Feeling Anxious? Try the 5 Senses Exercise
Published on January 12, 2022
Last updated January 14, 2022
By Jezmina von Thiele
The five senses exercise, also known as the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise, is a grounding technique used in cognitive behavioral therapy, an evidence based treatment for anxiety disorders. Sometimes stress can make people feel disoriented, like they are out of their body, or overwhelmed, like they are perceiving too much at once or shutting down completely. This exercise is intended to orient you in your environment and your body, so that you can reduce your distress and process better.
If you’ve seen the Netflix show Jessica Jones, you might remember that the titular character uses a version of this technique — naming streets around where she grew up — to manage her PTSD symptoms. If all five senses are not accessible to you, that’s ok. You can still use this exercise, and you might choose to increase the number of things you perceive with your available senses. Or you might want to follow Jessica Jones’ lead and name other things that ground you, like street names, state capitals, country names, or whatever else soothes you.
The Five Senses exercise
- Say aloud five items you can see around you. Note both the color and the object. For example: red lamp, white dog, blue table, brown pinecone, and green bowl.
- Say aloud four things you can touch, naming both the texture and object. For example: a fuzzy blanket, soft fur, smooth glass, and polished wood.
- Say aloud three sounds you can hear. For example: the refrigerator whirring, the wind blowing, traffic outside.
- Say aloud two scents you can smell. For example: the balsam fir scented candle on the table, and the mango-ginger fabric softener on my clothes.
- Say aloud one thing you can taste right now. For example: garlic. (I cook with a lot of garlic.)
If you’re still feeling pretty stressed, try naming more things in your environment, or using other lists, like the country names. Usually, however, this grounding technique brings stress levels down because it engages your mind. It can also remind you that most likely, where you are right now is pretty safe.
Getting back into the swing of things after the holidays can be stressful. Take these little moments to center and care for yourself — it can make a difference in your day-to-day stress levels. These mini-breaks can orient you and allow you to regulate your emotions. If you can, try not to wait until you feel like you’re out of your mind with stress to pull out these tricks. Practice noticing your early signs of stress, like shallow breathing, heart racing, sweating, fidgeting, teeth grinding, or whatever your signs are, and take 30 seconds to calm yourself down. Remember: You deserve a break.
Jezmina Von Thiele (they/them) is a 200-hour Kripalu certified Yoga Instructor with a Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga Certificate. They are a dancer, healer, artist, art model, and tell fortunes in their mixed Roma/Sinti family’s tradition. Follow them on Instagram at @jezmina.vonthiele and visit jezminavonthiele.com for more.