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We experience and feel connected to ourselves, others and the world through our senses
Here you will find guidance on activities to stimulate the senses in a way that enhances emotional and mental wellbeing. Scroll down to read about the benefits of sensory experiences.
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Senses are closely connected to our emotions and memories and can therefore have a dramatic impact on how we feel
The senses are our connection to the world. We need them to perceive and understand our environment and to derive pleasure and enjoyment from our experiences. What you see, hear, smell and experience at any moment affects your emotional, mental and physiological state.
Sensory experiences that are tailored to an individual can be beneficial because they can:
- Be emotionally regulating
- Have calming and soothing effects
- Increase feelings of safety
- Decrease feelings of distress and associated behaviours
- Be stimulating and engaging
- Improve a sense of awareness and connection to ourselves and to the world around us
- Increase participation and engagement, and improve self-esteem
- Enable and support interaction with others
- Orient us to the here and now, and in this way provide relief from negative thoughts and stress
- Enhance emotional, cognitive and physical learning and development
We strive to regulate ourselves through creating conditions to give ourselves the optimum sensory input. For example, we may adjust the lighting in the room, put music on or turn it down in order to get the balance just right for our unique sensory system. For much of the time we may be unaware of the decisions we make to regulate our sensory systems. However, with greater understanding of our sensory selves, we can make more conscious decisions about our sensory experiences.
For some people, the way the brain processes sensory experiences can be a source of distress and discomfort. The brain may also be over or under-reactive to certain sensory stimuli leading people to seek or avoid particular experiences. Knowledge and awareness of a person’s sensory needs and preferences can inform us about the best sensory experiences to offer in order to promote meaningful inclusion, engagement and wellbeing.
“Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.”
The senses give us awareness of ourselves and connection to the world around us
Each of our senses uses its own detection system to get information from our surroundings. The information is sent to the brain where it is processed and combined to create a sensory picture of our world.
The five most well-known senses are sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. Two other less well known senses are the vestibular system, which is the sense of balance and is located in the inner ear, and proprioception, which is the sense of the body in space.
The vestibular sense is our centre for balance and gravity. It detects our head position and body movements and provides information about whether we are moving quickly, slowly or standing still. With proprioception stretching of muscles is detected and this sense works alongside kinesthesia, which is a sense that tells us how are joints are moving and the vestibular system. Proprioception allows you to be aware of where your body parts are and for example to reach down and scratch an itch on your foot without having to look.
Attending to our sensory needs in relation to all of these senses can help us to cope better with what is sometimes a chaotic, unpredictable and challenging world and live a more meaningful, connected and happier life.
“How we see and hold the full range of our experiences in our minds and in our hearts makes an enormous difference in the quality of this journey we are on and what it means to us. It can influence where we go, what happens, what we learn, and how we feel along the way.”