How To Stimulate Your Senses (And Why It’s An Important Part Of Self-Care)

A woman is stimulating her senses by running her hand over a field of flowers

One of the parts that is often missed when we talked about self-care, or taking care of our mental self-care, is stimulating our senses.

Sensory stimulation, as it is also called, is talked a lot when it comes to infant development, but did you know it also has many benefits for adults as well?

What does sensory stimulation mean?

Sensory stimulation, means we do something that activates one or more of our five senses. These can be broken up into five parts:

Visual

This includes anything that we see with our eyes. Anything we see, gets carried by our optic nerve as a message to our brain.

Auditory

Anything we hear with our ears gets transmitted to our brain via our auditory nerve.

Olfactory

Anything that we smell through our nose gets sent as signals to our brain so we can interpret and determine what it is we are smelling.

Gustatory

We have over 10 000 taste buds in our mouths. When we taste something those receptor cells on our tongues send signals to our brain so we can identify what it is we are tasting.

Tactile

We have nerve endings all over our body, so when we experience touch, those nerve endings send signals to the brain so we can identify and interpret touch.

Who benefits from sensory stimulation?

Babies

The most popular group of people that benefit from sensory stimulation are babies. Babies use their senses to learn about the world around them which helps them reach developmental milestones.

Some examples of sensory stimulation for babies are playing with toys like rattles, participating in bath time, or playing peekaboo.

Young children

Young children learn a lot through playtime. This helps the brain to form connections and be able to process more complex thoughts.

Some examples of this are playing in a sandbox, puppet shows, playing an instrument, or banging on something that makes noise.

Adults

One of the most popular ways that sensory stimulation is used in adults, is with adults that neurological disorders, or dementia. Studies have found that sensory stimulation helps improve communication, and helps to reduce aggression and agitation.

However, sensory stimulation has been proven to help adults who are developmentally disabled, and aging adults as well.

So why is stimulating our senses important for self-care?

1) Our five senses help to stimulate our creativity

Have you ever smelled something that instantly brought up a memory from your past? Maybe it was baking that brought you back to your childhood, or the scent of a fair that made you think of a past experience.

Taste can help add a special something to your creativity, and help to transport you somewhere, helping you picture things in your mind. For example, a certain type of cuisine can help you feel like you are in the country that it comes from.

Did you know that sound has actually been proven to enhance our performance when it comes to creative tasks?

Touch can help to ground you, and help you work through complex thoughts. Think doodling, or rubbing your hands together while you think about something.

Sight is probably the most popular sense when it comes to inspiring creativity. People paint, write music, or perform poems based on sights they find beautiful, from people to scenery to nature.

2) Stimulating our senses can help us learn better

When we learn something by using our five senses, the neural pathways in our brain that are related to that sense are activated and strengthened. This makes our memory retrieval easier, and more efficient.

3) Sensory stimulation helps to keep our brains active

Keeping our minds active as we age, is extremely important. It helps prevent dementia and can help to extend our quality of life.

There are many different activities that stimulate our senses and help to keep our brains active, and it is wise to continue to utilize them as we age.

4) Stimulating our senses can be a great coping skill

In times of great anxiety or stress, stimulating our senses can help to calm us down, and act as a coping skill to help get us through that difficult moment.

Examples of activities that stimulate our senses

  • gardening
  • watching movies or videos
  • listening to music
  • tasting different foods and ingredients
  • smelling different essential oils
  • looking at pictures of friends and families
  • touching items with different textures, like sand and crystals
  • smelling different candles
  • looking at pictures from happy memories
  • doing a puzzle
  • smelling scented markers
  • listening to podcasts
  • playing with stimulation toys
  • cooking
  • playing board games
  • singing
  • playing instruments
  • painting
  • getting a massage
  • playing catch with a pet or child
  • eating sweet and sour snacks

Stimulating our senses can be one of the most forgotten or less talked about parts of self-care, but it can also be one of the most helpful.

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