This is a picture of me at school, implementing some of the things I’ve found help me avoid sensory overload when I don’t have the time or space to do longer exercises.
In my last post, I talked about exercises that help put pressure on my muscles and joints to regulate my nervous system. At school, it’s harder for me to find a place to do the kind of stretching or heavy work I can do at home, so I have a slew of smaller activities that I use to try to stay regulated. The OTs I’ve talked to call this collection of activities a sensory diet. Diet in this term doesn’t mean cutting sensory activities out; it refers to having a balanced collection of sensory input that help you regulate your senses, depending on whether you are sensory avoidant or sensory seeking.
I bring chewy snacks such as dried fruit or gum, stress balls and putty to squeeze with my hands, earplugs and headphones to block out noise, sunglasses for bright sunlight or indoor lights, and hoodies to cut out some visual information around me. Sometimes I put my headphones on and play rain sounds on the bus and on my way to class. In class, I do mini joint compressions for my fingers and wrists: I grab one finger with my other hand and pull it out, then push it back, pulling and compressing the joint. I do this five to ten times for each finger, and for my wrists. If I have a break in between class, I find a corner to do some stretches or jumping jacks. One OT suggested progressive relaxation, tensing each group of muscles in your body for a few moments and then relaxing, starting at your head and working your way to your toes. Finally, I breathe through my belly, breathing out for longer than I breathed in, when I’m sitting in class or when I notice my body has tensed as I rush to my next lesson.
In order to keep track of all of these activities and the effect they have on my body, I’ve started a sensory log. At the end of each day, I fill out this log to see how I’m doing over time, which activities are helping, and which don’t seem to be making a difference. Here’s an example of what my sensory log looks like:
Body: okay/a bit tense
What I did in the morning: relaxed under a soft blanket
During the day: biked, headphones and audiobook, orange sunglasses, sitting in the sun, taking time to myself to bike around, therapy
During the night: brushing, joint compression, jumping jacks, stretching to my toes, alpha brainwave music
Mood/overall how I felt: pretty great!
For more ideas, there are a few books that helped me find sensory activities for my day. The first two are titled The Out-of-Sync Child and The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun, both by Carol Kranowitz. These are geared towards children dealing with sensory issues and Sensory Processing Disorder, but they have some useful ideas for people of all ages. The second book is called Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight by Sharon Heller, which has a really useful chapter on sensory diets. However, I’d suggest skipping everything except the sensory diet chapter, as the author refers to autistic people and other neurodivergent folks in ableist ways that made me really unhappy.
If anyone has more sensory diet ideas, please reblog and share them!