What does a sensory coach have to offer during covid19 lockdown?

Maybe just the inexplicable comfort of allowing self-judgement, humankind’s constant companion, to simply fall away.

We all have pressing, crocodile brain, automatic, I-have-to-or-I-will-scream sensory needs.  According to our unique neurological thresholds for sensations, we are either sensory seeking, sensory avoiding or fluctuating between the two.

So what on earth am I trying to get at?  Those irritating behavioural patterns, those unique rituals and practices originate somewhere so deep within you that you need to consciously pay attention and listen up to what they are trying to communicate.  Only then, can you identify the sensory need behind them, and if necessary, replace them with activities stimulating the same sensory pathways in healthier, more wholesome and possibly more effective ways.

What does my crocodile brain urge me (Ida) to do in order to put the raging reptile inside me to sleep?  Well, every morning I need to train as if my very life depended on it, and at the end of a hectic day I need neutral warmth (a long relaxing bath) with various lotions, potions, powders and perfumes to boot.  And if that is not enough to calm my shattered nerves, I place a hot water bottle slam bang on top of my chest, with a weighted blanket covering the rest of my body (thank God winter is on its way).  The other self-preservation I practice when things are all too much, is napping.  Nothing puts sensory overload to bed like a luxurious uninterrupted nap.  Research found you need 60 minutes of naptime for emotional regulation, and a 90-minute nap for deep cognitive work and memory.  Frankly, I need both!

Let’s look at the 7 (yes 7!) senses in order to practice sensory self-care during lockdown, and really get down to listening to our neural pathways without the guilt.

The visual and auditory systems are our information senses, and now more than ever, I urge you to guard them vigilantly.  Keep watch and make sure whatever enters your nervous system is wholesome, pure, uplifting and good.  Tear your eyes away from social media, stop staring at the red and blue images of the virus, and schedule your daily news feeds.  For the remainder of the day, page through your favourite art magazine or book, google Chanel or Dior’s latest fashion collections, scroll through photos of loved ones, and feast your eyes upon nature’s abundant, calming beauty.

Listen to Baroque music (known to improve productivity by up to 30%), or your all-time, most loved and treasured playlist.  Only those songs, which uplift you and touches your heart, are allowed.  If, however you need energizing input to manage your morning workout routine, pump it up loud and clear.  Most of our sensory modalities possess both calming and energizing stimuli, and it is up to us to determine what we need, when we need it, and which sensations hit the spot.

Touch, smell and taste are the social senses.  Whether in lockdown on your own or with loved ones, I predict smell and taste are stimulated and ever engaged.  A lot of us are resorting to baking, cooking, and eating up a storm.  If like me, you utilize your oral-motor system for self-regulation, you may need to steer clear of the bathroom scale during lockdown and try your darndest to replace unhealthy eating with healthier food options.  Using spices generously, making sure food temperature and textures are correct and interesting, and bringing variety to your diet are a few simple ways to ensure you feel more satisfied after mealtime.  Try chewing minty or eucalyptus flavoured gum, brewing and sipping on herbal teas, and being present when eating.  Sucking ice or ice-lollies and eating crunchy foods (think green apples) are stimulating and healthy oral-motor sensory strategies.

The tactile system however will probably go into either overload (if you are in lockdown with your partner, children and pets without personal space) or deprivation (if you are by your lonesome self).    Responses may be cantankerous, irritable, unreasonable and even depressive.  I would suggest making the absolute most of your transitional self-care practices (showers and bath time).  Take time to lather, scrub, exfoliate, pamper and nurture every part of your body.  Use scented candles, body oils and butters.  Please do not save these luxuries to use at a later stage.  Right now, this is your scientific sensory self-care must-haves!

Pets are also incredible tactile gifts.  Never has there ever been a better deep-pressure, light touch, slobber-mouthed, hair-shedding, knock-me-over, bruise-my-legs, tactile bomb than my very own Boerboel Juno.  It is pure love, and admittedly at times, pure hate, depending on the duration of that nap.

The last two senses (vestibular and proprioception) are the movement or regulatory systems, and this is where things get interesting.  Engaging your regulatory systems is crucial for mental health, wellbeing, stress management and productivity.  When isolating the vestibular sense, there are both alerting and inhibiting stimuli at play, but ALL proprioceptive sensations are regulating.  You need to grasp this to really get the gist of what self-care is all about.  All our senses can either irritate or engage, but proprioception is the golden link to calmness.  Proprioception derives from the Latin word “proprius”, meaning one’s own. This system provides information regarding body awareness in space, movement through space, and the force your muscles exert while moving.  Pull out those sneakers and bring on the heavy work patterns against resistance: vacuuming, scrubbing, squat jumps, weight training, jogging, skipping, yoga, dancing, or even engaging in “deskcercises” while getting some work done.  Whenever you move, be it against gravity or resistance, your proprioceptors fire and release the most fantastically fluffy pink cloud of sensory calm.

Three sensory savvy strategies for lockdown:

1) Listen to your body and carefully feed the most pressing sensory needs using healthy, wholesome and nourishing sensory activities.

2) Guard your information senses, you are the gatekeeper.

3) Do not judge, the crocodile as with covid19, is a universal occurrence.

Please share your sensory sane tips below.  I would love to give them a go.

Stay sensory sane.

Ida x

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