Mountains, Colors of Lush Green Nature, Wood surface patterns, Color of the Sky and shape of Clouds, Colors & Patterns inside a Kaleidoscope

Now that you have a list of your favorite uni-sensory things, it’s time to design a conscious self-care practice with them.

Hearing

  • Make a playlist of all the music tracks you’ve listed down as favorites.
    You can name it whatever you deem fit or you can use ‘Self-Care Tracks’ as I have. 
  • Take out a handful of time (5-10 mins) before bed or whenever you need to relax.
    Rest in a comfortable position and put on your headphones. Turn on that playlist.
  • Make sure that your sense of hearing is dominant by closing your eyes and not doing anything else which can distract your attention from the music.
  • Allow yourself to absorb all the different sounds and how they make you feel. Feel the sound from within your body. 
  • If you catch yourself thinking, stop, and just bring your focus back to the sound.

Smelling

  • After you’ve listed down the scents you love smelling, try to look around for anything that packs up any of those scents in them. For instance, I found some strawberry-scented lip balms and caramel scented perfumes which were perfect for this practice.
    Prefer not to use the actual eatable if you like its scent. Our sense of smell and taste are directly related as they use the same type of receptors. So, chances are you’d wanna put the eatable inside your mouth after smelling it.
  • Take out some time (5-10 mins) before bed or whenever you need to relax.
    Rest in a comfortable position. Take out the scent and start taking momentary whiffs of the fragrance.
  • Make sure that your sense of smell is dominant by closing your eyes and not doing anything else which can distract your attention from the fragrance.
  • Allow yourself to savour the aroma and how they make you feel. Feel the calmness within your body. 
  • If you catch yourself thinking or labeling the fragrance, stop, and just bring your focus back to the act of smelling.

Tasting

  • Now that you know which flavours you love tasting, the first step would be to buy them in eatable forms. Since your purpose is to taste and not to eat, take small enough bits to get the essence of your favorite flavour when you put it on your tongue.
  • Take out some time (5-10 mins) before bed or whenever you need to relax.
    Sit in a comfortable position. Flush the inside of your mouth with some water first. Put the small bit on your tongue and let it melt. Resist from chewing or swallowing it.
  • Make sure that your sense of taste is dominant by closing your eyes and not doing anything else which can distract your attention from the taste.
  • Allow yourself to relish the flavor and how it makes you feel. Observe as the inside of your mouth salivates to welcome the taste. 
  • If you catch yourself thinking or labeling the flavor, stop, and just bring your focus back to the act of tasting.

Touching

  • Once you’ve identified the surfaces or skins you love to touch, make a conscious effort to feel them out. If you have a furry friend and you love running your fingers through their skin, do it. In case of things similar to soil or tree bark, collect and keep them with you.
  • Take out some time (5-10 mins) before bed or in the morning or whenever you need to relax. Bring the particular surface and keep it in front of you. Become comfortable and start touching the surface minutely with as much exposure as possible. I would encourage you to rub and feel the surface on different parts of your skin as well.
    (For instance, I love the feel of cool dry soil on my face and under my feet)
  • Make sure that your sense of touch is dominant by closing your eyes and not doing anything else which can distract your attention from the sensations of touch.
  • Allow yourself to experience how it makes you feel. Feel the relaxation it causes within your mind and body.
  • If you catch yourself getting distracted by thoughts, stop, and simply bring your focus back to the act of touching.

Seeing

  • After you have identified the list of attributes of a thing (shape, color, pattern) you love to see, try to collect poster images of those things(mountains, nature, etc.) or experience them in their natural settings.(sky, clouds, trees, etc.) You can also buy certain things if available like the kaleidoscope or slab of wood. Prefer not to look through a digital screen. 
  • Take out some time (5-10 mins) before bed or in the morning or whenever you need to relax. Keep the poster or the pattern somewhere it can be seen easily. Sit in front of it. Become comfortable and just let yourself immerse into what you like about it.
    You can do the same by going out and just observing its shape or color or pattern if it’s a part of nature.
  • Make sure that your sense of sight is dominant by not doing anything else which can distract your attention from seeing and observing.
  • Allow yourself to notice whatever catches your attention. Feel the relaxation it causes within your mind and body.
  • If you start to think about what you see, stop, and simply bring your focus back to seeing and observing it.

There you go!
Five types of practices for your five different senses.
Whichever practice is convenient for you, start off with that.

I would suggest you try out all the five different sensory practices separately.
Doing that would help you observe and analyze how your body and mind reacts to the different senses.

Customize the practice to your convenience by dedicating time to doing any one practice or doing all the five of them sequentially one after another. Choose whatever helps your well-being.

Just remember to not combine any two or more practices together.
They are meant to be done separately.

Also, I don’t think there needs to be a scheduled time for these practices. Although having a scheduled practice can definitely help keep track of it.

I sit and practice it whenever I feel like because it doesn’t take much time. And it really provides me with the refreshment I need to get back to whatever I was doing. 

Definitely try to indulge in the practices whenever you feel anxious and stressed out. It helps me to relax significantly.

Connection With Mindfulness

If you have read my other posts on Mindfulness, you might know that the essence of any mindfulness practice lies in its three objectives which must be followed by everyone.

1. Your Intention should be to become aware of the present (and return to it again and again)

2. Your Attention should be on what is occurring in the present (on the  thoughts, feelings, sensations as they arise)

3. Your Attitude must be compassionate, non-judgmental, and curious in the present

Sensory Self Soothing Guide for Adults

Comparing the sensory self-care practice with any mindfulness practice, you can identify that:

By using only one single sense organ(smell), you set up an intention within yourself to become aware of the sensations(smelling), feelings, and overall experience that you perceive of your favorite thing.

By blocking the other senses, you let yourself focus your attention on the sensations and feelings that your favorite thing causes within your mind and body.

And lastly, because you choose the experiences and the things that you love, your attitude towards your feelings or sensations happens to be compassionate and non-judgemental.

The practice of sensory self-care is essentially a type of mindfulness practice, using only your five senses. The use of our senses makes the practice easier to adopt and anyone doing the practice can immediately feel the results.

Benefits of Mindfulness

Many studies have shown that even within a couple of weeks of practice, Mindfulness can bring a variety of physical, psychological, and social benefits. Some of them are:

1. Boosts our Immunity [Source]

2. Reduces negative emotions and stress [Source]

3. Improves focus and other cognitive abilities [Source]

4. Improves creativity [Source]

5. Helps in pain management [Source]

Mindfulness can be a primary way to enhance health and performance for some people. For others, it can be about exploring spirituality or more of themselves.

Many studies also claim that mindfulness helps to improve one’s sense of self, helps to fight obesity, fosters compassion and altruism, reduces anger, enhances relationships, and makes one more resilient to hardships.
Mindfulness practice is good for teens and school goers, parents, and parents-to-be, for business professionals, for health-care professionals, and for veterans as well.

The techniques of aromatherapy and music therapy also employ sensory soothing strategies for stress management in adults.

You don’t always need a mantra or a meditation pillow to practice mindfulness. 

By simply tuning into your senses and allowing your body to receive and cherish the wonderful creations that you’ve been blessed with can make you relish the present. 

And by attending to the present, you can truly experience the much needed self-care that we all ignore.


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