Russell A. Bourne, Jr., Ph.D., Vice President of CPMHA
Many people are as calm or relaxed as they are going to be all day when they first awaken in the morning. Throughout the day they seem to become increasingly alert, aroused or even anxious. It as if the daily activities of life were acting similarly to someone gradually turning up the rheostat, or dimmer switch, on a ceiling light. Energy just seems to be increasing as the day goes on and sometimes this is welcomed and other times it can be quite distracting and even counterproductive. When this autonomic response needs to be lessened or calmed, people employ a variety of techniques such taking a casual walk, listening to relaxing music, meditating, etc.
A short and useful mindfulness technique to reboot or recalibrate (return to zero) involves a focused awareness of the 3 “over-used” of our 5 senses.
In general, we use our sense of smell and sense of taste primarily when we are dining. If asked, “what do you smell?” or “what do you taste?” right now, you would, in all likelihood, say “nothing”.
Whereas our other three senses, hearing, seeing and feeling (kinesthetic, not emotions) are used constantly. (Even when we are sleeping, we are aware of kinesthetic and hearing sensations and if dreaming, visual stimulation.)
The following description of a brief refocus/reboot technique is just one iteration of techniques that have been used for thousands of years to calm the autonomic nervous system when needed. It is a technique that can be used frequently during the day, takes just a couple of minutes, and becomes increasingly effective when used often. Personally, I use it between patient appointments and at the end of my work day to help return to zero…to start fresh.
Begin by sitting comfortably with eyes open. Inhale gently and on the exhale silently ask yourself the question, “What am I aware of hearing?” And then just listen while continuing to breath easily. Respond to the question with the awareness of what was most prominent to your hearing. Examples of responses could include the sound of the air conditioning, noises or voices from another room, sound of traffic outside, etc. After you have listened and responded, repeat the question with the following one change. Ask yourself, “What ELSE am I aware of hearing?”, as if you are listening beyond the first sound you heard. Follow a similar method as before: Inhale gently and on the exhale ask the question, pause, continue to breath easily, listen and then respond.
This pattern is then repeated with the visual sense, changing the questions to, “What am I aware of seeing?” and, “What ELSE am I aware of seeing.”
Next, the pattern is repeated for the auditory sense, changing the questions to, “What am I aware of hearing?” and, “What ELSE am I aware of hearing.
This should be a relaxed, casual, slow and easy process. Speak to yourself in a slower pace than usual and let the experience move slowly. All three steps will barely take 60 seconds. After doing the process once, all three steps should then be repeated. A very effective way to calm, refocus and reboot in just a couple of minutes or so.