Sometimes the sources and solutions to stress are simpler than we think! You can use sensory regulation to manage stress.
Your sensory profile
Like Olaf, I like warm hugs – but I get grumpy after gatherings. I switch the radio off while looking for a street address, but I can read for hours in the car without feeling ill. You’ll find me under bedcovers no matter how hot it is, but I’m not a fan of hot, spicy food. I only last 2 hours in a shopping mall and I love the feeling of dirt under my feet.
These are all details that make up my unique “sensory profile” and how I regulate it. You have a unique sensory profile too!
Sensory regulation is about how we process and respond to the information we get from the world through our senses – sight, hearing, smell/taste, touch and movement.
We may not realize it, but this sensory information is closely connected to our moods and thinking. So, when our sensory regulation is poor, we will experience problems like mood changes, poor attention, confused thinking and more. Poor sensory regulation impacts on everything from work performance to relationships.
Are you High or Low?
Although we each have a unique sensory profile (with different responses to different sensory input), we all fall into 2 very general categories:
High threshold seekers
High Threshold people need and seek out more sensory input from life in order to activate themselves, perform well and de-stress. They might like noise, bright lights, strong flavours and physical activity. They enjoy lots of variety and socialising. Boredom is a potential stressor here! These sensory-seeking people often have extroverted temperaments.
Low threshold sensitives
In contrast, Low Threshold people are sensitive to (and even avoid) sensory input in order to remain calm and perform at their best. They may prefer quiet, space, blander foods and sedentary tasks. Burn-out is a real threat here! These are usually more introverted individuals who prefer routine and familiarity.
So, you can easily see how our sensory profiles might fit in with our personality types, learning styles and strengths!
Sensory thresholds and your health
There have been studies that correlate these 2 general categories with different mental health conditions. Low Threshold individuals have been found to be more likely to experience mood and anxiety disorders and interpersonal difficulties. High Threshold individuals are more at risk for physical injury, depression and substance abuse. People with chronic conditions like Schizophrenia often have very poor self-regulation of their sensory systems.
Occupational Therapy helps!
An Occupational therapist can help you discover your unique sensory profile. Then together you can develop strategies for preventing stress and promoting health.
The strategies will apply to these 3 overlapping aspects of your life:
- Your person: Teaching you self-regulation through sensory self-calming, desensitization or “sensory diets”, as appropriate.
- Your occupation/activities: Selecting, planning and adapting the activities you do to suit your profile. This includes self-care, work, socializing and leisure activities.
- Your environment: Adapting the physical environment of your home and workplace to your sensory needs.
Sensory sense for stress
Sensory regulation may seem like common sense, but we’ve ignored it! Instead, we’ve relied on more complicated emotional and intellectual explanations. So, use sensory regulation to manage stress. It’s an important piece that may be missing from your stress management puzzle!
Sensory Intelligence: why it matters more than IQ and EQ by Dr A Lombard, 2007 published by Metz Press.