Sensory Products for Adults
How do you deal with stress? When I’m upset, my go-to choice is to grab some ice or minty gum. The action of chewing can be calming to the muscles of the mouth. In fact, a study in Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health discusses that, “gum chewing is a popular and convenient way to help relieve stress and improve concentration.” Everyone chooses different activities as a way to relieve stress and in order to calm and comfort themselves. I encourage you to think about your own body. What do you choose when you feel tired? How about when you feel upset? As a pediatric occupational therapist, I understand that our bodies have more than five senses. Proprioceptive input, for example, involves heavy work- pushing, pulling, lifting, and carrying. This can be calming for many of us.
What makes you comfortable?
Chances are adults have struggled to obtain the best and most comforting sensory input and have come up with wonderfully creative strategies to meet their needs. I found this helpful checklist for adults from SPD Support. Understanding your own triggers and stressors helps to know when and how to provide helpful activities. The key is to implement activities before the point of stress. Our brains are designed to protect us and when we become disorganized and upset, we release chemicals that cause fight, flight, and/or flee reactions. Regular participation in activities that both make us feel more comfortable and deliver oxygen to our brains via deep breathing or movement help to regulate and keep in what therapists call the ‘just right’ state of being. It’s when we are in this state that we can interact and function at our best.
Whole Body Tools
Pressure and tight fitting undergarments sometimes provide compressing that can be calming. Companies such as Under Armour make workout clothing that is snug. Many department stores offer cheaper versions that are equally as comfortable.
Weighted blankets and lap pads can be used for people of all ages. Try a lap pad first to gauge how your body responds to the weight.
Soft surgical brushes are often used to brush the skin in order to provide stimulation to the skin. They can be found in special needs catalogues or on Amazon.
Bean bags are wonderful since they form to the body’s unique shape and size. Many department stores carry them routinely.
You’re never too old to swing! When done in a linear (back and forth) motion, swinging can be quite calming.
Rocking chairs now come in several shapes and sizes. It’s amazing how beautiful they can be! Check these out from La-Z-Boy.
Heat and cold provide relief when feeling overwhelmed. I suggest using a moist heating pad for sore muscles and use of an ice pack or cooling towel to maintain comfortable body temperature.
Small Items that Pack a Huge Punch
- Balls of all shapes and sizes can be rolled on the body, used for massage, rolled underneath your feet, over sore muscles and used for fidgeting.
Sensory Toy Warehouse has a vast collection of fidget items for everyone’s needs. They offer many products designed for adults and children.
- Fidget items can be created from everyday items. Consider keychains, paper clips, rubber and hair bands, putty, stress balls, and erasers are examples.
Oral motor input can come in many shapes and sizes. ARK Therapeutic products are safe and durable.
Noise, noise, noise!
Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you outgrow your sound sensitivity. I still do not like any loud and unexpected noise. Often times, noise causes a gut reaction that makes my entire body feel uncomfortable and physically ill. Here are my suggestions to help:
- Noise cancelling headphones provide comfort on the go.
Portable music sources have drastically changed the availability of calming music. Ear buds often don’t provide enough noise protection so try larger headphones. They are fun and colorful!
- White noise machines provide options of various sounds for calming and blocking out environmental sounds. I find them comforting and am using one as I write this article! A small fan purchased from your local hardware store can give both cool air and white noise.
- Add soft items to your kitchen if the noise of dishes and banging of pots and pans bothers you. Use a tablecloth on the table to dampen sound during mealtime. Place a rubber mat on the bottom of your kitchen sink so dishes do not clank onto the bottom.
Sight and Smell
- Decreasing visual distractions can significantly help some of us to improve concentration.
- Remember to choose calming colors in your paint and decorating choices. Surround yourself with things which make you feel calm and relaxed.
- Adult coloring books can provide relaxation and coloring is fun for both kids and grown-ups.
- Use lower wattage light bulbs. Avoid fluorescent lighting as it can flicker and we are often un-aware of the disorganization this can cause to our visual/perceptual system.
- Most hardware stores sell light bulbs of all different colors.
- Essential oils, candles, lotions, and incense can alter mood and setting.
Remember that no two people process sensory information in the same way. You have the right to be comfortable and feel safe in your environment. Which of our suggestions have you tried? Let us know if you have any other helpful ideas.
Sasaki-Otomaru, A., Sakuma, Y., Mochizuki, Y., Ishida, S., Kanoya, Y., & Sato, C. (2011). Effect of Regular Gum Chewing on Levels of Anxiety, Mood, and Fatigue in Healthy Young Adults. Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health : CP & EMH, 7, 133–139. http://doi.org/10.2174/1745017901107010133
Cara Koscinski MOT, OTR/L
Pediatric occupational therapist, Cara Koscinski, MOT, OTR/L, author of The Pocket Occupational Therapist Book Series, is a veteran clinician of 20+ years specializing in Sensory Processing Disorder, reflex integration, trauma informed care, and autism. She obtained her Master of Occupational Therapy degree in 1997 from Duquesne University. In addition to her longstanding work as a private practice OT, Cara is a successful entrepreneur, having started two companies. Her products can be found in special needs catalogues and websites across the US and UK. Cara’s latest venture is The Pocket Occupational Therapist Book Series. As an author, Cara brings her expertise as a pediatric occupational therapist and mother of two children with autism to parents, caregivers, families, and educators in an easy-to-read, easy-to-follow format.
All five books are available at The Pocket Occupational Therapist website at http://www.pocketot.com and on Amazon.
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