Blake said that the body was the soul’s prison unless the five senses are fully developed and open. He considered the senses the ‘windows of the soul.”
destressifying through your five senses
One of the magnificent aspects of destressifying is that it is a no equipment necessary practice – meaning no gear is required to shift us from where we are to where we’d like to be – no pills, contraptions, external processes, or plug-ins. We use our five senses, our emotional intelligence, our heart, and our intellect. For thousands of years, these are the timeless tools that been handed down through generations to shift people into states of destressifying. And we continue that tradition here.
Our senses are the doorway to our world. We are a tactile, visual, aural, gustatory, olfactory species. We like to touch things, see them, sample them, feel them, taste them, smell them, hold them, listen to them, connect with others physically…and we are biologically and emotionally comforted through our senses. Let’s explore some real-world core steps to destressify through our connection with aromas, food, sounds, visuals, and our bodies.
We observe most of the world through our vision – because we can access something sitting right in front of us, or a mile away- simply by directing our attention. Additionally, we are a screen-based society – constantly looking at a monitor, a phone, a TV, a tablet, a back-up camera, a navigation system– looking, gazing, reading, watching videos, sending texts, checking messages. But there are powerful ways to destressify using our sense of sight.
First of all, the images that come into us through our eyes have direct impact on our emotions whether we are aware or not – but visual awareness can impact our interpretations, perceptions, beliefs, and our sense of stress. What we take in through our eyes can trigger fight-flight or total chill. Science has proven that positive imagery relaxes us – providing all the benefits of the destressified response – while negative visual impressions such as violence, pain, and sadness inform our emotions, our chemical and hormonal make-up, in an unconstructive way. Yes, of course, seeing a threat coming from off in the distance is very helpful … perhaps even life-saving. But in our day to day, what we absorb through our eyes is rarely life-threatening – yet it can create ripples of stress like any other stressor.
Do you have a Blue Mind?
The book Blue Mind by the compassionate, insightful conservationist, and game- changing marine biologist and research scientist Dr. Wallace J. Nichols has the sub-title The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do. The expansive view of the ocean – or any large body of water – seems to have a tranquilizing effect on our brain because there are no physical markers on it –like trees, or bends in the road, or sign posts- to limit or confine it in any way. We mirror our environment and contemplating the endless expanse of the ocean or the serene stillness of a lake will quickly relax you. J even suggests that simply having a glass of water near you or a blue marble in your pocket can create a destressifying theme.
We can destressify through our sense of sight by surrounding ourselves with soothing, relaxing, and life-affirming imagery. Depending on your typical stress response – do you lash out or shut down? Colors can create a nourishing, healing, and stress free environment. If you are prone to anxiety, worry, fear, second-guessing yourself, self-deprecation, or sadness, – surround yourself with earth tones, pastels, even white. If you are prone to irritation, anger, aggressiveness, abrasiveness, or confrontational interactions – surround yourself with cooling blues and soothing greens. Science is now actually heralding the value of spending time near blue waters.
Place pictures around your work-space that make you smile or feel good.
Place destressifying phrases on your dashboard, your bathroom mirror, the side of your monitor that connect you with inspiration, creativity, happiness, and joy. And surround yourself with destressifying colors such as soothing blues or cooling greens.
We are tactile beings wired for touch. We crave being touched, holding something, or touching another. As babies and children, we cradled our stuffed animal, slept with our doll, or cuddled with our blankie to soothe us when we were scared, sad, or lonely. As adults, we wear jewelry, rub worry stones, carry rosaries, rabbits feet, our favorite key chain…even gripping the steering wheel of our car can ease you from the stresses of the day.
The cover of this book displays a stress ball – one of the first inventions to help people deal with stress. Take a look at it right now – just the image of it is soothing. The technique of squeeze&release (no equipment necessary) gives you the same relief from stress when you don’t happen to have a stress ball around. And science has proven that by flexing our muscles and then easing them we induce a state of destressifying. Any kind of touch helps us sidestep stress in the moment.
Studies have shown that laboratory test rats injected with cancer cells survive longer if they are petted. We will live longer and more stress-free if we are petted – even if it’s by our own self! Hugging others, petting animals (adopt your next pet), even wearing clothes that make us feel sexy or comfortable will relieve stress in the moment. And of course any type of physical repetitive or energizing activity will also destressify us. Rolling your shoulders releases lots of tension in your upper body and rolling your neck in small or big circles has the same effect. Taking a walk, tapping your toes, bouncing on your heels, stroking or self-massaging your arms, legs, lower back, and even your scalp can be powerful relaxation techniques that soothe you emotionally as well.
Mindfulness meditation, which we previously discussed, is a “bodymind” meditation, because you are taking in energy and information from all of your senses—your hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, breathing, and feeling everything in your body that you can feel, including the largest organ in your body: your skin. But there are also more intimate physical forms of meditation that involve the connection between two people, such as in partner yoga, massage, and lovemaking.
A truly gifted therapist can destressify you with just one touch. Giving someone a massage can be destressifying in itself. And surrendering to the nurturing and healing touch of massage treatment is certainly one of the most stress-relieving gifts you can give yourself as you surrender your physiology, relax your mind, and open your heart a bit. Receiving a massage is a fully present-moment-awareness experience. Regardless of where your mind wanders, you are continuously brought back to the object of your attention: wherever you are being touched in a given moment and whatever energetic or emotional connection the sensation of touch triggers. Physical and emotional destressifying in one fell swoop!
There are thousands of books and videos on massage, so I will defer to these experts on “the best” or “the most effective” modalities of massage. Personally, I prefer traditional Ayurvedic massage, a form of massage therapy, which uses warm, herb-infused oil that permeates your pores. In addition to the destressifying benefits of kneading your skin and relaxing your muscles, Ayurvedic massage de-stressifies your mind through aromatherapy which I’ll discuss in a bit when we address the sense of smell.
If you don’t happen to have a massage therapist on call, you can always perform a self-massage. I suggest this every morning before you bathe or shower. I recommend a lavender or sesame oil. And if you are looking for top quality Ayurvedic oil, I suggest you visit Shankara.com for the finest, purest herbalized body oils. Here’s how to perform a self-massage:
Sit or stand comfortably in a warm room and run your bottle of oil under a hot stream of water. After a few minutes, pour some oil (sesame is best but any massage oil will do) into the palm of your hand.
Rub them gently together and then massage your left hand with your right. Start by pressing your right thumb into the palm of your hand and using a clockwise motion make larger circles in you palm. Spend time rubbing the part of your palm closer to the wrist and then freestyle your thumb all over your palm. Then move to your pinky and massage it moving from the base to the tip of the finger. Continue with your other fingers. Grip, squeeze and release each of your fingers as you invigorate every millimeter of your hand and then do the same with the other hand.
Now that your hands are pulsing with excitement, move your hands to the crown of your head and work slowly out from there in circular strokes—spend a few minutes massaging your entire scalp
Then move down your head, massaging in small upward circular motions on your forehead, temples, cheeks, nose, lips, and jaws (This is like a mini-facelift). Then move to your ears, and massage every part of each ear, especially your ear-lobes and behind your ears as well.
Move to your shoulders and in circular motions, repeatedly roll your hand over your shoulder, then your upper arm, spending time on the front and back of your bicep and tricep. Then in circular motions around your elbow, and then on both sides of your forearm. Remember to use long strokes on the limbs (arms and legs) and circular strokes on the joints (shoulders, elbows, knees, and ankles).
Move to your chest, and massage your abdomen and chest in broad, clockwise, circular motions. On the abdomen, follow the path of the large intestine; moving up on the right side of the abdomen, then across, then down on the left side (stay clockwise). Proceed down to your hips. Give them a good rub, and then put some dedicated time on your legs. Use both hands on your legs, starting with your thighs moving in long broad strokes at first and then gripping the inner and outer thigh using squeeze and release.
Remember go only as hard as feels comfortable. Circular motions on your knees – front and back. And then using the same broad up and down strokes you used on your thighs, do the same to your sin and calf. Go circular on your ankles and then spend some dedicated time on your feet… just like you did with your hands. Spend a little extra time on your feet considering you stand on them so much – really take the time to knead them and use squeeze & release on each toe. Rub between your toes and on the top of your foot as well. Sit with the oil for a few minutes so that it can absorb and penetrate into the deeper layers of the body. Then carefully get into the shower or bath and let the warm water gently wash away the oil still on the surface. Use a mild body wash or soap to actually clean yourself and remove any excess oil you don’t want to get on your clothes. And then gently blot your towel on your body to remove any remaining traces.
I am also a devotee of Thai massage, which is most often practiced clothed. It is similar to having someone do yoga to you. Your Thai massage therapist actually moves you into positions akin to yoga poses and then holds you in those positions as you breathe into them . . . merge into them… as your body becomes theirs. Slowly and effortlessly you stretch, millimeter by millimeter, further than you otherwise thought you could. Stretch your body . . . stretch your mind . . . stretch your heart. The process is extremely destressifying. And it is very easy under these circumstances to surrender to the present moment.
Each of us has a particular song, rhythm, or music that we like to hear when we want to be relaxed. Some of us prefer songs from our childhood or soft tones to lull us into states of tranquility; others a soothing guided meditation or the voice of a loved-one; and still others surrender to spa music or sounds of nature to wind them down. There are as many destressifying sounds as there are people on the planet, and the ebb and flow of the ocean’s waves have been calming people for millennia. It’s now been scientifically proven through research by Dr. Nichols and brain imagining studies in Europe, that proximity to water actually floods the brain with feel-good hormones such as dopamine and oxytocin. Levels of the stress hormone cortisol actually drop when we hear the sound of water and our focus increases. So even if you don’t live near an ocean or waterway – you can place a trickling fountain, rippling sound of water, or bubbling fish tank within ear shot and you will subconsciously destressify.
In addition to all these environmental sounds destressifying us, there is of course the sound of the human voice. And our ability to listen to others really carefully as they speak is an important conflict resolution tool. When we listen for what is felt as well as what is said, we tap in more deeply to the message. Dogs don’t actually understand the words we say to them; but they read our body language, the cadence of our voice, and the tone of what we say. When we listen, we connect more deeply to our own needs and emotions, and to those of other people. Listening also strengthens us, informs us, and makes it easier for others to hear us when it’s our turn to speak.
I’ve written many articles about sound waves and dedicated an entire chapter to it in Secrets of Meditation. Several of my guided meditations have alpha, theta & delta waves woven into the background music to help your brain slow down. When you listen to slower sound waves, your brain begins to emit those same type of waves. In our natural waking state our brain sends out beta waves; as we slow through destressifying we move into alpha; as we go deeper into relaxation we move to theta waves; and our state of deep sleep is delta waves. I invite you to experience this sensation of entraining your brain using sound waves; just visit davidji.com/destressifying where you can stream a few of my guided meditations that have sound waves integrated into them.
Water is the perfect destressifying elixir – hydrating every cell and especially our brain, which is made up primarily of water. Ideally, the water should be room temperature so it can be absorbed most quickly without having to be warmed by the body – but there’s nothing like an ice-cold refreshing glass of water or a splash of water on your face to help you release stress in your jaw, temples, neck, and head.
Stress and food have always been connected because of our propensity to emotionally eat when our needs are unfulfilled. Eating is the perfect solution when we feel lonely, less-than, sad, hopeless. And we now know because of the rise and fall of our sugar levels that the more stressed you are, the more cortisol & glucagon will surge into you and the more you will reach for sugars and carbs to comfort you and ease your stress over unmet needs. Those with consistent diets are less likely to be stressed than those whose eating is all over the place. Ever sat down and inhaled an entire bag of chips or container of popcorn?Learn About Stressful Foods
Foods higher in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals will fuel you more effectively lessening your stress hormones. And we know that there is a monster list of foods that heighten stress, such as:
- FLUNC foods – Frozen, Left-overs, Unnatural, Nuked, or Canned
- Soft drinks
- Caffeinated coffee and tea – Caffeine stays in the body for up to six hours before it starts to break down triggering long-term infusions of cortisol.
Replace them with these stress-busters:
- Fresh vegetables
- Omega fatty acids
- Chamomile and herbal teas
- Chewing on ice rather than junk foods
Classic stress-inducing behaviors include eating while you are anxious, arguing, or angry. Reach for SODA (not soda pop) in those moments instead of ice cream and step back from the fridge. You’ll quickly destressify in those five seconds. Try eating in silence once a day – no TV, no devices, and no conversation. The concept of mindful eating will surprise you with its simple calming effect.
- Don’t stand while you eat.
- Don’t eat behind the wheel.
- Don’t walk or talk on the phone while you eat, and
- Don’t eat while you type at your computer.
Ancient wisdom says to eat your largest meal of the day at lunch – yet we all think of dinner as our big meal. If you can shift this a few times a week, your bloat and indigestion will become a thing of the past. Think of all the stress we have regarding digestion and elimination. By following a few basic rules, you will have less indigestion; you will transcend the need to nap mid-day. Try to eat all the colors of the rainbow in each meal. And if you need to snack during the day – ideally you shouldn’t need to, if lunch is your largest meal – try fresh organic food so you don’t have to deal with pesticides or processed chemicals. Take some time with your eating – see if you can eat mindfully… without TV, without talking… without reading… without touching your device. When we are able to more consistently witness our eating behaviors, we can see our non-nourishing behaviors in a more objective light, and rather than being defensive or impulsive, we can then make more conscious, life-affirming choices regarding our food.
Our connection to smells and the meaning they have carved into our nervous system is profound. Olfaction is our most primal sense and in a nanosecond can trigger memories of our grandmother’s freshly baked cookies, our grade-school teacher’s perfume, or the musty cabin of our childhood summer camp. Events from decades ago are resurrected in our mind when the right aroma wafts into our nostrils. And we can also use distinct aromas to fully enter the present moment for short periods of time. Scrape your nails across a lemon or orange and take several long slow deep breaths of the fresh citrus aroma – it will calm you in moments.
Smell is so relaxing, you can even choose to immerse yourself in a scent as a form of meditation. Light a candle or incense that release a soothing aroma. Or rub an essential oil on your hands and take a long deep breath in. And then just allow the aroma to do its magic. This process awakens aspects of your nasal receptors that you may not have felt before. And it will consistently provide you with short bursts of present-moment awareness and stress release.
Scent can be a powerful memory trigger even when you’re not in the kitchen. They work quite effectively during a massage (and you can even use them in the shower or bath to start your day on a calming note). So, identify aromas and fragrances that comfort you and see if you can reproduce them in your life. These are the herbal aromas that can instantly balance, calm, soothe and relax you upon breathing them in:
- All citrus smells such as orange, lemon, and grapefruit
Surround yourself with aromas that make you smile or relax. Light a candle, burn some incense, scrape your nails across a lemon skin, or crack open a grapefruit and you will feel instant destressifying. Identify the aromas that instantly cool you down or destressify you. You can buy them online or at any Whole Foods or organic grocery store. Every time you feel a stressor in your life, pop the cap and breathe. Many of these aromas come in roll-ons, essential oils, candles, powders, and incense sticks, so get the one that works for you.
Our senses are constantly “on” and so is your potential for stress. So let’s use these magnificent God-given aspects of our being to nourish us when the circumstances around us -or the feelings within us- aren’t so accommodating.
Attention & Intention
We absorb the world through our senses – and mostly (as with the non-stop swirl of thoughts), what flows into us is overwhelming. There is no way our brain can simultaneously process everything you are hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, and feeling. So you get to choose – where do you want to place your attention? If you make a commitment to direct your attention on a particular visual, sound, smell, taste, or physical feeling – and use that sense as the object of your attention for 16seconds – you will start realizing that you get to choose where your energy goes rather than having it “pulled” in a hundred different directions. You can hone this skill anytime you feel overwhelmed, by simply taking a long, slow, deep breath in and then being fully present with the object of your attention. If it’s not a visual, then close your eyes as you breathe in – and the swirl will stop!
Everything in life is about attention (where do we direct our energy?) and intention (what is the purpose we bring to the moment?). We’ve explored what we can do with our five senses to destressify in the moment. Now let’s look at the lifestyle choices we can make to proactively flow destressifying into every thought, conversation, interaction, and choice.