Before we can explore the benefits of sensory based coping skills, let me explain what they are. Sensory based coping skills are a unique set of skills that target your senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste and movement. Many of you reading this already use sensory based coping skills and may not realize it. For example, I want you to consider what you do when you are sick. If you are like me, you wear your pajamas, binge watch television, eat Boston Market chicken noodle soup and sit on the floor of the shower in the hopes that the congestion will let up, if only for a minute. All of these are sensory based coping skills because they target the senses in pleasing and soothing ways. If I were to only watch television and wear my pajamas, I would feel that my routine was incomplete and would become cranky. My husband will quickly confirm this. Thus, the idea behind sensory based coping skills is to identify what pleases your unique senses and intentionally combine them to improve mental and emotional health.
When attempting to identify your coping skills, I encourage you to make a list and ask yourself the following:
  • What sounds do I enjoy? (i.e. the ocean, rain, birds)
  • What smells make me happy? (i.e. apple pie, lavender, pine)
  • What tastes are soothing to me? Tastes can be very powerful and are usually linked to many fond memories. Try to identify tastes that help you to feel loved and safe. (i.e. chicken noodle soup, mashed potatoes, casserole)
  • What forms of touch feel good to me? When I say forms, I don’t just mean skin-to-skin contact. Many people find floating in water to be very relaxing. Others find certain textures (i.e. cotton or silk) to be comfortable. Consider all the things you enjoy touching and being touched by.
  • What images do I enjoy? Do you enjoy being in nature or looking at the ocean? Do you enjoy watching a comedy or making a craft project?
  • What movements help to calm me? I find that many people forget how soothing movement can truly be, which is ironic as our go to technique for soothing a crying baby is still rocking. You may or may not enjoy rocking as an adult and that’s okay. There are usually other movements that you will enjoy such as walking, rubbing something in your hands, doodling, or coloring.
With your list in hand, I want to encourage you to become intentional about using, at minimum, one a day. If you are prone to anxiety or panic attacks, you may even want to consider creating a list of very special skills that you use for moments of heightened anxiety. I also want to encourage the use of coping skills everyday throughout the day as a way to maintain a healthy emotional baseline and avoid the extremes. While you may not have time to hit the gym everyday, my guess is that you do have time to play soft music while filling your space with the pleasing smell of lavender.