I do. Mine haunts me. I can never seem to beat it.
There are the odd occasions when I do really well against it and I win. It feels great. I could walk on air.
Sometimes they last for a short stretch of time – a few days, a week – two if I’m lucky. I could fly.
it all comes
And it’s not just me who is affected.
It’s not a small thing with small consequences.
What happens, you ask?
Okay I’ll ‘fess up.
I don’t wake up. Or if I do – I drop right off back to sleep before I can haul by backside out of bed.
Then I am late for anything that I have on for the day – visits, appointments, ….work.
And we’re talking regularly 30 – 40 mins late during the mid spring and autumn – and every now and then it’s a couple of hours. It affects other people when that happens – workers, patients … if I don’t get my work done it slows down the process of referrals going through, information getting to people in hospital and their treating teams for planning, people going home. It means groups can’t run or other people have to cover me. I nearly lost my last job over it. Even when well I’m often 10 – 20 mins behind my start time. I survive because I start before my boss and I always work back – but I can’t keep it up.
And it doesn’t seem to matter what time I ‘m supposed to start – I’ve adjusted starting times. It’s simply the process of getting out of bed and waking up in the morning.
Once I’m up, my sensory routines are helpful. I’ve started to experiment with some mindfulness exercises when I get time – which help a lot. But actually waking up and getting out of bed is jolly hard work.
The other thing that happens to me is that I lose time in the mornings. I do. Even when I’ve gotten up on time and have been running on time something happens – I space out in the shower or getting myself a drink and meds and time just vanishes.
I started a new experiment earlier this week that I think holds promise for the latter issue – I’ve started using a mindfulness breathing meditation exercise as soon as I get up that goes for about 10 mins to raise my level of alertness. If it keeps working at keeping me focused, I’ll be writing about that in a couple of weeks. But for it to work – I need to get up in time to have time to do it. It doesn’t need to be earlier – because I’ve worked out that I do everything else more efficiently when I do it. But I need to get up.
At present I use two alarm clocks set 5 mins apart – one to arouse my attention if I am in deep sleep so that by the time the second goes off I won’t sleep through it even if I sleep through the first. Part of me wonders whether it’s worth investing in a bed vibrating alarm clock – they make them for deaf people. It might be uncomfortable enough to help me move out of bed more easily. Has anybody ever used one?
I know the rules – go to bed early and get up and the same time every day. I’m awfully undisciplined at doing that.
Take your meds at the same time every day. I tend to get lazy and just take them on the way to bed – which admittedly is probably half of the problem. There are some very sleepy meds among my cocktail.
Every day is a new day with no mistakes in it – yet. Thank you, Anne Shirley – but other people remember and I need to work out the best way to deal with their memories and keep myself focused on the present so that I don’t drown in fright.
So here it is. My arch-enemy. The alarm clock. That moment in time that I’m supposed to get up. To get moving. To get started with the day.
Please – anybody with your own ghouls – what helps you haul yourself out of bed every morning?
There’s something centring about looking after yourself. Basic self-care. Hygiene and grooming activities. There are things among them that have qualities that can relax and alert us if we are mindful of what we are doing. A couple of posts ago I wrote about mindfulness and the senses in Send in the Senses . Today I would like to show you some of the ways that these principles can be integrated into everyday activities.
Warm water over the skin is relaxing. It’s soothing. You can just stand there under warm water in the shower or sit in a warm bath and let it calm you. (being conscious of your water consumption of course)
Or if you want to you can make it more soothing you can add a scented cleanser and smooth it on with your hands or a soft cloth. Then again – if you want to jazz it up a little, you choose a more uplifting stimulating scent and a courser cloth or a loofah. And okay – so the guys mightn’t be so into the scented soaps as the girls – but the rest still works as well for them even without the scents. On top of that are the sounds of the water and visual stimuli of the water running over you and the shower or lapping against the sides of the bath and the intricacies of your own bathroom and showering routine.
After washing, you think about how you are going to use your towel to dry yourself. Vigorous rubbing will invigorate the senses, while gentle strokes with the towel are likely to be more soothing. Alternately, you might wrap yourself in a towel or terry towelling bathrobe and wander around the house until you dry naturally.
If you’re looking for a basic activity that is inclined to stimulate the senses, then look no further than brushing your teeth. A toothbrush in decent condition with toothpaste on it brushed over the teeth and gums will arouse the senses of touch, taste and smell. Flossing is great if you’re anxious or need to slow down or focus because you have to do it deliberately and if you want to do it properly, you can’t do it quickly – so it forces you to slow down and focus your attention but gives you a task to do it with.
Painting your nails is great for the same reason. There is a need for controlled movement – so you need to slow down and focus your attention. Great for regulating anxiety. It is also something that can make you feel nice after you’ve finished. So nail painting incorporates controlled touch, slow and controlled movement, a stimulating smell – which is not necessarily why you’ve chosen the task – but it won’t put you to sleep. I was stuck in one city while the rest of my family were in another when my Grandfather died and I couldn’t be with them. I was very unwell with depression at the time and quite distressed. In the end, painting my toenails is what I did to calm myself down to a point where I could think reasonably. Then I could start to deal with my situation and emotions more logically.
For those who like a face mask – this is a beauty. Deep touch is relaxing, so you apply the mask with a firm touch. You follow the directions and wait while it sets, then when it is done you rinse it off. Now to rinse it off, follow the directions on the packet but remember: warm water – calming, cool water – alerting; and soft cloth and/or gentle strokes with firm pressure when rinsing will be calming, while a courser cloth and/or more vigorous or uneven strokes while rinsing will be more alerting. My own preference when using a mask is to rinse with a course cloth but gently with firm, smooth strokes in warm water.
If you need to shave, this is a good example of an activity that involves slow, deliberate movement. Focusing on the movement and the sensations of the shaver on the skin can be very effective. Most would find that this would alert touch and movement sensations, potentially smell also depending upon things like shaving creams and so on.
Another one – very touch and movement based that I find therapeutic at time is waxing. Great for anger management. Rip into the leg waxing. It’s systematic. You have to regulate it. You eventually slow down because the waxing process requires you to. But it’s also a useful buffer for stress, a way of alerting the senses to wake up when you’re weary or just getting rid of unwanted hair… Waxing is rich in touch (temperature, pressure etc), it involves controlled movement and you are using your sight to inspect your work.
Brushing or combing your hair can be either relaxing or alerting depending upon how you go about it, although if you use a comb it is more likely that the result will be an alerting sensation. When using a brush however, if one uses long smooth strokes the effect is quite different to brief, sharp strokes. The former is calming, the latter more alerting. Experimenting with different styles of brushing can be a great way to explore ways that touch influences the senses.
Think about all of the self-care activities that you do on a regular basis. Washing and drying yourself, washing your hair, styling your hair, cleaning your teeth, washing your hands, washing your face, moisturising, using deodorant, brushing your hair, shaving and/or waxing, cleaning your ears, dressing, cleaning your nails – anything you can think of … Take some time to think about what sensory qualities there are to the tasks. What movements, use of vision, scents, smells, touch, sounds, tastes are associated with them? How are you positioned for them? Where is your balance? Your centre of gravity? Which of these have alerting qualities? Which have calming ones? Are there qualities to any to the tasks that you do regularly that could be useful to you in other ways?
An area that is starting to grow in mental health is an intervention called Sensory Modulation. It is used in a number of different ways and some people use it only in part. Some people may have come across ‘grounding techniques’ and ‘self-soothing techniques’. There is a cross-over between Sensory Modulation and distraction as a technique to deal with difficulties. It is a sub-branch within the world of Mindfulness and involves use of activity and engagement of the senses for therapeutic purposes. It is a big area for Occupational Therapists, Diversional Therapists and is starting to feature in Nursing literature, particularly for use in hospitals to try to find ways to reduce people’s levels of distress without having to resort to extra medication and seclusion. Studies are showing promising results.
Despite the way that we usually talk about five senses, we have actually have seven senses. We are used to thinking of our senses in terms of taste, touch, sight, smell and sound. However there are two more that we very rarely talk about.
The first of these is called proprioception. Proprioception is communication between your muscles and your brain. This is how your brain knows what your muscles are doing – when they are stretching, flexing and where your body is in space. It is proprioception that enables you to match the position of one arm to the position of the other with your eyes shut.
The second is a vestibular sensation. This is what gives us our sense of balance and the sense that we are moving in space like when we are in a car. It is also the sensation that gives us the feeling of dizziness and nausea when it is out of kilter.
Some people also differentiate between deep touch and light touch when working with the senses because your body often responds differently to the different types of touch. Think of the difference between being massaged and being tickled.
What is Sensory Modulation & how does it work?
Sensory Modulation involves using different types of activity or stimuli to calm or alert one or more of the seven senses. This in turn can feed into the way that a person is feeling or reacting to a situation, a stressor or the environment. So if feeling anxious and having anxious thoughts churning over through ones head someone might choose to do something that they know will engage the senses in a soothing way for them eg using a rocking chair, listening to music that they like that has a tempo of approx 60 beats per min whilst being mindful of the sensations; or they may choose to ground and/or distract themselves with something that alerts the senses and redirects their attention, perhaps using the tension in their muscles by going for a run or walk, again engaging awareness of the movement of the muscle groups and the engagement of the senses with the environment around.
Essentially, you take control of your senses and use them to serve your advantage.
Mindfulness & the Senses
Some of the ways that you can use your senses with mindfulness include:
Grounding techniques are active techniques to help you to orient and focus on the present and to distract or self-soothe when you’re feeling distressed. When you are feeling ‘out of sync’ they can help emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. If you know what you respond to best – you can even be prepared for times of crisis or for prevention if you are feeling triggered.
Some activities that people use to help ground themselves include
A hot or cold shower
Eating hot balls or sour balls, chilli, lemon – alerting tastes
Using a balance ball
Wearing weighted item eg back pack, ankle weights
Petting dog or cat
Warm or cold flannel to the face and neck
playing with a stress ball
Holding or chewing ice
Jumping rope or doing star jumps
Running or walking
clenching and unclenching muscles (isometric exercises)
playing drums or other musical instruments
Rocking in a rocking chair
Listening to music
Other activities that can be used for self-soothing or for orienting and alerting oneself capitalise on the calming and alerting features of the stimuli. Some examples of these include:
Calming Sensations Alerting Sensations
Hot shower/bath Cold or cool shower/bath
Holding/petting a pet Holding ice in hand or to face
Warmth of fireplace Being in a cool room
Wrapping in a heavy blanket Wrapping in cool bed sheets
Soft materials/textures Rough or prickly materials/fabrics
Rocking in a rocking chair A bumpy car ride
Swinging on a swing Spinning on a swing
Slow rhythmic motions Fast and/or jerky movements
soft/low lighting Bright or flashing lights
Decaf herbal teas Drinking coffee
Chewing gum Biting into an icy-pole
Chewy or crunchy foods/ lollies Sour or hot foods/ lollies
What to do with these activities – A bigger picture
The idea then is to consider the primary areas of difficulty that you encounter. Do you
Struggle with negative thoughts
feel triggered by something …?
Think about a) things that you can use to alert or distract yourself;
b) things that you can use to do to calm or comfort yourself;
c) things that you can do to help improve the moment; (something you enjoy, a treat, something to make you feel better)
Often you may need to do all three in that order – but not always. Regulating your reaction, however, may be more than a single step process.
What senses do you respond to most strongly?
Different people are more responsive to different senses. Some people love touch. Others squirm. Some love movement. Others enjoy scents. We’re all wired differently. How do you think you are ‘wired’? What are your preferred senses for comforting and alerting yourself?
Think about what kind of movement you enjoy (eg exercise, rocking chair, doodling, shopping, cleaning, theme park rides, skating, building, sports activities)
What kind of Touch & Temperature do you like (eg massage, sitting by fire, shower/bath, knitting, sunshine/shade, lotions, playing instruments, art, fiddling with things, doing your hair, heavy blankets/quilts)
What kind of auditory/listening stimuli you like (eg silence, running water, music, rain, relaxation soundtracks, wind chimes, theatre, a purring cat, people talking)?
What kind of visual stimuli you like to look at (eg scenery, photos, lava lamp, movies, window shopping, reading, fish in a tank, art)?
What kind of scents do you like or respond to (eg scented candles and oils, coffee, perfumes and aftershaves, flowers, fruit, herbal tea, fabric after being hung out to dry, chopped wood, forests)?
Think also about what kind of gustatory, tastes and chewing sensations you respond to (eg chewing gum, crunchy food, sour food, sucking a thickshake through a straw, yawning, deep breathing, listerine, blowing bubbles, hot balls, drinking coffee or hot chocolate, fizzy drinks, sucking a lollypop)
Making a Plan
When you have thought about the types of activities that you respond to. Make a note of half a dozen things that you think would be most helpful when you are distressed.
Why not set aside a place or a kit where you have some if not all of those things ready to go and on hand when and if you need them?
Knowing how your senses work can help you tap into them better for relaxation, recreation and for giving yourself a jolt if you need one. I have found ideas from studying this stuff that are great for my recreation, rest as well as helping me when I am worked up or struggling to focus. I hope that it’s useful to you also.
If you are interested in more information, information about making a sensory kit or a questionnaire about your sensory profile, please leave me a message in the comments and I will get something back to you.
(Credit to a lot of the lists goes to a combination of published resources that I have referred to, some of which have no author attached, majority of examples listed resourced from Tina Champaign’s website)
I live with a black dog. It follows me everywhere. My philosophy now is that I need to plan for its needs when I plan for my own. I also need time out and restful places to enjoy the warmth of the sunshine on my shoulders.