Our five senses are constantly at work, affecting our emotions and our overall mental health. What we hear, see, taste, smell, and touch provide us with the necessary information that our body relies on to understand how to feel. In the opposite direction, our senses can be commandeered by our environment and the specific sensations our body takes in.
Let’s take a look at each of our five senses and see how mood is affected by each and how each is affected by mood.
Sound happens when pressure waves are created by vibrating objects. Communication is best and most commonly understood through the vibration of vocal cords. Hearing is the sense that we prioritize communication, mostly because our human ears are always on high alert. This is why many of us use alarms to wake up in the morning because, while some of our senses quiet down during rest, our ears remain awake.
We can see how sound affects mood most directly through music. Many of us have our favorite tunes to play when we need something to cheer us up. When songs or beats inspire us, our body releases dopamine which gives us feelings of pleasure. The cells within our ear translate vibrations into neural messages that are sent directly to the brain. Our body links the release of dopamine with these sounds and will store that information in the body.
Any novel experiences with sounds cause our brain to categorize and store our response as information to use later. When particular sounds are coupled with emotional information, such as fear or happiness, the information is stored together as a bundle in the brain. This is why the song of our first heartbreak or the voice of a loved one will surface past emotional responses. The sound makes us associate our past experiences with the present moment.
Sight is the first sense we learn to understand. Colors, sizes, and everything else that we process visually has to do with our sight. Sight and emotion are connected because, like sound, certain environments or images are connected with past emotional responses and are stored in our minds.
Sight can be idiosyncratic, as some people prefer darker and moodier settings for comfort while others enjoy sunshine and color. Our visual environments can produce certain emotions that are associated with them. This is beneficial because if we feel uncomfortable in a given environment, we can either adapt to it or shift environments entirely.
Equally as powerful is our mood’s impact on sight. Sad moods can alter susceptibility to visual illusions, while goal-directed desires and motivation can alter the apparent size of goal-directed or associated objects.
The flavors we perceive can directly impact our mood. When we are sad or feeling low, our body searches for sugary substances as food gives us energy, thus boosting our mood.
Many studies have found that people tend to associate metaphoric feelings of love and contentment with sweet foods, while jealousy and sadness are associated with bitter or sour foods. Other studies have found a link to taste and memory, as certain foods can impact mood based on past experiences. Memory is known to be linked to each of our senses in one way or another.
People wonder most commonly why smells seem to trigger such vivid emotions. Staff at Harvard tell us that our sense of smell is processed in the olfactory region, the part of the brain responsible for sending information to other areas of the body. Odors pass through the amygdala and hippocampus, responsible for emotion and memory, straight into the limbic system. This is why past emotions and memories connected to a specific smell tend to take hold when that same smell is released in the environment.
Smell and taste intertwine in many ways, but in this case, smell is considered flavor, while taste is associated with the consistency of food. Knowing this, smell may actually have a stronger impact on mood.
Our sense of touch and feel dramatically impact emotion, as even a casual touch can release positive feelings of worthiness and love. Touch is a direct form of communication, allowing us to be intimate with and comforted by one another. It allows us to feel connected physically but also emotionally with someone or something, which boosts our overall well-being.
Touch is the first language that we learn. When our sense of touch develops in a safe and comforting environment, it has the capacity to teach us an appropriate sense of danger. If we develop touch in an unsafe environment, our sense of true danger is skewed. Touch is the way that we engage in a given environment. Our sense of touch relies on communication within our brain in regard to impulses and automatic body responses.
Our five senses directly affect our mental health in many ways. Each of our senses has associated a plethora of memories that connect to specific emotions, which helps us to identify danger from safety in a given movement. While our external environment can alter how we feel internally, our emotions can also impact how we sense the outer world. Sad or anxious emotions can make reality seem more emotionally charged than they really are, likewise with emotions of happiness. Understanding the link between our senses and emotions can help us to be more aware of how we respond to a given situation. This is a practice of mindfulness within itself. West Coast Recovery Centers have intentional facilities that create safe spaces for you to identify challenging emotions. We want to help you achieve peace of mind. For more information about the treatment options we offer, please give us a call at (760) 492-6509.