What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness involves setting the intention to bring awareness to the present moment without judgment. It can be practiced as a formal meditation in a seated position, lying down or walking. Mindfulness can also be practiced informally by paying attention to the senses during any experience such as drinking coffee, washing our hands or listening to a piece of music. Practicing mindfulness teaches us to move out of automatic pilot and into our sensory experience. As we build awareness and begin to notice more subtle shifts in our system, we gain the opportunity to consciously choose how to respond to whatever presents itself, instead of reacting to it. Mindfulness encourages us to develop a new relationship with our thoughts. As we learn to see them as mental events instead of truth, they begin to hold less power over us.
What is Sensory Regulation?
Sensory regulation allows a person to maintain an appropriate level of calmness or alertness in order to respond to sensory stimuli present in the environment. Everyone has their own sensory likes and dislikes. In order to practice sensory regulation one must be aware of one’s own sensory tendencies and understand how sensory information is used for self-regulation, motor planning and daily function. An exploration of all eight senses (touch, vision, hearing, smell, taste, vestibular, proprioception and interoception) is imperative to determining and utilizing the different sensory systems to calm, alert or ground. Practice in utilizing the senses when the brain and body systems are in a grounded state (i.e. not overloaded) is important for desensitizing and improving function, especially when environments can become too stimulating. When the senses are well regulated the brain is able to function and flow more efficiently. This allows improved concentration, working memory, processing speed, memory encoding and recall as well as better execution of tasks. Everyone can benefit from sensory regulation to improve participation in valued activities of daily living, productivity and leisure activities.
What is Self-Compassion?
Compassion is wishing a person be free from suffering. It involves three components including the recognition that someone is suffering, feeling emotionally activated by that suffering and recognizing the shared human experience of pain, failure and imperfection. Self-compassion involves wishing the same for ourselves, that we be free from suffering. It involves caring for ourselves the same way we would a friend who was going through a similar difficulty. Self-compassion is treating yourself with warmth and kindness when you make a mistake instead of criticism or judgement.
It is normal to experience anxiety periodically; however, when excessive worry and fear impact daily function, it can be isolating. Anxious peoples’ reactions to perceived threats are out of proportion with reality. As such, it is common for people with anxiety to avoid environments or situations that evoke intense feelings, thus increasing their sensitivity to those stimuli. As the nervous system becomes conditioned to associate sensory stimuli with an anxious response, anxiety increases and the cycle continues.
Functional Neurological Disorder (FND)
FND is a condition that affects the central nervous system. It occurs when the brain doesn’t process information properly and can cause changes in motor and/or sensory function. Symptoms can include limb weakness, shaking, numbness, fatigue, word finding difficulty and non-epileptic attacks. FND is not caused by a change in brain structure but by problems in the brain's information processing system - a software versus hardware problem.
People with a diagnosis of migraine (as per the IHS criteria for migraine) often experience multiple sensory symptoms as part of their attack. This can happen with or without an aura. Migraines can be triggered by stress, hormonal changes, allergies, changes in eating and sleeping behaviour as well as sensory overload. These triggers increase the sensitivity of the sensory system causing a lower tolerance to high levels of sensory input. As a result, migraineurs may dislike or avoid sensory situations for fear of triggering an aura and/or headache pain.
The brain is very good at filtering out sensations and only paying attention to the senses that are important in order to keep the brain and body safe. After a concussion it is normal to have sensory symptoms such as dizziness, photophobia, and other sensitivities. Recovery from a concussion usually occurs within days to weeks after injury and no permanent damage is identified on scans. The term post-concussion syndrome is given if symptoms persist more than 8-12 weeks from initial injury. In essence, the volume level of the senses has been turned up and the senses can no longer be regulated in the same manner. The brain has increasing difficulty with the job of filtering out unnecessary sensations and quickly becomes sensory overloaded.