Therapist shares ways to reduce anxiety using your 5 senses

Amid the current coronavirus pandemic, where fear and uncertainty are causing anxiety levels to surge, it is now more important than ever to be proactive when it comes to mental health.

Jelani McMath, a primary therapist in the women’s trauma unit at Penn Medicine’s Princeton House Behavioral Health, recommends using the five senses as an easy and understandable jumping-off point when it comes to reducing stress.

“I know a lot is going on in today’s society,” she told In The Know. “I really just wanted to slow down and take a second to give five at-home tips that you can use to reduce anxiety using your five senses.”

“These skills really help us relax, not only mentally but physically as well,” she added.


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To invoke calmness using your sense of smell, McMath recommends something as simple as lighting a candle in your home.

For those with a candle aversion, she says anything that will immerse you in a cloud of pleasant, relaxing scent will do just fine.

“You can use essential oils, like lavender and eucalyptus,” she explained. “You can step outside and just smell the fresh air. Or, you can apply some scented lotion on your body.”


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To appease your racing mind through sight, McMath recommends to try looking back on old photos or videos that remind you of happy memories and better times.

“You can look at pictures of your safe place or just of nature in general,” she said. “Again, you can take a step outside and just observe the nature around you.”

Alternatively, McMath suggests looking at artwork that makes you feel calm.


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Have any Silly Putty or Play-Doh lying around?

McMath says the childhood favorites — or anything similar, such as a stress ball or clay —are a wonderful means to relieve stress through your sense of touch.

If your art supply stock is non-existent, worry not, as there are plenty of other ways to invoke touch.

“You can take a hot or cold shower. You can even use a weighted blanket,” she added. “And, if you’re someone that has a furry friend, you can use your playtime to also soothe your touch sense by touching their fur. You want to incorporate using anything soft, like a stuffed animal, or you could also use a fidget spinner.”


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In a piece of advice we can easily get behind, McMath says she recommends eating something “really strong that you can almost feel melt in your mouth” to achieve calm through your sense of taste.

“For example, a Hershey Kiss, just eating that slow and feeling that sensation of it melting in your mouth,” she described. “You can heat something up like tea or coffee, or you can drink something cold, something that’s going to bring you comfort in terms of your taste buds.”


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Lastly, in terms of hearing, McMath recommends blasting “your favorite tunes” or seeking out “different guided meditations through YouTube or through various phone apps” to allow your mind to escape the stress of reality.

“Or, you could simply listen to the natural sounds of nature,” she added.

For those seeking additional support, McMath pointed to the National Alliance on Mental Health’s website, which offers information on various mental illnesses as well as resources on where to find therapists in your own community.

The group also has a hotline, 1-800-950-NAMI, which you can call with any additional questions.

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