The five sense immersion exercise is something I do whenever I find myself lost in and overwhelmed by my noisy mind.
How this exercise can help with anxiety
When we are suffering from constant anxiety, all of our attention is on our thoughts and bodily sensations, at least most of the time. It really depends on how severe it is. The more severe our anxiety is, the harder it is to focus on anything but our anxiety. Whatever has our attention grows. This is why we feel more anxious when we focus on it. It’s hard to experience life at it’s fullest when we are so fixated on our anxious state. We miss the joy of the present moment. We take for granted the most simplest of things. Things that are unfolding all around us each second. The sounds of birds chirping, the taste of that chocolate brownie, the soothing sensation we feel when being in a hot bath and so on.
I used to spend my entire waking day completely absorbed in my anxiety. I was so focused on my anxiety that I couldn’t even pay attention to the taste of foods. Anxiety is always the focal point of our sensory attention. This is why I couldn’t taste anything because my sensory perceptions where elsewhere.
I would try and find out why I was suffering, talk to my family about it, dwell on my anxious thoughts and feelings and so on. Without realising it, I was digging myself deeper and deeper into the pit of anxiety.
When our attention is taken away from our anxious thoughts and sensations, we temporarily forget about how we are feeling. As you already know through your own experience, it doesn’t take long before your attention to be back on the anxiety. This happens for two reasons. The first reason why we automatically check in to see if we’re still anxious is because we want it gone. There’s no doubt about it. It’s only expected and natural for us to want an unpleasant emotional (or any) experience to be over with.
The second reason why we automatically see if our anxiety is still alive inside of us is because we’ve practiced doing it for so long that it’s become second nature.
The problem with this is that by checking in, we are forcing our attention on the anxiety. It’s like a heat seeking missile. I’m sure you know what I mean by this. So, how can this exercise help with this problem? It can help by pulling our focus away from the anxiety and into the present moment which is the only moment there truly is.
When we are suffering from severe anxiety, it’s very hard for us to actually pull our attention away from anxiety because it has become such a strong habit. It has this powerful force which acts like a magnet that pulls our consciousness onto it. This means that this exercise will take a lot of practice and perseverance to do this but it is definitely worth it.
Think of this exercise like muscle training. The more you do it, the stronger your muscle of focus will be and the better you will get at taking your attention away from your internal world and onto the external world. It’s a very grounding exercise which I believe you will benefit from in time.
The mindset to adopt whilst doing this exercise
Before you do practice this exercise, it’s very important that you adopt the attitude of acceptance and allowance. What will make this exercise almost impossible to do effectively is by trying to block out anxious thoughts and sensations. Due to the law of paradoxical intention, all this does is make ourselves feel more worked up and anxious.. By trying to block out our anxiety, by trying to force it into the darkest corner of our minds, we are actually making things far worse. So, stop trying to control your anxiety. Give yourself the permission to allow the anxious thoughts and feelings to be present.
When you practice this exercise with this acceptance and allowance attitude, it actually works more effectively than it would if you were doing it with the intention to stop yourself from feeling anxious. You can make peace with your anxious state and then practice shifting attention onto what the senses can perceive.
How the five senses immersion exercise works
This exercise is really simple but powerful. What you do is ask yourself (mentally) a set of questions.
What can I hear right now? Once you’ve asked yourself this question, pay attention to any sounds in your experience without labelling them and hold your attention there. If you find your attention crawling back to anything anxiety related, it’s fine, don’t beat yourself up. Completely allow all anxious thoughts and feelings to be there and then gently redirect your awareness onto what you can hear in this moment.
What can I see right now? Pay attention to all of the objects which are around you. Notice the colours and the shapes of such things. Again, you don’t have to label these things because this will stimulate thought.
What can I feel right now? Pay attention to any feelings which are going on inside you. Feel your inner body so to speak. If you feel any tension or anxiety, just let it be without trying to change or get rid of it. Resistance fuels the fire.
Notice how the soles of your feet feel as they touch the ground and/or the feeling of your backside resting in a chair.
What can I smell right now? Notice any smells that our present in your environment. Are they pleasant? Are they not so pleasant? Do they remind you of anything?
What can I taste right now? If you’re eating, pay attention to the taste of the food. Does it taste good? Is it a food you’d have again?
How to get this process to flow is to ask each question in turn. So, when you feel like you want to move onto the next sense perception, then it’s best to do so. Keep doing this exercise whenever you can. It’s always an easy and quick way to bring your attention to reality. The beautiful thing about this exercise is you can practice it literally anywhere and at any time.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask one by leaving one in the comments below.
Until next time