4 sensory supports that are saving my lifeFeb 22, 2022
Glaring overhead lights make my eyes ache, a deep penetrating brightness that follows me no matter where I look.
The sound of a knife skidding across a dinner plate makes my skin crawl, like bugs are inching over me.
Too many voices echoing off walls make my shoulder muscles clench, as though I can squeeze myself into a tiny box, safe from overwhelm.
It is hard to be sensitive in a world not built for sensitive people. As I write this at my downtown home in Durham, NC, construction noise pollutes that air all around me, ruining my attempt to enjoy a peaceful, warm winter afternoon. I can barely hear the birds and the wind as a jackhammer dominates the soundscape and makes my ears beg for relief.
Having a sensitive sensory system feels like having the volume turned up everywhere — too much light, too much sound, too much touch, too much smell, too much taste. In addition, there are less known and less obvious senses that can also be turned up: proprioception (the sense of the body’s movement), vestibular (the sense of balance and where your body is in space), and interoception (the sense of the internal state of your body). As a emotionally and spiritually sensitive person, I also sense the internal emotional states of other people and a spirit connection to the world around me.
As a sensitive person in an overwhelming world, here are four life changing sensory supports that have been a gift to me:
1) Using Loop ear plugs
This is in no way sponsored, just a real life endorsement of fabulously comfortable, flexible, and effective ear plugs that drop the sound level from unbearable to bearable.
Places Loop ear plugs save my life:
- In the car when my kids are being rowdy
- In any echoey place where sound bounces and reverbs (like the indoor pool)
- When my kids are listening to annoying Youtubers who yell instead of talk
- When I am trying to focus on cooking dinner
- In children's libraries, museums, or the toy section of Target
2) Wearing a hat and listening to music in the grocery store
This is a life changing sensory support that costs nothing! I started wearing a hat and listening to music in the grocery store (plus a mask, obvi), and it is rocking my sensitive world! I never knew how much the lights in the store blinded me, befuddled my mind, and left me reeling until I started wearing a baseball cap. The Loop ear plugs would also totally work in this setting, but I find listening to music to be even more grounding. Music with a strong driving downbeat is highly regulating for me; my personal preference is the Hamilton soundtrack with bonus points that I get to sing along under my mask. (Life goal: Nail every word of Satisfied along with Renee Elise Goldsberry). Try it and see if it changes your life too.
3) Sitting under a Bearaby weighted blanket
We’ve tried many brands of weighted and compression blankets, with mixed opinions, but Bearaby is like that chunky knitted scarf that you love to push your fingers through. The weight is perfectly distributed without any weird metal balls or clumps. I love the weight and I love the knit texture. My kids climb all the way under with me on the couch and feel like they are seeing disco lights, which they love. And I agree—the way that soft lamplight moves through the oversized holes in the blanket is totally magical. Bearaby blankets are not in any way cheap. If you’ve got a really special holiday coming up or a very special someone who wants to know what to get you, I cannot recommend getting a Bearaby enough. Weighted blankets use deep pressure stimulation to control all sorts of brain chemicals so you get peace, relaxation and ease, limiting stress, overstimulation and dysregulation. I personally feel a lovely lethargy, like I have had a long relaxing massage or a soft soothing bath.
4) Swinging or rocking during therapy & other intimate conversations
My preschooler is learning “whole body listening,” which involves sitting still, with eyes fixed on the person speaking, to show that you are really paying attention. Sadly, my whole body is not listening when I am sitting still and staring at someone’s eye balls.
As a full fledged grownup with nearly 40 years under my belt, I am finally discovering that if I want to do real work, like in therapy or an important/difficult/stressful conversation, I need to be moving. Rocking, swinging, or walking all work. Staring off into the sky is a must. Rocking and staring, my body can finally listen to my own thoughts and sort out what I am actually thinking, in the moment. With the freedom to move, my therapy sessions have gotten more honest and productive, and my important conversations have been interwoven with more love, vulnerability and compassion.
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