Calming the Nervous System Through the Five Senses
When our nervous system is in fight/flight or shut down mode, our senses heighten as a way to locate and identify potential threats and harm. Our eye sight may become more focused, our hearing becomes clearer, touch sensations are felt with more intensity and our sense of smell may become more sensitive.
When our nervous system mistakes a stimulus associated with our trauma as a real and imminent threat, I like to shift the use of the senses searching for harm to signs of safety and calm. This list provides examples of ways one can use their senses to help signal to their nervous system that they are safe and the fight/flight/ shutdown response is not needed. The more we layer these activities or sensations the stronger the signal is to the body that we are safe and can shift back into our ventral/safe and social nervous system state.
Wrapping self in a soft blanket
Petting an animal
Cuddling with a loved one
Having your hair played with or brushing your hair
Self massage/ receiving a massage
A warm bath or shower
Holding a cup of warm tea/coffee
Using a heat pack on a part of your body
Wrapping yourself in a heated blanket
Giving yourself a hug or asking a loved one for a hug
Hugging your pet
Laying on the grass
Splashing cold water on your face or holding an ice cube
The smell of your favourite hot meal
Outdoor smells (such as cut grass, water, forests, cedar, campfire, wet fall leaves)
A favourite cup of coffee or tea
Bath products or lotions
A favourite drink (I highly recommend the Lavender Steamer from cafe Pyrus)
A favourite meal or take out place
Herbs (such as chewing mint)
A favourite band/song/playlist (I recommend making playlists for different moods)
The sound of a loved ones voice
The sound of someone reading to you
Reading out loud
Singing/ humming to self
Listening to a loved one sing
The sound of your pets heartbeat
Listening to the sound of people (eg. Going to a park and people watching)
Photography (I recommend a photography table book to look through as opposed to scrolling on Instagram - these can be purchased fairly inexpensively via a used bookstore)
Looking at art or going to a museum
Looking at things that bring forward positive memories
Looking at things in your favourite color
Going to a dog park and watching the dogs play
Going to a garden or animal nursery
There are also a number of ways you can calm the nervous system by activating ventral (safe and social) tone - some of these include utilizing or activating the vagus nerve and giving signs to your nervous system you are safe in other ways. If you are unfamiliar with the Vagus Nerve, refer to my essay on Patreon: A Summary of the Vagus Nerve and Polyvagal Theory for Survivors of Childhood Trauma
Ways to Activate Ventral Tone:
Looking around the room to find items that bring a sense of enjoyment.
Inducing a sense of awe and/or curiosity.
Extending exhale to be longer than inhale.
Shared breath, gentle eye contact or smiling with another human.
Swallowing, gulping, humming, clicking tongue, yawning.
Massaging face, sides of the neck and back of the neck.