Sensory for Anxiety: The 3 “Powerhouse” Senses for Self-Regulation
After reading here about sensory processing and its relevance to the treatment of anxiety, OCD, and other mental health disorders, lets get practical with some basic sensory strategies that can support self-regulation. When most people think of their sensory systems, they think of the five main senses: touch, smell, taste, hearing, and sight. However, through decades of research, occupational therapy acknowledges three additional types of sensory input: proprioceptive, vestibular, and interoceptive.
Additional Sensory Inputs
One’s awareness of their body in space. Each person has tiny receptors in their muscles and joints that are responsible for sending messages to the brain about where one’s body is in space. Thus, proprioceptive input involves applying deep pressure, resistance, or movement to particular joints and muscles.
One’s awareness of their relationship to gravity. This includes our sense of movement, balance, and posture. Vestibular input involves any input that moves the head and/or engages the bodies balance system.
One’s awareness of their internal body functions. This includes one’s ability to sense their own heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure, digestion, etc. Interoceptive input involves any input that increases one’s awareness of their internal functional and processes.
Why is this important? Early occupational therapy literature points to 3 main sensory systems that are the critical point of intervention when trying to support one’s self-regulation. These three systems are Prospective, vestibular, and tactile systems. Below is an outline of these systems along with practical “hacks” for engaging these systems as means to manage anxiety and emotional regulation:
Sensory System Type of Input Strategies
|Proprioceptive||Deep pressure, touch, and resistance||· Weighted items · Exercise bands · Compression clothing · Hugs · Self-massage · Squeezing something · Chewing gum · Activities such as: yoga, swimming, rock climbing, digging, weight lifting, etc.|
|Vestibular||Slow linear movement; changes in position of head and body||· Swinging · Hanging · Climbing · Rocking · Bouncing · Activities such as: yoga, rock climbing, gymnastics, etc.|
|Tactile||Touch, oral input, pain, and temperature||· Tactile fidgets (i.e. pop-its, fidget rings, etc.) · Stress balls · Petting animals · Physical contact from others · Hot and cold · Self-massage · Chewing gum/candy · Activities such as: finger painting, using clay/playdough, playing with sand, feeling different textures etc.|