Our Learning Support Specialist, Ms Ghida Bernard shares some insights into managing your stress using sensory strategies.

We know stress can be detrimental to our physical and psycho-social well-being. It can seriously affect our quality of life. For many, the lockdown has created challenging circumstances, be it financial pressures, negotiating work demands or managing relationships.

Using sensory strategies to manage stress can contribute to a greater sense of well-being and improved quality of life, with research demonstrating the underlying physiological gains. It helps you stay in the present, giving some relief from the over-thinking and worrying. By actively becoming more aware of how something makes you feel when you engage with it, you can learn more about your sensory preferences and adapt your activity profile accordingly.

A start would be to think about how the sensations around you contribute to your lived experience. How can you combine some of them or introduce new sensory stimuli to create more balance? How is it able to help you act in ways that is socially appropriate and in line with your morals and beliefs? If you find yourself overreacting to something, was there a point where you felt it building up and could you have prioritised taking a minute or two to engage in a calming activity that could possibly have avoided the reaction?  What would be a calming activity that is realistic in your current circumstances?

 A powerful tool people use to self-regulate is music, either helping them feel more alert or calming them down.

The visual system is also often used, for example looking at a sunset or watching birds in the garden. Decluttering a space can make it visually more appealing and create feelings of order and some sense of control.

Introducing helpful sensory strategies before or after anticipated challenging events could mean the difference between feeling overwhelmed and feeling like the activity/task is manageable, which could have two very different behavioural and emotional outcomes. Being able to recognize common stress symptoms can help you manage them. Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to health problems, and as such is worth giving attention to.

If you are interested in exploring sensory strategies to help with managing stress, think about it like this, if you had a glass representing your day, what tasks would add more energy/enjoyment to the glass and what would remove from it? The aim is to have a glass that have something in at the end of the day but does not overflow or fluctuate from being empty and overflowing.

If you need more guidance or advice, there are videos available on the topic of self-regulation and sensory processing on YouTube, as well as audiobooks and/or more academic articles on these topics where you can find information, depending on your preference.  

Who is Ghida Bernard?

Ghida Bernard is a qualified Occupational Therapist registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa. She completed her undergraduate studies in Occupational Therapy (OT) at Stellenbosch and her MSc in Perceptual Disorders (OT) at Wits. At Kingswood College, she assists the learners in the Junior School with additional learning support to fully benefit from the rich learning environment offered. Her special areas of interest include Self-Regulated Learning, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Educational Assessments, Emotional Regulation, Anxiety and Perceptual Disorders. She is a keen trail runner and enjoys music, gardening and art. Her husband is a marine biologist working in Makhanda and they have 3 wire haired pointers called Mungo, Molly and Chicko. The family love the Eastern Cape and plan to stay here long term