Anxiety, depression, stress, trauma, and your senses

Anxiety, Depression, Stress, Trauma, And Your SensesOur sense awareness is vitally important for our emotional health and our well-being. That’s because our mood is affected by what we take in through our senses. When we are in a state of depression, anxiety, stress, or trauma, we are cut off from our senses. (Read more about your senses and mental health.)

Of course, you are familiar with our five basic senses: touch, taste, smell, hearing, and seeing. We have become so used to hearing about our five senses that you may be surprised to learn that we have more than that. These often-overlooked senses that are available to everyone are: proprioception, enteroception, mirror sensing, body radar, imaginal sensing, and heart sense.

These additional senses are important for the same reasons our typical five senses are important -they help us survive and thrive.

Understanding the additional senses:

Let’s define what these additional senses are all about. 

  • Proprioception: the ability to feel your body’s location in space. When you turn a cartwheel that sense can be felt fairly readily, but no matter where you are or what you are doing, you can tune into your body’s sense of its location and how it is positioned in space.
  • Enteroception: the awareness of internal functions, like when you are hungry or tired or feel like you are coming down with a sickness. This can also be a felt sense of vibrancy and health.
  • Mirror sensing: sensing the body, body movements, or emotional state of something or someone else in your environment almost as if it were your own (learn more about mirror neurons). Mirror sensing is believed to be the basis of the feeling of empathy, although it also goes beyond empathy. 
  • Body radar: the felt sense of something beckoning or calling to us, or when we feel something is not right for us or even dangerous.
  • Imaginal sensing: the felt sense of knowing what a living, but nonverbal, being is communicating. For example, when you talk to your favorite tree, and you feel the sensation of a response, or internally hear the trees’ response.
  • Heart sense: the felt sense of being embodied in the present moment.

These senses that go beyond the typical five senses can be subtle when we are first paying attention to them. They initially seem to lie at the edge of reason, and in some ways at the edge of science. It is due to their subtle nature that they are often overlooked and unstudied. Yet who can look at a sunset and characterize their experience using sight only? How do we sense, for example, our feeling of awe in that moment? How do we explain that feeling in the pit of our stomach as our eyes follow the hawk circling higher and higher? What puts the “babble” in a creek, or the “sigh” in the trees?

Nature connection and our senses:

Difficulties such as anxiety, depression, stress, and trauma, all influence our ability to accurately and calmly be in touch with our senses. When we are not in touch with our senses we become sensory depleted, which leads to further anxiety, depression, stress, and trauma. 

Nature connection unwinds the impact of these difficulties and brings our senses back in line. By connecting us to the present moment, our senses free us from obsessions about our past and frets about our future. Through mindful encounters with nature, we go deeper into ourselves and tap into our ability to stay present, healed, and whole.

In addition, it is our senses that give rise to relationships. A sensory experience becomes relational when we notice what feelings arise from that sensory experience. For example, imagine you are running your fingers through warm summer grasses in a field. You are aware of the expansiveness of the field, the sky, and the warmth of the sun on your skin. The smell of warm grass wafts through the gentle breeze, which you feel on your face and arms. Feelings of joy, delight, playfulness, and gratitude arise within you. Your emotions have come from your senses, bridging the outside world with your inside world. A relationship between you and that field has just been made.

Want to start feeling all of your senses?

Now that you are aware that you have more than five senses, you can check them out when you go on your next walk. Through simple exercises, you can more mindfully bring your senses in line. Feel free to try these simple exercises here. If you would like to become even more aware of all of your senses, check out my offerings here.