What is Sensory Self-Care and How Can You Use it to Counter Burnout?

Self-Care isn’t a topic that is new to this blog, and rightly so. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to balance those different aspects of your life, you can start to feel the effects of burnout setting in, and when this happens, what you choose to do next could make such a huge difference to your overall mental health and wellbeing. It is within these moments where we feel low and tired, that we need to choose to take some time to recover.

In today’s society, there can be a real environment of toxic productivity encouraged to all of those who have dreams. The overall messages we hear are that if we want to get to where we want to be then we have to grind constantly and if you’re not there then you’re not working hard enough. This, for the most part, is not only incorrect, but incredibly damaging.

Sure, it’s totally acceptable to grind and work hard in order to reach your goals in life, but this should never be at the detriment of your own health, be it physical or mental. There is plenty of time in life, and if you are set on using it all to work yourself to the bone, odds are you’re more likely to end up making less progress anyhow, as we tend to make more mistakes and have a lower standard of work when burnt out or tired.

Taking time to rest and recover is not a sign of weakness as it can sometimes be portrayed or hinted at, but rather a sign of maturity, self-love and strength.

What is Burnout and Why is it Harmful?

“Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.”

HelpGuide

Simply put, burnout is when you are worn out and run-down, and can struggle to muster the energy to pull yourself out of it or complete even the most basic of day-to-day tasks. Burnout is most commonly caused by overly stressful work environments, but this isn’t the only cause, and it can be brought on by any form of overly busy or hectic lifestyle. For more info on this, check out the above article by Help Guide.

Preventing burnout is definitely a huge positive outcome from practicing self-care, but it is by no means the only one. Being able to take time for yourself can help you grow a larger sense of self-awareness and allow you to not only develop your relationship with those around you, but also with yourself.

Making the time to put yourself first when you need to, is something that can take a little practice at first. This can be especially difficult if you’re one of the people, who like me, was always taught to put others ahead of yourself. The concept of being ‘selfish’ held only negative connotations whilst growing up and it can take a while to shake this deeply ingrained lesson, but when you do, you’ll find that your life and mental health are all the better for it.

The Sensory Self-Care Method:

This is not to be confused with the ‘5-4-3-2-1 method’ used when it comes to grounding techniques, which uses your senses in order to anchor yourself to the present moment in order to prevent you spiralling. Whilst this is a fantastic method for helping us with anxiety and managing stress, I wanted to focus more on self-care which we can plan a little more in advance for.

As mentioned, I have both discussed self-care and provided some tips on this before, but for this specific article I thought we could focus more directly on ourselves, using our senses in order to create this soothing atmosphere. Regardless of whether or not you’re an extrovert, introvert, or somewhere in between, we all need some time to ourselves, and hopefully using these methods you’ll be able to do so without any stress or overthinking.

It’s no surprise that our 5 core senses can play a big role in causing burnout. With the sheer volume of things we experience on a daily basis, it can become very easily overwhelming. However, just like our senses can be a factor in this negative, they can play such an important role in providing much needed self-care and getting us onto the road to recovery.

What makes the following method so interesting is that it is entirely unique to the person using it. Whilst going over the 5-core senses and how they each can be used, I will pose several questions which you can feel free to answer. Having these answers as a list, you can then start towards building your own self-care kit for when you need it most.

Hearing

When it comes to hearing in particular it can be so easy to become overwhelmed, especially if you suffer from the likes of anxiety. Even a quick thought to the sounds we have heard in the last 5 minutes can quickly become impossible to remember. This being said, it’s still possible to use this sense to bring you a lot of comfort during your self-care sessions.

Figure out what sounds bring you a sense of peace or help relax you and begin using them to your advantage. The most commonly suggested method for this would be through listening to music, as this can have a positive psychological impact and has been shown to help ease low moods. Whether you are a fan of upbeat pop or more melancholy ballads, music can help us explore our emotions and ease our stress very effectively.

Aside from music, there are other forms of self-care than can be achieved through hearing. Some people get a huge benefit from white noise or ocean sounds, whilst others have specific noises that make them feel relaxed or happy. Personally, I love listening to heavy rain against the window, and something about this noise just instantly calms me down.

For the first piece of your own sensory self-care kit, you could ask yourself what music makes you feel most relaxed, or what music makes you feel happy. Likewise you could ask yourself what sounds relax you the most. Make a list of them all, or make a playlist of the songs you pick out, and whenever you feel low or worn out, use them to lift your mood again.

Sight

When it comes to sight, there is such a huge range of helpful methods you can add to your self-care kit. If you have a favourite film, tv show or book that always makes you smile or laugh, or generally lifts your spirits, then it may be worthwhile adding it to the list for sight. This being said, it doesn’t have to be something you look at in your own home. Many people find comfort in more natural sights such as parks and beaches so if this applies to you make a list of the places that you feel comfortable in and take a mental note for those tough days.

It’s just worth noting that it isn’t one or the other. You can mix and match just about any of these suggestions. For example, I love being out of the city/town and looking up at the night sky during a starry night, and doing so tends to make me feel very relaxed. However, this isn’t always possible for a number of logistical reasons, so when this is the case I take comfort in watching a movie or TV show I enjoy.

What works for you during one stressful time may not work for you the same way during the next, but having a rough outline of your favourite places, books etc is a good start.

Taste

Using taste for self-care is definitely less varied than the other options, but still has a few different approaches that can help uplift our spirits and allow us to relax or enjoy ourselves. The most obvious approach is to eat something you love, but don’t just scoff it down and get back to the grind. Savour every bite and really taste what you’re eating. Try to notice the flavours more specifically.

Doing this will allow your mind to become clear and allow you to focus on one thing in particular, which can be less stressful and much more therapeutic. Another quirkier way of using taste would be to try a new food or indulge in something with famously strong flavours. It may not seem like self-care in the traditional sense, but can nonetheless take focus from the stress of a busy life and have it focus on the present moment.

Now I’m not suggesting you go grab a ridiculously spicy chilli and go to town, unless you’re into that, but even trying something that is just slightly out of your comfort zone can sometimes create a feeling of excitement and occasionally pretty funny memories.

Smell

Like hearing, smell is one of the senses that is used quite frequently to make us feel more relaxed or de-stressed. Methods like aromatherapy are well founded and have been used to help people cope with anxiety and even forms of trauma. If you’re thinking ‘How can a smell make me feel better?’ then you’re clearly not experiencing freshly baked cookies in the same way I do.

Think about which smells make you happy or remind you of a relaxing memory. Many people use the likes of candles and flowers to improve their mood or control how they are feeling. You can get a candle with pretty much any scent these days so it hopefully shouldn’t be too difficult to have a person method of accessing a relaxing smell when needed.

If you’re not sure where to start, studies have shown that lavender may be able to help us sleep, and the likes of lemongrass may be able to reduce anxiety and headaches. If you struggle to think about smells directly, then think of memories or places that make you happy and then think about how they smell. This could put you on the path to an answer.

Touch

For me, touch as a way of self-care is something I never really used very often growing up. I’m not sure what my aversion was but nowadays it is a method that can really help ease my stress. Most commonly speaking, people tend to like soft items such as blankets, stuffed toys or pillows and having these in close contact can instantly create a feeling of safety and comfort, which can really help us recharge.

On the other side of this, try to avoid touching things that make you uncomfortable. Whilst this sounds like common sense, it is something people don’t really pay much mind to when they are feeling drained and unable to focus.

Another way of using touch can come through basic temperature difference. Washing your hands under cold water can help ground you if you’re stressed and overthinking, whilst warm showers can help you feel soothed and relaxed when you need to be. Like with the above senses, it’s all about finding what feelings work for you, and keeping a list on standby.

Photo by @welshie.wonders

At this stage you may be asking yourself ‘How does listing a bunch of things I like help me to relax?’ and that’s fair, but there is very good reason for the above breakdown. I wanted to first give each sense its own personal spotlight to discuss some of the options and methods to composing the lists, and briefly discuss how it can help.

Realistically, we’re more than likely to use multiple senses at once, but breaking them down can give us a clearer idea of what we are getting from each aspect of the activity and also make us feel a little more self-aware which can help in the long run when it comes to self-care. Use these aspects and mix and match them to create specific situations which will lift your spirits.

How Can I Put These Lists to Good Use?

I mentioned previously that these lists can help you towards building a self-care kit of your own, and that’s exactly how we put them to use. Firstly, find the places you want to store these kits. It can be a box in your bedroom, in your car or in a desk drawer in work. It’s entirely up to you as you know which situations and settings will be most difficult.

Once you have your places picked out, then put your lists to use. It’s entirely up to you what you decide to place in your self-care kit. You may find that some senses have a better effect than others, or you may place something for each sense in the box. Put a book or some photographs you like to look at in it, a specific snack which might cheer you up on a really bad day, or something soft to the touch. Just so long as it makes you feel relaxed.

This sensory method is just one of the ways people carry out self-care, so if it doesn’t work for you then that’s totally fine and there is no need to feel bad about it, as there are so many alternatives available. The important thing is that you are taking the time to relax, recharge and recover. This can be such a difficult task if your used to putting others first, but just remember that there isn’t anything wrong with putting your own oxygen mask on first, as it were.

If you enjoyed this post and would like to learn more about mental health awareness and training, be sure to follow my blog here. Do you struggle with self-care? Have you tried the sensory self-care method before? What’s in your self-care kit? Let me know in the comments down below.

If you’re experiencing any of the feelings described in this post, or know somebody who is, then there are many things you can do to help. Talking to somebody about how you or they are feeling can be very beneficial. If you’re not sure what to do but need urgent help, there are many emergency hotlines that provide support and encouragement such as Mind.org and Samaritans.org. You’re not alone in feeling this way, others are there to help.

Published by AnxietyBear

Opening a conversation around the topic of mental health. Providing support and advice. Exploring personal experiences.

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