Change your mood with your senses
Discover the power of your senses.
Kate Toholka writes.
We all experience good days and bad days. On the good days, we can feel energetic, productive and completely high on life. On the bad days, we can feel irritable, anxious, sad or stressed.
There are a range of strategies and activities to help us deal with our moods. Practising yoga, exercising, eating clean foods, avoiding sugary foods, resting and talking to someone are all effective ways to improve how we feel. What you might not know is that in addition to these activities, your five senses play a huge role in not only how you feel, but also have the ability to shift your mood.
Touch is a sense located in your skin that triggers anything that touches you. On a deeper level, there’s proprioceptive touch, which is knowing where your body is in space, and then there’s vestibular sensations, which is our sense of balance and movement.
When we’re feeling anxious, deep pressure touch sensations – like strong hugs or a deep massage – can be really effective at calming us down. On the flip side, if you need to snap out of a low mood, go for lighter touch. Things like tickling, snapping a rubber band on your wrist or simply moving to a cooler room can help.
Exercise, which taps into our proprioceptive and vestibular senses, is a very popular coping strategy for those bad days, but be mindful which form of exercise you choose. If you’re feeling anxious, the last thing you want to do is get your heart rate up on a fast-paced run. Instead, choose muscle-bearing exercises such as Pilates, yoga or even weight training. Heavy weights have a calming effect as they tap into the vestibular senses, whereas cardio-based activities will jazz you up, making them a better option if you’re feeling lethargic or sad. Stuck at work and feeling the Monday blues? Sit and bounce on an exercise ball to give your vestibular system a re-energising boost.
There has been a steady rise of essential oils in the wellness world, and for good reason. Smell is an incredibly powerful sense because it ties directly to our memory. Have you ever smelt a delicious lamb roast and remembered visiting your grandma when you were little? Or does the scent of a freshly baked cake take you back to your mum’s kitchen? There’s a reason why you remember scents and it’s got to do with the way our brains process smell. Smells get routed through your olfactory bulb, which is the smell analysing region in your brain. This is closely connected to the amygdala and hippocampus, which are the regions in the brain that handle memory and emotion.
Due to this, particular smells can trigger different responses in people. If a certain smell triggers a bad memory, it’s not going to help your bad mood, so avoid these at all costs. When you’re feeling sad or low in energy, opt for strong smells that have a spicy, tangy tinge to them. Mint, lemon and citrus are great, as are scented flowers. And if you’re feeling anxious, opt for a softer, soothing smell like vanilla.
Do you have a notoriously messy desk or are you rigidly clean without a paper clip in sight? That tells you a lot about your visual preferences. Some people need a lot of visual stimuli (i.e. the messy desks) to feel comfortable in their space, whereas others need very little visual stimuli. Knowing which one you prefer will help you to shift your bad mood by simply changing what’s around you.
If you’re feeling stressed and prefer a clean, sparse environment, take a look around to see if there’s too much going on for you. Take note of any bright colours, strong lighting, or intense visual images. If you can, take all these things away. But if you can’t, then limit your exposure to them. You can do this by wearing sunglasses, turning the lights down or changing the way you are positioned or seated.
On the other hand, if you’re a messy person who loves bright colours and lots of movement around you, be sure to keep your environment visually chaotic when you’re in a low mood. You can take a break and go to a busy coffee shop, watch a short but highly action-packed video clip or get out a few pads of brightly coloured Post-It Notes and decorate your desk with them.
There’s a reason why we reach for the tub of ice-cream when we’re feeling blue: the sugar gives us a rush that helps us feel better in the short-term. But it’s not just the sugar doing the trick; it’s the taste, too.
When we feel sad, we intuitively do what we can to make ourselves feel better in the moment. If you need a perk-up, opt for strong, tangy or even spicy foods, and snack on raw vegetables or homemade popcorn for the extra crunch.
On the flip side, when you need to calm the nerves, it’s best to choose foods that are mild in taste. Try some natural yoghurt, some blueberries or enjoy a cup of chamomile tea.
Have you noticed that all meditation music is soft, gentle and slow? Mellow music is great for calming your nerves and anxiety. Louder, offbeat and quick-paced music is great to jerk you out of a low mood and help you on those morning jogs.
Of course, there are times when we’re exposed to noises that we can’t escape. That jackhammer from the construction site next door isn’t exactly helping your anxiety, is it? Always keep some earplugs or your iPod at your desk to help tune out those unwanted sounds, especially if you’re more prone to experiencing feelings of anxiety. They can limit the distracting noise and help you to shift out of your bad mood.
Our senses are amazing and can really influence our mental health. Make a point of taking the time to tap into how you best interact with your environment. Do you prefer loud, noisy places or quiet libraries? Are you a bit of an adrenalin junkie or do you prefer relaxing activities? Do you need to have spicy, exotic foods or do you like subtle flavours? The more you understand your senses, the better you’ll be at using them to shift from a bad mood to a good one.
NEXT: Are you the creative kind? Discover the benefits of art therapy.