FEEL SENSORY BALANCED
There seems to be little awareness of sensory integration problems amongst adults. Which truly is a shame, since so many sensory integration problems are misunderstood or misdiagnosed. We tend to take sensory integration for granted, until we start to experience functional problems in our daily performance.
10 signs you may experience due to sensory processing difficulties
If you’re worried about any of your symptoms, always visit a medical doctor to exclude other medical conditions.
- you are hypersensitive to light and you always bring sunglasses with you. Too much light will give you a headache, make you feel nauseous and/or dizzy.
- you try to avoid escalators, elevators and open staircases because they make you feel dizzy and/or nauseous.
- sounds overwhelm you easily and your noise cancelling headphones are your best friend. Or you experience the opposite; you practically need Metallica standing next to your bed to wake up.
- you become dizzy easily during yoga, bending over and dancing. Or the opposite; you loooooove skiing, hanging upside down and high risks sports because it makes you feel more alert.
- moving images on tv, computer or telephone often feel as too much and may give you a headache and make you feel nauseous. Or the opposite; you need strong visual input to make you feel more awake and alert.
- touch often feels too intensive or the opposite; you crave strong pressure during a massage before it feels like someone is actually touching you.
- it’s hard for you to focus on the conversation you’re having with a friend in a café because of the surrounding sounds. Or the opposite; you’re able able to focus much better in chaotic environments.
- you usually come back to the same meals, flavors and textures. Or the opposite; foods taste real bland and you need to season a lot before you actually taste something.
- sitting still for extended periods of time make you feel unalert and you’ll have trouble focusing.
- You are anywhere in between tired to completely exhausted after you’ve spent time in busy surroundings. Multitasking is very difficult for you. You’ll often feel ‘tired but wired’ afterwards. And you may experience dizziness, brain fog, nausea or headaches.
Knowledge about your sensorimotor system has the potential to highly improve your quality of life
A bit of sensory know-how will make you understand your own symptoms and behaviour in a much better way.
This knowledge will give you more control over your sensory experience because you can start making different decisions based on your sensory sensitivities. And most importantly, there are also lots of exercises to improve sensory integration.
Sensory integration and our brains
The most important job of our nervous system is to react to changes in our inner and outer environment. All our senses give continuous information to our brains, where it is received, integrated and considered whether any further action is required.
Throughout this consideration movement of our body is activated. So our senses and movement are connected. Turning down the volume of the tv for instance when you’re speaking to someone on the phone. Or running across the street when you see cars start to drive earlier than expected.
To give you a bit more basic understanding of sensory processing and how sensory overstimulation influences your life, see this brief explanation from Willem F. van der Bend, Psychiatrist.
Is SPD an official disorder?
Sensory Processing challenges can be part of a mental disorder, a natural personality trait or state of being and is not an official disorder in itself. People dealing with the following conditions may experience sensory processing problems to greater or lesser extant.
- Highly Sensitive Personality
- Anxiety and/or trauma
- Chronic stress
- Acquired brain injury
- CANS (Complaints of the Arm, Neck and/or Shoulder)
- Sickness and pain
- Feeling tired
Getting more empowered by getting to know your 8 senses
As we can see in the video above, we generally talk about our 5 senses. But more and more research shows we actually have 8 senses, depending on the definition that’s being used. Let’s explore this sensory system a bit further.
The first 5 senses are the ones we are most familiar with. We could call these senses the 5 ‘far’ senses, since they give our brain sensory information from outside our bodies. The last 3 senses could be called the ‘near’ senses since they give our brains sensory information about what’s happening inside our bodies.
- Sense of seeing (visual)
We are bombarded with shapes, forms, lights and colours throughout our day. Helping us to navigate through the world and keeping us safe.
- Sense of hearing (auditive)
There are sounds we choose our selves like music, social media, radio and television. But others we get for free whether we want them or not: public transport, crying children, road constructions, diy’ing neighbors, office gardens and traffic. Thereby giving our survival brain a clue to detect how far or near these sounds actually are and if they form a potential threat for our safety.
- Sense of smell (olfactory)
Parfums, food, sweaty surroundings, the skin of your favourite person, gas, smoke, flowers, plants, animals. Our nose helps us to detect potential harming fumes and safe environments in order to protect us.
- Sense of taste (gustatory)
Our taste helps us in making a difference between safe and harmful foods and fluids. Salt for instance is something most people like, since it’s something our body’s can’t go without for a very long time. A sour taste on the other hand, is something we only like in small amounts since our prehistoric brains setting would like to protect us against eating overripe fruits.
- Sense of touch (tactile)
Our touch sense is the first sense that gets to develop in the embryo, so that goes to show how important that sense is for our survival. Our skin and nervous system originate from our ability to touch. Within an instance our brain is able to detect whether or not a touch is safe, harming, calming, upsetting, pleasant or unpleasant.
- Sense of body position (propioception)
Now close your eyes. And point at your nose with your finger. Worked out well, right? You are able to do this because of your propioceptors. These little receptors are located in your muscles, tendons, joints and tissues and inform your brain where your body is in space without using your eyes. This helps you walking down the street for instance without looking down at your feet.
- Sense of balance (vestibular)
This little organ is part of our inner ear and is responsible for keeping our balance while we change head and body position, spatial orientation and it coordinates movement and balance.
- Sense of internal state of body (interoception)
How do you know you need to go to the toilet to pee? Or that you’re hungry or thirsty? Our interoception system has all kinds of receptors in several tissues of our body, each helping us to make sense of our needs.
Our brain can either over or under register sensory input
Monique Thoonsen is a Dutch physiotherapist and educator who’s written amazing books on sensory processing difficulties.
I absolutely love this fantastic image from one of her books. It’s a bouncer at Club Brain. If the bouncer is too strict he refuses too many clubbers. And your brain is in a state of under-responding to sensory input.
If the bouncer is way to cool he let’s in way too many clubbers (read sensory information). And your brain is in a state of over-responding to sensory input. When we enter a dangerous situation we should be very happy with a cool bouncer like that, you want to have as much as information as possible for survival after all.
But when there is no actual danger and you get easily overwhelmed by sound, smell, light, movement, temperature, touch and taste all this sensory information makes you feel stressed, anxious and hyper vigilant.
By way of contrast, if your bouncer is way to strict you’ll feel unalert, you easily trip over things and have difficulty focusing. Have you ever slept too much? Like you slept so much you only felt more tired? That’s how it feels when your brain is under- stimulated and you’ll easily miss al kinds of information, ‘forget’ you need to go to the toilet or feel thirsty for instance.
How chronically tight muscles make sensory processing more difficult
Our body has around 650 muscles and every muscle is filled with sensory cells. So you can imagine that it’s very difficult for our brains to receive proper sensory information from our muscles if these are chronically tight.
If our muscles are chronically tight, our sense of position (remember, our sixth sense) gets weakened.
It works like this: our sixth sense of position normally functions like a kind of brake, it inhibits the working of our other senses too. That’s why our other senses become more sensitive when our propioception receptors can’t do their work properly.
Feeling more sensory balanced with yoga
Yoga (and somatics, the two fit perfectly together) can help you to:
- manage your energy during the day throughout movement, meditation, deep pressure touch, propioception & vestibular input
- gain more conscious control of your muscles and movement
- stop battling with feelings of stress, lack of energy, fear, frustration and other disturbing emotions
- deeply relax and recharge your mental & physical battery
- release chronic muscle tension & improve body awareness
- improve your sense of balance through specific sensorimotor practices
- achieve emotional balance
Sensory Integration Therapy
As you have read, the causes and levels of sensory integration problems can vary enormously. If you notice that your daily functioning gets disturbed by sensory problems, I highly recommend sensory integration therapy by a licensed occupational therapist (ASITT protocol). Yoga classes are not a replacement of that by any means, but may be an important part of your daily sensory sensitivity management.