One minute you feel fine, and the next, you’re stomach’s churning, heart’s racing, head’s spinning… Well, hello, anxiety.
It’s something that everyone experiences at one point or another. And there are tons of ways to deal with anxiety: Limit your caffeine intake, take deep breaths, exercise, pop pills, and so on and so forth.
One that Gretchen Rubin, a multiple New York Times best-selling author, suggests: live in your five senses. In a sit-down with Vishen on The Mindvalley Show, she doesn’t just discuss anxiety as a debilitating force; she explains how to use the most basic (yet profound) tools we all possess.
Watch the full 22-minute interview:
Gretchen Rubin—Who Is She?
If you’ve ever stumbled upon a bookshelf with titles exploring happiness and human nature, you’ve likely met Gretchen. From The Happiness Project to The Four Tendencies to Life In Five Senses, her work dives into the crevices of everyday life, filled with nuggets of wisdom and insight.
Being a multiple New York Times best-selling author is one, but Gretchen’s also the host of the Get Happier podcast and founder of the award-winning app, Happier. And it’s through these avenues that this modern-day philosopher is helping the masses connect dots we never knew existed.
Now, you might wonder, with so many experts and self-help avenues available, what sets her apart? Simply, it’s her knack for seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary.
And in her one-on-one with Vishen, she unveils the tapestry of our senses as a roadmap to calm.
Gretchen Rubin’s Take On Anxiety and Your Five Senses
Happiness is Gretchen’s forte. But what’s the thing that often blocks it? Anxiety.
It’s a big deal these days, manifesting as increased feelings of stress, pervasive worrying thoughts, and notable physical reactions. So much so that 2023 statistics have found:
- Anxiety, along with depression, leads to a yearly global loss of $1 trillion in productivity.
- Due to COVID-19, global cases of anxiety increased by 25% and depression by 28%.
- In the U.S. alone, anxiety disorders affect 42.5 million adults.
While it can be seen as an uninvited guest overstaying its welcome, Gretchen reframes this narrative. Instead of focusing on the overwhelm, she suggests directing attention to the senses—sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell.When we dial into our senses, there’s so much delight, there’s so much connection, there [are] memories that come from it… We can reach this right there in our own bodies. — @gretchenrubin Click To Tweet
This approach, also more commonly known as the 5-4-3-2-1 method, is one of the grounding techniques for anxiety. It breaks you away from your negative thoughts and brings you to the present.
In fact, a study in 2015 showed that one hour of grounding exercises made people with anxiety and depression feel better. And the interesting thing is, it works better than just relaxing.
So the next time you feel those symptoms creeping up on you, try going into the five senses. The best part? You can use it at any time, and no one will even know you’re doing it.
What to Do for Anxiety: 3 Tips From Gretchen Rubin
No two people experience anxiety the same way—that’s a fact. However, there are tools out there that are universal. And they can become game-changers.
So here’s how to ease anxiety with three tips from Gretchen:
1. Gratitude is the attitude
Have you ever paused to appreciate the simple joys your senses offer? Being truly grateful, as several studies show, can change your outlook on life.
Gretchen herself shares an eye-opening moment. While on a New York City street, after a surprising revelation from her eye doctor, she felt a deep surge of appreciation for her senses.
“I thought, ‘I’ve been overlooking it all,’” she recalls. “I’ve been walking around in this fog; I’ve been taking it all for granted. And if I lost any of these senses, then how much regret I would feel.”
Suddenly, every sight, sound, and smell felt richer, making her realize how much she had been taking for granted. And it’s a powerful reminder for us all—that if you want to feel more in control and at peace, take a moment to acknowledge all that you have.
How Mindvalley can help: “Gratitude is not a thinking thing; it is a feeling,” explains Srikumar Rao, the founder of The Rao Institute. And his Mindvalley program, The Quest for Personal Mastery, is one way to learn to embrace it.
It’ll help you find a strong inner voice to guide you, especially when things get tough. And best of all, it fits right in with using mindfulness for anxiety.
2. Use your senses
Have you ever noticed that holding onto something can calm your nerves? Fidget spinners, stroking the beard, holding a pen—these simple acts can offer comfort during anxious moments, according to Gretchen.
It’s not just about physical objects, though. The same principle applies to meditation, where focusing on your senses forms the core of many practices.
“If you’re feeling very anxious and thinking, ‘I’m just going to take a minute and I’m just going to dial into my body in my five senses…,’” she says. “People do this as a meditation technique where they go through their five senses and they think, ‘What am I seeing? What am I hearing, smelling, tasting, touching? And so that itself can be very grounding.”
In fact, when you meditate, your brain is able to “ignore the negative sensations of stress and anxiety,” as Dr. John W. Denninger, the director of research at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, explains in an article on Harvard Health Publishing.
And that, in turn, can really help calm your mind.
How Mindvalley can help: If you’re looking to practice meditation for anxiety, consider The M Word Quest with one of the world’s leading meditation experts, Emily Fletcher. Unlike traditional methods, this program helps you relax as well as unlock peak performance, boundless energy, and superhuman creativity in a format suited for your modern lifestyle.
Even if you’re swamped with life, the lessons are designed to be short yet impactful. And within just 33 days, you’ll have the tools to enhance every facet of your life, ensuring you not only manage anxiety but also thrive in every situation.
3. Know your personality
Getting to know yourself is like unlocking a secret map to your life. Why? Well, according to Gretchen, your personality plays a huge part in how you tackle challenges, work with others, and even enjoy your free time.
In her study of habits, she noticed recurring behaviors or tendencies among individuals. She goes on to explain, “I realized that there was a way to understand these patterns until we could really set ourselves up for success or help other people find more success.”
And so, to shed light on this, Gretchen categorized people into what she calls “the four tendencies”:
- Upholder. You’re driven by both internal and external expectations. And when you set goals, you meet them.
- Questioner. You’re internally motivated and will question why you should meet an external expectation. If it aligns with your beliefs, you’ll go for it.
- Obliger. You often meet external demands but might struggle to meet your own internal expectations. You thrive when you have outer accountability. (Fun fact: Many people have this personality type.)
- Rebel. You prefer to do things your own way. External expectations? You’re likely to resist. Internal ones? Only if you feel like it.
Now, if you’re thinking, “Which one am I?”, you can take The Four Tendencies Quiz. It’ll only take you about seven minutes of your time.
Discover more about The Four Tendencies on The Mindvalley Show:
How Mindvalley can help: Want to dive deeper into self-awareness? The From Awesome to Flawesome Quest with Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani can help you get there.
First, you’ll learn to be honest with yourself. Then, you’ll use kindness to sail through challenges. And finally, with courage, you’ll open new doors to growth.
And 25 days is what it’ll take to understand why and how to take off the masks you often wear and embrace who you truly are.
Take the Next Step
Listening to the interview with Gretchen Rubin is one stop on this self-awareness journey. But as you continue on, you might want to explore the rich resources at Mindvalley. Learn from the wisdom of experts such as Srikumar Rao in The Quest for Personal Mastery program, Emily Fletcher in The M Word Quest, and Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani in From Awesome to Flawesome Quest.
The icing on the cake? When you sign up for a Mindvalley account, you can sample the first few lessons of these transformative programs for free.
Plus, you gain access to four daily meditations tailored to different needs, including those that help with anxiety. So whenever stress hits, all you need to do is plug in your headphones and find some peace.
“Step by step, you make your way forward,” Gretchen says. And Mindvalley can be your first.