The five core senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch – are a gateway to our physical and mental health. Each of these senses directly impacts our perception of the world around us and, with the right technique, can be used to improve our overall wellbeing.
By growing our awareness of how our senses affect the way we think and feel, we can actively harness them as a tool to relieve stress, lower blood pressure, improve sleep patterns and even reduce chronic pain. There are many to do this, but one of my favourites – thanks to how easy it is to use in a workplace environment – is sensehacking.
Sensehacking, a term coined by Oxford University Professor Charles Spence, is a technique that uses various sensory inputs to influence emotions and improve social, cognitive, and mental health. It involves using different sounds, smells, visuals, tastes, and textures to create an experience that can help us relax or become more alert.
Do you feel like the noise in the office is overpowering? Or just feeling a little flat in your study at home? Sensehacking can help you to pull yourself back from sensory overload, increasing your self-awareness and balancing your thoughts during stressful moments.
At caba, we believe in wellbeing first and are here to offer proactive steps to stay in control, feel supported, and look after yourself. With this in mind, we’ve collated a list of five steps to ‘sensehack’ during work to improve your mental health:
1. Colour psychology
Colour psychology studies how colours affect our mental health and behaviour. It examines how different hues, shades, and tones can influence our emotions and thoughts. It also looks at how colours can evoke certain feelings or create specific atmospheres in different locations.
To alter our thinking, we can surround ourselves with specific colours, such as calming blues or energising reds. We can also use different shades of a particular colour to create a more balanced atmosphere at home or the workplace. By understanding how colours affect us emotionally, we can make conscious decisions about which colours will help us feel better mentally and physically.
This doesn’t have to be big, bold changes like wallpaper or lighting alone; you could also pick a specific colour to wear or change your desktop background. One trick that I recommend is buying yourself a bunch of flowers or a plant in your desired colour to stimulate corresponding feelings – like blue lilies to feel calmer.
2. Scents and aromas
Our sense of smell is fundamental to improving wellbeing and strongly connects to personal memories and nostalgia. Studies from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent found that the smell of nature can bring a feeling of serenity, happiness, and wellness to humans.
Essential oil therapy is becoming increasingly popular in various holistic healing treatments, such as aromatherapy, thanks to the distinct aromas. These oil aromas have the power to trigger emotional responses due to the stimulation of neurons in our olfactory bulb, which is connected to the limbic system. From lavender to bergamot and mint, these scents can shift your state of mind when tapped into.
Adding scented flowers or plants around your workspace can help to evoke calming emotions when you take a minute to breathe and focus on the smell. Alternatively, try bringing in an essential oil reed diffuser that you can change to different scents depending on your head space.
3. The sound of nature
A study published in 2019 showed that spending even just two hours per week outdoors in a natural setting could enhance office workers’ sense of wellbeing. For example, this could be three 8-minute walks or breaks a day outside of your workspace. However, we understand that this might not always be feasible, especially in high-performance, high-workload roles.
So, even though you can’t beat an outside walk, try opening a nearby window to bring wildlife sounds to you. Or, if you’re based in an urban location, there’s a range of nature noises online, which could help with a quick fix.
4. Taste bud tapping
Most of us understand that eating various healthy foods provides your body with essential vitamins and minerals to keep you energised and alert. Eating the right food can also help reduce stress, boost your immune system, and improve your mood.
However, certain foods can also stimulate the recollection of positive memories, which could ease your mind away from negative thoughts and recentre. Ensure you have access to these nostalgic snacks, so you can take a break from your desk and rebalance your emotions if you feel overwhelmed by work. For example, saltwater taffy might remind you of a childhood trip to the coast, so enjoying a couple of these out in the fresh air after a tense presentation could help take you back and away from that meeting.
5. Stimulating sensory receptors with touch
Our skin is full of sensory receptors that require physical touch to be stimulated. Interpersonal contact can be incredibly powerful, strong enough to relieve physical pain, but even taking five minutes away from your work to massage your hands or temples can help to relieve tension from typing, writing, or intense reading.
Additionally, try combining this with breathing exercises to stabilise your mental and physical wellbeing, removing yourself from intrusive feelings.
To take full control of our sensory experience each day, we need to understand the unique capabilities of each sense and the impact it has on our emotional behaviour. Recognising these interactions can help us maximise our workplace wellbeing and improve our quality of life and those around us.
‘Sensehacking’ can help us reach our work or life aspirations; whether we need to reduce stress levels, increase productivity, sleep better, or feel better after a challenging task, we should try to build this scientific approach into our daily habits.