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Verified by Psychology Today

Calm Burnout With the 5 Senses

Simple methods to use throughout the day.

Key points

  • The senses take in information and store it in the subconscious. This can lead to feelings of nostalgia but also burnout and grief.
  • Burnout and unprocessed grief tend to sneak up during times of transition, such as the Fall season.
  • One can focus on the five senses to bring about a sense of calm, such as narrowing one's gaze on one aspect of an object.
Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash
Fresh Baked Cookies
Source: Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Smell evokes memories faster than any of the other senses. That’s why when people sell a house, they make sure to have cookies baking in the oven. The smell of fresh-baked cookies lures the buyer in by creating an association with positive memories of a childhood home.

The senses are working non-stop, taking in information and storing it in the subconscious. This information stacks up unnoticed and contributes to feelings of nostalgia, like with the smell of fresh-baked cookies, but can also become a contributor to burnout and grief.

As we move into Fall, and indoors, our worlds will once again shift, and each individual has to figure out how to recalibrate their day-to-day. This is also a time when we cling to past seasons, not just typical ones like summer, but seasons of joy, warmth, and calm. Reminiscing is inevitable, yet, it's during times of transition when burnout and unprocessed grief sneak up.

Calming Through the Physical Senses

During the colder months that nudge our moods toward sub-optimal, there are self-observances that help keep burnout at bay and aid calmness. A simple scan of all the senses is the perfect, low-stakes call to action on your journey with burnout and grief.

Photo by Solstice Hannan on Unsplash
Sight, Smell, Sound, Taste, and Touch
Source: Photo by Solstice Hannan on Unsplash


Look around you. Select one element in your field of vision to focus on, and break it into smaller parts. For example, if you’re looking at trees, look at the width and height of the tree, the branches, the colors of the leaves, and the individual leaves. If you’re in a city, watch one person as they pass and focus on their shoes until you can’t see the person any longer.


Identify a scent that is soothing. Allow your brain, psyche, and body to respond to that scent. Where did you go? Flowers, perfumes, and soaps are easily accessible items that can be used for this task. Take a cotton ball, dip it in your favorite scent, put it into a baggie, and when you need sensory self-soothing, smell the cotton ball.


Stop and listen to all the noises going on around you right now. Let the noises register; sit and watch them arrive leave your conscious thoughts. Listen to a song or instruments that engage the calm in you. There is an entire industry of calming music that is easy to access. But also pick music that excites you, or that maybe you have an emotional connection to. Like before, let the music register, observe how it sits in your mind and body, and let it pass without judgment.


Identify your favorite flavors or foods. Smell them. Put them in your mouth, and before you swallow, allow your tongue to be aware of the texture, temperature, and flavor. That focus will soothe you, even if only for a moment. Close your eyes when you taste the food, be aware of what you notice when they’re shut, versus when they’re open.

 Photo by Aleksandar Cvetanovic on Unsplash
Soft on Soft.
Source: Photo by Aleksandar Cvetanovic on Unsplash


Keep a piece of fabric around that feels good to you. Silk, cotton, or fleece can be comforting. If you have an animal, cuddle with it, or even touch your own hair to feel its softness or coarseness. Wash your hands in warm water. Wrap yourself in a favorite blanket.

Be on the lookout for unique ways to deal with burnout in the moment. Train your brain to practice being mindful of the inner and outer world. It doesn’t have to be a psychological deep dive to gain more agency over rapid, or subtle, mood shifts. Sometimes there are calming go-to exercises like these that can literally be done at any time.