Sight. Sound. Touch, Smell. Taste. Most people go about their days not even aware that they are using the senses they have been given to experience the world around them.
Focusing attention on the five senses can be a way to cultivate a deeper appreciation for the world around us, says Micah Reimer, a community mental-health worker with Communitas Supportive Care Society in Abbotsford. He supports people living with mental-health challenges as they journey towards wellness.
For someone experiencing anxiety, depression, or panic attacks, Reimer says the senses are tools that can be used to restore mental health. It’s as simple as just noticing.
He believes so strongly in the power of using one’s senses as a mental-wellness tool that he has incorporated it into his business card.
Reimer knows first-hand what it is like to live with these challenges and how powerful it is to harness one’s senses.
“I first learned about grounding techniques when I was in college,” he says. “I stumbled upon them by accident when trying to rid myself of some awful days filled with anxiety, depression, and crippling panic attacks. That was when I discovered the power of ‘just noticing.’ ”
To “just notice” is to do exactly that: to stop in the middle of a mental-health challenge and use the five senses to focus your awareness and help you feel grounded.
You begin with sight, and count your way through each sense, taking notice of what is around you:
• notice five things you can see
• notice four things you can hear
• notice three things you can feel/touch
• notice two things you can smell
• notice one thing you can taste
By following these simple steps, Reimer says people can halt the thoughts and chatter going on in their mind, helping them to become grounded in reality.
“The purpose of grounding is to use all your senses to fully immerse yourself in the here and now,” he explains. “It brings you away from unwanted thoughts and distressing feelings into the present moment by focusing on the present.”
One doesn’t have to wait for a moment of crisis to practise this. In fact, Reimer says it is something that should be cultivated on a daily basis. He says it’s best experienced when it’s paired with a walk in nature.
“Grounding is great when you’re ‘forest bathing,’ ” he says, referring to a Japanese concept of shinrin-yoku – immersing oneself in the forest atmosphere and experiencing it through one’s senses.
Reimer has used this practice for 15 years and says it’s important to develop this tool so that it becomes a natural response when those moments of anxiety arise.
“The goal is to have it be an automatic response, like accessing an emergency blanket,” he says. “I’ve used it as a mental health first-aid tool for panic attacks but I also use it when feeling totally well. It has benefits for all of us, even if we don’t associate ourselves with having mental0health challenges.”
That’s one of the reasons he has put the symbols on the back of his business card. It’s an easy reference for anyone wanting to practise grounding themselves, no matter what situation they find themselves in.
“It’s such a powerful tool and it’s so easy,” Reimer says. “Just notice.”
Visit CommunitasCare.com/services to learn more about Communitas mental-health services.