I was recently taken by surprise, when an interesting new feature called “Screen Time” appeared on my phone after an operating system upgrade. This feature reports how much time you’ve spent using your phone. It also breaks it up into categories such as productivity, reading and reference, social networking and entertainment. Now your daily usage can be measured and at the end of the day you can see how much time you’ve spent staring at your phone. Truth be told: the result is shocking! Gone are the days where you can state: “I only go on Facebook once a day for a few minutes”. Thankfully you can now set daily time limits for app categories that you feel needs to be managed better. Imagine… a highly successful smartphone manufacturer, providing its clients with clever, technologically advanced ways to minimize time spent using their product!!! But as we all know, “just a few minutes” can easily turn into a much longer time frame and it becomes increasingly difficult to simply put your phone down and get on with real life.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a firm believer of living a balanced lifestyle. Enjoying a few minutes on social media, a piece of chocolate, online shopping, a glass of wine or a slice of cake on the odd occasion has never done anyone harm. In fact, I think adults often use these little vices as a reward system for prolonged work endurance, patience with attention-seeking children, perseverance during emotionally stressful times and just getting through the day without causing any harm.
A gold star on a star chart just won’t do the trick!
The success to these gold star vices is that it should be the exception to the rule, allowed in moderation and not become something you cannot live without. Unfortunately, we so often get caught up in a seemingly innocent habit that can easily evolve into a full-blown addiction.
From a sensory perspective, addictions can loom around the corner, whether you’re a sensory seeker or sensory avoider. Let’s say sensory seekers resemble the leaves of a tree: they experiment with-, tolerate and enjoy multiple input from the outside world such as the sun’s heat, wind blowing them about, raindrops falling on them at unpredictable intervals and insects crawling all over them. Our human sensory seekers are our fun-loving, multi-tasking, busy-bodies who’s always on the go, running from one meeting or activity to the next… loving it… and being good at it!
Sensory avoiders, on the other hand, can be resembled by the roots of a tree: they are not too keen to experience everything at once, like to pick and choose input from the outside world and avoid whatever they are not ready for at that moment e.g. the roots are happy to be underground where it’s darker, the temperature is consistent, happenings are more predictable, sound levels are low and the earthworms sharing their space respect their privacy and don’t bother them unnecessarily. Our sensory avoiders like to have control over their environment and are selective when it comes to sounds, sights, touch, smells, tastes and movement. For them, less is more and they are great at organizing their environment in such a manner when allowed to.
Should it happen that our sensory seekers are forced to exist in an environment where they don’t receive enough input, they’ll go and find more… and more… and more… without always knowing when to stop.
On the other hand, our sensory avoiders might find themselves in situations where they are bombarded with sensory stimuli. If they are not able to escape, they might start searching for ways to numb their senses in an attempt to avoid registering the massive loads of input entering their conscious minds.
I believe the gold star trick should be to choose a healthy “addiction”. Something that will fill the void for sensory seekers or provide a safe “out” for sensory avoiders, but in a healthy manner that will be beneficial and easily accessible, such as:
- DEEP BREATHING
The amazing thing about deep belly-breathing is that you can do it anywhere, at any time, on your own. Deep breathing not only releases stress, but has numerous other health benefits.
- SIPPING WATER FROM A SPOUT BOTTLE
Since the adult human body is made up of approximately 60% of water, drinking enough water during the day should be a no-brainer. Add the calming effects when sipping from a spout bottle and you might just find yourself regulated in no time.
- GET UP AND MOVE
They say sitting is the new smoking. Living a sedentary lifestyle can have a detrimental effect on your physical- and psychological health. Everything is within arm’s reach nowadays and our health is missing out on opportunities to get the movement it so desperately needs. You don’t have to spend hours in the gym or run a marathon. Hide the television remote for an hour at night, put the dust bin in your office away from your desk, walk outside and eat your lunch under a tree, climb the stairs instead of taking the lift. A little bit of effort can make a world of difference to your senses!
Keep your hands busy. Fiddle with a stress ball, paper clip or rubber band. Doodle on paper, play with a ball of Prestik. Maybe even fidget with your feet: roll a ball on the floor using only your feet. Whatever tickles your fancy, keeps you regulated and happy… go for it!
Life is about choices, so choose wisely and live your life to the fullest… in moderation.
Written by Marieta du Toit, a qualified Occupational Therapist with an interest in sensory integration, neurology and human behaviour in the modern world. She is based in St Francis Bay, where she manages her school-based practice dealing with children, parents, teachers, principals and health profession colleagues. Marieta is a regular blogger and is our Eastern Cape Events Co-ordinator.