Sense-hacking. How To Hack Your Senses For Ultimate Self-Care
How can the furniture in your home affect your well-being? What colour clothing will help you play sports better? And what simple trick will calm you after a tense day at work? Those are just some of the questions that Oxford University Professor Charles Spence sets out to answer in his book, “Sensehacking: How To Use The Power Of Your Senses For Happier, Healthy Living.”
Sensehacking is the latest wellness trend to hit our bookshelves and our Instagram feeds, but it’s also much more than that: learning about how we can tune into our senses can have an extraordinary effect on all areas of our lives, from mood and holistic wellbeing to productivity and decision-making.
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about how to improve your mood through the power of your senses!
What is sensehacking and how does it work?
The practice of sensehacking rests on the premise that harnessing the power of our senses can be much more of a practical and useful tool for living a happier and more fulfilled life than we might realise. The term hack rings of a quick trick, perhaps an airport-paperback-devised improvement stratagem, but the concept is actually rather straightforward: our senses, and the perception of the world around us we gain through them, impact our day-to-day wellbeing in a major way.
Our senses and sensibilities (get it, get it?) vary wildly from person to person, but there are several techniques that have been shown to ground people in the present moment and help them ease symptoms of anxiety, depression, and pain. Similar to breathing control exercises, these small tips and tricks can help you shift your attention away from your distress and find relief.
Sensehacking vs. sensory overload
Simply put, sensory overload happens when our brains get overwhelmed with more information (sensory cues) than it can process. You could picture it like a computer trying to do too many complicated equations at the same time, and its cables frying as a result of overactivity.
Different people experience sensory overload differently, but it’s common for it to induce restlessness, some type of discomfort, irritability, and a sense of stress and anxiety related to whatever the situation at hand may be. It’s a form of panic induced by the brain, as it’s unable to interpret and assess what information the senses are transmitting, so it enters fight, flight, or freeze mode instead.
The world of multisensory wellbeing
“You must learn to heed your senses,” writes author Michael Scott in The Alchemyst. “Humans barely look, they rarely listen, they never smell, and they think that they can only experience feelings through their skin. But they talk, oh, do they talk.”
Indeed, by learning to look, listen, smell, taste, and touch, we can begin to process our sensory cues in empowered and balanced ways, which leads us to make sense of the world around us in an entirely new fashion.
The examples Professor Spence uses in his book are simple-sounding, but their potency is actually rooted in research and cutting-edge science. Think of the scent of expensive face cream that reminds you of your grandmother, or how you just can’t seem to get any work done when the office microwave reeks of fish. Or think of how the noise of the crowd really does affect the referee's decision, and how our ancestors relied on their senses to survive animal attacks and natural disasters ––we owe our very existence to our senses, so we better learn to get in touch with them!
Hacking your senses for less stress, more happiness
First of all, it’s important to remember that our senses are always available to us ––and at absolutely zero cost! Sensehacking is nothing fancy, but the opposite. In a way, it’s the most basic and most instinctual stress-relief method at our disposal.
Every time you leverage the power of colours, perfumes, music, and a good massage to feel calmer and more rested, for example, you are trying your hand at sensehacking. The key is to do it all mindfully, and to truly take your time and pleasure with it: that’s key to grounding both your logical and your emotional side, so you can feel instant relief.
How to hack your senses through sight
- Visualise a favourite space, memory, or a time you felt safe and protected
- Pick out and focus on five things you can see right now
- Pick out something green, a very soothing colour
- Get out a picture on your phone, or a postcard on your desk, and feel immersed in its reality
- Focus on an object near you and describe it in your mind as if you’d never seen it before
How to hack your senses through smell
- Pick out and focus on two things you can smell right now
- Smell essential oils
- Rub scented lotion on your hands and body
- Spray your favourite perfume on your wrist and really focus on how it feels to inhale near it
How to hack your senses through taste
- Pick out and focus on one thing you can taste right now
- Make yourself a cup of tea, get a glass of cold water, or other drink you love
- Eat something like a nut, a seed, a raisin or other small snack, and chew it slowly
- Get your favourite food and eat it mindfully
How to hack your senses through hearing
- Put on your favourite song and really focus on every note
- Pick out and focus on three things you can hear right now
- Take notice of the sounds you can hear around you, both near and far
- Listen to white noise or static noise
How to hack your senses through touch
- Grab your favourite sweater, a crystal, or other object you have on hand, and feel the sensation of your fingertips running alongside it
- Splash some water on your face
- Pick out and focus on four things you can feel right now
- Slowly rub your hands together
- Pet an animal
Let’s tune into our senses
Human beings are complicated animals, and if there’s one thing that recent research on sensehacking indicates, it’s that we still have so much more to learn about the way we function and even thrive.
The most important thing is to stop living on autopilot, so we can have more rich and satisfactory sensory experiences, as well as greatly reduce our stress and improve our mood. If only we could ––pardon the pun–– come to our senses.