Anxiety, Instinct and The Senses
As we all move (sweat) into July, I began thinking about our natural instinct in managing anxiety and its relationship with our five senses – taste, see, hear, smell and touch. We have all heard of the “fight, flight or freeze” instinct we are born with when responding to disturbing thoughts, feelings and events. Remember the Sabre-Toothed tiger story? My drive to work the other day got me thinking about how the senses can be impacted when we are fearful and worried.
As I wound my way down River Road on the way to campus, with windows down, passing the dairy farm (smell), with the sunlight reflecting off the Connecticut River (sight), sipping my coffee, purchased from the Starbucks ‘near’ campus – only 12 minutes away (taste), the wind blowing through my hair (hear), and feeling the heat of my seat heater on my rear-end (touch) – I had accidentally turned it on; I came up with the idea of asking some of our residents how their particular anxiety affects their senses. Later that day, I had the perfect opportunity during our new Elements Activity Therapy module. A group was preparing the hints and identifying locations around campus for the scavenger hunt later in the day. I asked the question. The three most common responses were (1) blurred or tunnel vision, (2) nausea, and (3) dry mouth.
At Mountain Valley we help residents develop skills to get in touch with how their body reacts to fear and worry. For example, practicing cognitive defusion so the thoughts don’t control the feelings resulting in the ineffective coping skills. As a result of this work, getting your senses back to where they can be appreciated in the moment to become aware of the positive things around you – like on my drive into work, will make for a more enjoyable life after Mountain Valley.