Self-care is increasingly identified as a foundation for physical and mental health and wellbeing. It can be explained as self-directed activities a person engages in with the goal of moving towards a more optimal level of health. Self-care activities involve general daily living tasks (such as healthy eating, getting enough sleep and regular exercise) and can incorporate additional self-initiated activities that may be viewed as relaxing (yoga, meditation), pampering (massage, facial, movie) or a social outlet (date night, catching up with friends).
Self-care is important for everyone, but especially for those who:
· experience heightened levels of stress
· work in helping professions (such as health, welfare and education sectors)
· care for others
Individuals who address their own self-care are better equipped to support other people in meeting their needs. Diminished opportunity or ability to prioritise self-care can contribute to higher levels of burnout and compassion fatigue.
Sensory modulation is the targeted use of sensory input (touch, taste, smell, sight, sound and movement) to change how you feel, and is a fast and highly effective way of addressing self-care. Sensory modulation can turn down stress and anxiety, reduce feelings of anger and overload, or increase feelings of calm, pleasure and safety, by either adding or turning down specific sensory input. In doing this, self-care needs can be better met. Everyone’s preferences are unique, so sensory input must be specific, appropriate, individualised and meaningful. For example, one person may find reclining on the sofa in a quiet corner with a good book the best self-care for them, while others might like to do a work out at the gym or catch up with friends at a bustling restaurant.
Sensory modulation can be used in a variety of ways to promote self-care. If incorporated into daily routines, people can strive for an optimal level of sensory input to help them feel more regulated and in control. At times of distress, sensory input can be used in that moment to reduce stress and turn down intense emotions. Engaging in sensory input/activities with other people can help all parties to self sooth and calm together. This is known as co-regulation and is a very effective way of supporting everyone to develop skills in self-care.
Ways sensory input can be used as part of a person’s daily routine:
· Use your favourite smelling soap or shower gel when showering
· Listen to preferred music while traveling to work or preparing dinner
· Go for a walk during your lunch break to gain movement sensory input
· Have pot plants, flowers or pictures in your home that you enjoy looking at
· Add favourite flavours/herbs/spices into cooking
Ways sensory input can be used in the moment to change feelings:
· Use a cold washer over your eyes and holding your breath to evoke the dive reflex and turn down the stress response.
· Stretch or tense and release muscle groups to provide deep pressure stimulation, to reduce agitation or anxiety and promote calm.
· Chew something with an intense flavour (lemon, mint, spice, chili) to help shift intense feelings in the moment or assist with focus.
· Smell a strong and scent (lavender, eucalyptus, cinnamon) to feel more grounded and connected.
· Squeeze or fidget with something in your hands (stress ball, elastic band) to improve attention and maintain focus.
Ways sensory input can be used to co-regulate and promote ‘collective’ self-care:
· Sensory boxes or spaces in the classroom for students to utilise provides opportunities for self-regulation. Encourage students to create their own sensory kits.
· Classroom sensory ‘moments’ throughout the day to support learning, assist with focus and help with transitions to new learning and tasks.
· Sensory informed activities in aged care or other diversional/ centre based group programs
· Push a child on a swing, or swing next to them, or help them climb a wall, balance on a beam or similar in the playground.
· Reading with a loved one on the sofa with a throw rug on your laps.
For more information on sensory modulation, strategies to promote self-care, co-regulation, sensory kits and sensory diets, see ‘The Sensory Modulation Resource Manual’, available at:
· TES teacher resources at www.tes.com