Updated: Feb 23
Can you imagine not being able to smell the rich aroma of coffee in the morning, or feel the soothing warmth of sunshine on your face or see the bright colors of springtime, or hear the laughter of children? Our senses bring everything we do to life.
They are part of our intricate and complex nervous system through which we perceive, interpret, and respond to the world around us. And it is through our senses that we are able to stay alive.
The thing is, we can become overstimulated. When we are inundated with overwhelming sensory input, we can reach a breaking point or sensory overload without even realizing it.
Do you find yourself experiencing any of the following?
difficulty focusing due to competing sensory input
restlessness and discomfort
urge to cover your ears or shield your eyes from sensory input
feeling overly excited or “wound up.”
stress, fear, or anxiety about your surroundings
higher levels than usual of sensitivity to textures, fabrics, clothing tags, or other things that may rub against the skin
Because we can never completely take a break from our senses, we need to be strategic to find SENSORY REST.
Dalton Smith defines SENSORY REST as “the opportunity to downgrade the endless onslaught of sensory input received from electronics, fragrances, and background noise.”
Did you notice that Dr. Smith has electronics first on her list?
I know it will come as no surprise when I say that SCREENS are our biggest source of sensory overload.
We are bombarded with images, color, notification pings, music, voices while our fingers and hands touch, type, swipe, and hold our devices, sometimes for hours at a time.
I was shocked to read that adults in America now spend more time in front of a screen (10+ hours) than in their beds sleeping!!.
Do you know how much time you spend in front of a screen?
In addition, Douglas Gentile, professor at Iowa State University, reported that out of 168 hours in a week, we spend more than 50 of those hours with a device.
All this time in front of screens affects our ability to regulate our emotions, and we can get cranky, lash out, or completely shut down.
In addition to affecting our mood, being in front of screens has many other detrimental effects on our overall health. Studies have shown that too much time in front of a screen can lead to:
Insomnia and Poor Sleep
Eye Strain and Headaches
Neck, Shoulder, and Back Pain
Reduced Physical Activity Levels
Although it’s hard to imagine a life without electronics, more and more research is pointing toward the warning signs and the need to reduce our intake.
So, what can we do?
If we are not INTENTIONAL about our screen use, we will continue to be in a state of sensory deficit. Consider setting boundaries for yourself in these three areas:
Time in front of a screen—decide your limit. How much time(outside of work) will you spend in front of a screen? It might be painful, but the first step is to check how much time you spend on screens. Then set a goal for yourself to reduce your daily intake in small increments.
Phone usage—set specific times during the day when you will use your phone. For example, you can turn off notifications during work or leave your phone in another room and only use your phone during lunch breaks.
End of the day—decide when to turn off all electronics for the night. For example, “lights out” can happen an hour before bedtime. And if you’re up for the challenge, try keeping your phone out of the bedroom.
We all have a unique sensitivity and tolerance to sensory input. Some of us are more sensitive to touch, others to sound, others to visual stimuli, taste, or smell. And some are sensitive to all.
Begin by noticing which senses you are most aware of during the day.
These are most likely to be your “sensory suckers.” To avoid overstimulation, it is helpful to pay attention to the senses that you find irritating.
Do you notice tags or seams in your clothing?
Do you rub your eyes frequently throughout the day?
Are you putting on or taking off layers of clothing in response to the temperature?
Do you limit the types of food you eat?
Do you like working in a quiet space or prefer music in the background?
Once you notice your sensitivities, it’s time to treat your senses to a break or a boost.
GIVE YOUR SENSES A BREAK
For your eyes—Dr. Dalton recommends the 20-20-20 method. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at least 20 feet away. You can also put your devices on dark mode during the day. And lastly, try using an eye mask when you sleep.
Your touch—Break from using your hands for an hour.
Your mouth—Reduce your sugar intake or eat less processed foods. Try it for a meal or a day and see what happens.
Your ears—Practice total silence. Find a place away from background noise-a room in your house, a corner in your garden, a nearby park and sit in silence.
Your nose—Eliminate strong odors from your space by opening the windows and letting fresh air in.
GIVE YOUR SENSES A BOOST
Sometimes overworked senses can become numb, so sometimes treating your senses to something pleasurable can provide that needed “boost.”
For your eyes—Use a humidifier in your workspace - the moisture in the air helps your eyes stay moist. Apply a cool eye mask or warm compress. Use eye drops.
Your ears—Turn on soothing music. Low-frequency music, known as infrasound and binaural beats, are known to reduce anxiety and promote rest and relaxation.
Your mouth—Treat yourself to the food you savor and focus for 10 minutes on the flavors. Pop a mint in your mouth and enjoy.
Your touch—Indulge in a hot bath, a foot bath, or a hand massage. Try wrapping yourself in a warm blanket and experience the feelings it brings.
Your nose—Fill your space with a favorite scent using a candle or air freshener, or go outside into nature and “smell the roses.”
Sensory “Suckers” are part of our daily lives, but finding the sensory rest we need is possible. I hope some of these suggestions help you.
Finding Sensory Rest is the last in our series on the “7 Types of Rest.” We hope it has given you much to think about and a few ideas on how to take care of yourself and find the exact rest you need.
We would love to hear from you; leave a comment and let us know what topics would you like us to discuss next?
Coco & Vicky
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