The Five Senses

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Is there any doubt that depression and anxiety narrow our view of the world and life? It is as though everything in the world blocked out for the depressed person except for the experience of pain and suffering.

It is common for psychotherapists to hear clients speak about feeling empty inside, joyless, unhappy, anxious and hopeless.


The last several mornings I have become aware of changes that are occurring around me. It is now the month of March and, while there is still some unsettled weather, there are definite signs that the season is changing.

Daylight is getting longer. There's a multitude of birds chirping outside the window when I arise each morning. The temperatures are warming and the sun rays feel stronger. There is a sense of things about to change, of life about to burst out in the not too distant future. In fact, this weekend, Sunday, March 14, clocks are moved ahead one hour for daylight savings time.

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Jon Kabbat-Zinn wrote a wonderful book that is titled Coming to Our Senses. In it he talks about the five senses that we have but do not use to the fullest extent possible. We hear things, but do we listen? We have eyes but do we see? And so it goes.

If depression narrows our focus, what about fighting depression by expanding our view but using our five senses to appreciate the world around us.

A father recently told me that he does not take his children out anymore because he does not have the money to visit places with them. I pointed out that there are many free things he can do with them. It doesn't cost anything to go to the park and throw a ball back and forth. A nature walk in the park if free for everyone. There are days of the week when the zoo does not charge for entry. One does not have to pay for books to go to the library or to a book store.

Not only is it that the use of our senses becomes narrowed by depression options seem to disappear. The perception that there are no choices ends up reinforcing feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

When feeling depressed it is possible to feel better by going outside while breathing in the world that surrounds us. To do this it is necessary to look, listen, taste, touch and smell the wonderful world that surround us.

I can anticipate some skeptics stating that they live in the city and there is no nature present. Not true. Most cities have parks. In addition to going into and enjoying the parks, there is the architecture of the wonderful and varied types of buildings around town.

Last night my adult daughter said to me in an awed voice, "Dad, look up, isn't the sky amazing?" I looked up into the darkness and saw a completely clear sky with the dazzling moon and milk way shining down on us. We shared a stunning experience together that we were able to appreciate. And it didn't cost one cent.

We have eyes, but do we see? We have ears, but, do we listen? Jon Kabbat-Zinn points out that the senses work together to create a wonderful combined sensory experience if we pay attention. We hear with our eyes and see with our ears. But, do we see, do we hear, do we enjoy the smell of wonderful aromas?

Jon Kabbat-Zinn encourages meditation as a way to get in touch with and appreciate the moment, the now, the immediate because that is all there really is. I remember a Charles Azhnavour song in which he sings that, "all the yesterdays are gone and tomorrow may never be." He then sings of today, now, hearing, seeing and appreciating our lives.

I am not naive. I know very well the pain, desperation and hopelessness of depression and other mental illnesses. However, I also believe and have experienced how making the effort to think differently and take in the world can alter our lives.

It should go without saying that there are additional tools for the relief of depression, such as, psychotherapy, medication and exercise and meditation. However, none of these by themselves can bring about meaningful changes in ourselves if we do not begin looking around and appreciating the miracle of life.

Are you "coming to your senses?"

Your comments and observations are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.

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