It was one of those crazy mornings. I had very little sleep the night before, back-to-back clients booked, a ton of admin waiting for me, and when I arrived at the office the discovery of a drenched floor. The rain from the previous evening had highlighted massive cracks in the wall that suddenly needed urgent attending to in my already crazy day. The morning went by in a blur – explaining to clients why there were towels all over the floor and a damp smell in the air, making calls to my landlord, doing my best to focus on my sessions, making to-do lists in the back of my mind… By lunchtime I felt stressed, unfocused and completely out of control. On top of that I realised I had forgotten to pack lunch! As I sat in front of my computer, trying to answer emails in my lunch hour, my brain felt like it couldn’t string a coherent sentence together if my life (or job) depended on it.
And that’s when my Sensory Intelligence® kicked in. I took a full, deep breath and closed my eyes for a few seconds. I counted back from 10 to one, taking deep breaths with each number. This didn’t stop my mind from spinning, but allowed me to take a step back and assess the situation. I realised three important things:
- I wasn’t going to be very productive at the time. If I sent emails and attended to my other admin, I was going to make mistakes and would have to re-do a lot of it later.
- I had a long afternoon filled with appointments and I owed it to my clients to be focused and attentive during their therapy sessions.
- I was hungry! My stomach was growling. I needed to eat and rest, or else my afternoon would be a nightmare.
I made the decision to close my laptop, put my phone on silent and headed out to lunch. Sensory Intelligence® taught me that my body comes first. I can’t expect my mind to work if my basic needs aren’t met. And right now my basic needs were food and some rest. After I got a sandwich from the shop across the road, I sat outside in the garden to enjoy my lunch. I removed myself from my office and the sensory overload happening due to the smells and damp air, and just focused on the sunshine on my arms as I satiated my hunger. Then I had about 30 mins left, and I decided that it was time for my weighted blanket. I searched for another empty office, closed the door and lay under my blanket for about 15 minutes – until I felt my muscles relax, my breathing slow down and my mind opening up.
(A weighted blanket offers deep pressure sensory input through our touch system. Deep pressure is calming and helps us to self-regulate when we feel out of control. Think of the effect a big hug has when you feel overwhelmed. Weighted blankets can be used by children and adults. Pretty Special is our recommendation for a company that makes excellent, custom-made weighted blankets: http://www.prettyspecial.co.za/index.html)
By the time my first afternoon client arrived, I was ready for her session. I was able to focus on her needs from a relaxed and present state. I’d also realised that none of the admin, that felt so important at the time, was actually that urgent. I planned to spend some time in the afternoon to address the things that needed to be done on that day, and then would allocate the other tasks to other days in my week. And when the time came I actually worked much faster and got so much more done, than I would have if I’d forced myself to work when I wasn’t focused and clear-minded.
I look back on this day often, as a reminder of how Sensory Intelligence® is a skill (and a wisdom) that we use every single day. On that day I understood that my body needed to be attended to first, before I could expect my mind to perform at its best. I also had the tools from my ‘sensory toolbox’ at my disposal: breathing, my weighted blanket and luckily some sunshine, to use my senses to re-focus, relax and self-regulate. I always try to remember that we can’t always control our days or our environment, but we can always control our bodies.
It’s important to note that not everything would work for everyone- people have different sensory thresholds and need to self-regulate in different ways. Some people might need a quick run in their lunchtime, contact a friend or listen to their favourite radio station. Others might need to use noise-cancelling earphones, move offices for the day due to the smell, or do a longer breathing meditation.
Sensory Intelligence® means understanding your own sensory threshold, so why don’t you do our free Quick Quiz to confirm your thresholds. Better yet, do our Sensory Matrix™, get a personalised 25-page report that guides you in understanding your sensory threshold in each of your senses and how to self-regulate in a way that works for your body. I promise you, you will never think about your senses in the same way again!
Have you got questions? Give us a call on 061 523 6323 or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to assist.
Written by Karlien Terblanche, a specialist facilitator with Sensory Intelligence® Consulting, with a special focus on adults and corporate groups. She holds a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Stellenbosch and specialises in the field of mental health. She has extensive experience in the area of sensory integration in adults and is currently exploring sensory mindfulness as a preventative strategy in mental health and wellness. She is passionate about working with both individual clients and groups and aims to guide her clients to reach their full potential. She fully believes every person can become the hero of their own story.