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Mental Health Awareness Week: how sensehacking can rejuvenate your office

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 15 May 2023

Using our senses helps us relax and provides a way to stay in control at work. Suzie Dawes explains the theory behind sensehacking and how it can be used to promote better employee wellbeing and culture.

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 ways to do this, but one of my favourites – thanks to it being easy 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 are you 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.

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 just have to be big, bold changes such as wallpaper or lighting; 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 – such as blue lilies to feel calmer.  

2) Scents and aromas

Our sense of smell is fundamental to improving well-being 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 scents. 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, tapping into these scents can shift your state of mind.

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

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 eight-minute walks or breaks per day outside of your workspace. However, 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

Eating healthy foods provides your body with essential vitamins and minerals to keep you energised and alert and 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 help you to 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, pieces of toffee 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. Try combining this with breathing exercises to stabilise your mental and physical wellbeing, removing yourself from intrusive feelings.  

Understanding the unique capabilities of each sense and the impact it has on our emotional behaviour can help us maximise our workplace wellbeing and improve our quality of life and those around us. Whether we need to reduce stress levels, increase productivity, sleep better or feel better after a challenging task, try to build this scientific approach into your daily habits. 

Suzie Dawes is Head of People and Culture at caba, the charity helping the ICAEW community thrive in their personal and professional lives with training, advice and support. 

Mental health & wellbeing

ICAEW works with caba to promote the mental health of chartered accountants and their families. Take a look through these articles, guides, webinars and events.

ICAEW mental health wellbeing team bonding communication

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