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Anxiety

"SuperSenses": A Novel Tool for Emotional Wellbeing

How tapping into your dominant sense can reduce anxiety and increase wellbeing.

Key points

  • Understanding which of your senses is most sensitive can ease anxiety.
  • Utilizing sense-specific strategies is a simple and effective way to improve emotional wellbeing.
  • For mental health professionals, helping yourself emotionally will help you to better serve your clients.

Most of us have five functioning senses that receive input from the outside world. However, these senses aren’t weighted equally.

While research shows that most of us lean on our visual sense most heavily, we may undervalue the influence of our other senses when it comes to emotional triggers. Understanding how often we are emotionally triggered by a noise, a scent, a taste, or tactile stimuli can be very useful information. I have found in my practice that many have one sense—what I call a "SuperSense"—that tends to trigger emotional distress more than the others.

For instance, some individuals find they're more emotionally reactive to sounds than those around them. Others find they're more reactive to smells than the rest of their family or coworkers. Still, others find they're bothered by minute details in their visual field more easily than most.

I find it helpful to notice the language used when speaking to people. Often, this provides a hint as to the sensory input most likely to induce an emotional response. Are you more likely to say “I think I get what you’re saying,” “I see what you mean,” “I feel you,” or “I hear you.”? Marketing and sales experts have long utilized this approach when attempting to sell products or services to the general public. Marketers recommend using a variety of descriptors so as to cast a wide net of potential customers.

If you feel that you have a SuperSense, you can use it to your advantage. For mental health practitioners, especially, your own mental health is vital. The less anxious and more emotionally energized you are, the more effectively you can show up for your clients.

By utilizing the following strategies, you can access tactics that are particularly powerful for you—based on your particular sensory attunement. You can use these SuperSense-specific strategies to both calm your nervous system and boost your energy levels when needed.

Here’s how they work: When you want to reduce your feelings of frustration or overwhelm, I recommend you minimize the input to your particular SuperSense. When you want to improve your mood and increase your energy level, you’re going to selectively amplify the input to your SuperSense.

(Not sure of your SuperSense? Take my quiz to find out.)

Roberto Nickson/Unsplash
Roberto Nickson/Unsplash

If You’re a Visual SuperSensor:

Feeling flustered? Try this:

  1. Cover the laundry pile with a neutral-colored blanket.
  2. Take any pile of papers that has been sitting out for more than two weeks and place them out of sight in a drawer or closet.
  3. Choose one counter or table in your home and spend ten minutes clearing it and wiping it clean every morning.
  4. Make your bed.
  5. Temporarily remove colorful pillows, artwork, and knickknacks from view.

Need a boost? Try this:

  1. Step outside and look up at the trees and sky (any nature around you).
  2. Do a Google image search for your favorite tourist destination and peruse the photos.
  3. Look through old photo albums or “moments” on your Facebook page.
  4. Spend a few minutes watching waves, a running stream, or ripples on a lake if you live near any bodies of water.
  5. Look through architecture or home magazines you find beautiful.
Source: mahdi chaghari/Unsplash
Source: mahdi chaghari/Unsplash

If You’re an Auditory SuperSensor:

Feeling flustered? Try this:

  1. Use earplugs or headphones in your workspace, bedroom, and kitchen (or wherever unwelcome noises are most likely to occur).
  2. Use the white noise app on your phone to drown out loud or sudden noises.
  3. Try taking three slow deep breaths to regain your emotional equilibrium when triggered by a harsh or sudden noise.

Need a boost? Try this:

  1. Create or borrow two playlists; one for when you want to calm down and relax your nervous system, and another for when you want to amp up and energize your nervous system.
  2. Listen to music you loved between the ages of 14-24.
  3. Call a friend whose voice always engages and soothes you.
Shashi Chaturvedula/unsplash
Shashi Chaturvedula/unsplash

If You’re a SuperSmeller:

Feeling flustered? Try this:

  1. Keep the windows open or fans on in your home (and the bathroom door closed).
  2. Clean the stove often to minimize the chances of burning something unwanted and creating nasty smells.
  3. Teach the kids how to wash their own laundry as young as possible (I recommend a step stool for a top-loading washer).

Need a boost? Try this:

  1. Order a few of your favorite essential oil scents to keep beside your bed, in the kitchen, in the car, and in your workspace.
  2. Use candles or creams with your favorite scent to help elicit a calming sensation in your nervous system.
  3. Close your eyes and take three slow deep breaths when you detect a smell you love—like your morning coffee, the sweet scent of a pastry, or the flowers blooming outside. (Literally, stop and smell the flowers.)
Amin Hasani/Unsplash
Amin Hasani/Unsplash

If You’re a Tactile SuperSensor:

Feeling flustered? Try this:

  1. Cut the tags off your clothes.
  2. Wear 100 percent cotton (for any clothing that touches your skin).
  3. Wash your sheets more frequently to get out any sand or crumbs (I’m not the only one with sand and crumbs in my bed, am I?)
  4. Notice your sensitivity to temperature fluctuations and keep layers nearby so that you’re comfortable.

Need a boost? Try this:

  1. Find a favorite sweater or scarf and lay it over your office chair.
  2. Spend ten minutes petting your cat or dog (or borrow a neighbor’s pet).
  3. Find a tactile talisman like a smooth stone or small furry stuffed animal to rub or hold between your fingers throughout the day.
Pablo Merchán Montes/Unsplash
Pablo Merchán Montes/Unsplash

If You’re a SuperTaster:

Feeling flustered? Try this:

  1. Keep packets of your favorite flavor of gum or mints nearby at all times.
  2. Brush your teeth or use mouthwash throughout your day, particularly after meals and snacks.
  3. Drink lots of water.

Need a boost? Try this:

  1. Have your favorite teas or coffee creamers on hand.
  2. Every week, plan to make, order in, or go out for a particularly delicious meal.
  3. Keep your go-to flavor (garlic, Himalayan salt, turmeric, etc.) in the kitchen to add an extra kick to meals and snacks.

This is an important tool to add to your emotional satchel. You can proactively notice and then modulate your sensory input to unfluster yourself. As someone focused on supporting the emotional and mental health of others, you deserve to have an emotional toolbox full of effective strategies. A mental health practitioner is much better equipped to heal others when they themselves are whole and well.

In my book, The Unflustered Mom, I share more simple, practical tools like these.

References

https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/14/4/2334

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/295478713_Sensory_Marketing

https://www.brainline.org/article/vision-our-dominant-sense

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