A few years ago we had the privilege of experiencing Alaska. Alaska is a beautiful refuge of unspoiled beauty and tranquility. You can gaze for hundreds of miles in any direction without seeing one highway, one office building, or even one other person. Truly paradise.

Frankly, before this trip I would have said that I was more of a sand and ocean kind of a girl, but this place proved to exceed my every expectation and then some. I was overwhelmed by the vast sense of peacefulness and the untouched beauty that stretches in every direction. It quickly became one of my “happy places.”

Unfortunately, when you live in Texas and your happy place is in Alaska, it’s not that easy to stop by for a quick dose of tranquility. Or is it? I may not be able to physically visit Alaska every time I feel stressed out and anxious, but I do have the option to visit the version of Alaska that is in my mind. Tranquility is not beyond my grasp. Peace is accessible no matter what your circumstances.

So what do I do when my circumstances are anything but happy, and my environment is far from an unspoiled paradise? I remember that what I dwell on in my mind is the biggest influencer on how I perceive my current circumstances. And how I perceive my circumstances directly affects how I react to them. I am in control of my happy place, no matter where I am. So how can you positively react to your circumstances no matter what they are?

  • Create a mental happy place. It may be a place you have actually experienced, or someplace you’ve read about and only dreamed of going. Either way, take time to really focus on some details about the physical location that relax and calm you. And this isn’t just a visual exercise, try to layer in the smells of your vision. Fresh pine, baking cookies, and the ocean breeze are connected to vivid memories for many people. Make sure to round this out with the feel of sun on your shoulders or snow softly floating through the air. Make sure to include some sounds too. What do you hear in this peaceful place?
  • Plan when you’ll use your refuge space. Are there recurring situations or people in your life that make you anxious or upset? Plan on pulling out this secret weapon. Mentally imagine yourself in your refuge and experience the visual stimulation, smell the environment, and listen carefully to the still small sounds that round out this personally designed chill zone.
  • Practice! Like lifting weights or grilling a prime steak, everything worth doing takes practice. I’ve been guilty of letting my mental utopia sit on the shelf too long and the details faded. The vivid sights and colors didn’t pop anymore and that fragrance memory diminished. Don’t wait until you NEED a mental retreat. Practice often. Maybe even find an air freshener that reminds you of your place and use that to give you a quick mental refresher.

SCIENTIFICALLY: Fragrance memory is unique for each person as well as being unique in the way we react to it. The limbic system in our brain perceives and sends messages connected with these smells to the memory storage area. If you have fond memories of the sweet scent of roses from playing hide-and-seek in your loving grandmother’s rose garden, then smelling roses gives you a positive memory. The same rose smell for someone else could be associated with the death of a loved one. Same smell – completely opposite stored fragrance memory.

  • Use as needed. I give you permission. Whenever you’re in a stressful or unpleasant situation go to your mental refuge. Obviously, don’t close your eyes if you’re driving, but use your current surroundings to retreat for a few moments and consciously try to slow your breathing.

A few minutes of meditating on your happy place will help you have perspective on the current circumstances, and can calm your physical reactions to a stressful event.

So what is your mental refuge?

Describe your mental refuge (sights, sounds, smells, environment) and how it makes you feel. What is one circumstance where you can use your mental refuge this week?


Fifthsense.org – research