The Coping Kete

Tag Archives: Sensory Modulation

No. 134: Grounding Myself with Sounds

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice getting grounded by slowing down and observing the sounds around me. I will begin by closing my eyes and noticing the sound of my breathing, then I will gradually move my awareness away from my body as I notice the sounds I can hear close to me, then further into the distance. Then I will bring my awareness back towards my body until I become aware of the sound of my breathing again.

Each time I notice my mind wandering back onto concerns of my day, I will bring my awareness back to the sounds around me. As I return from the distance to the sound of my breathing, I will remind myself “I am here, in this place, breathing my breath.” Then I will open my eyes and return to my day.

I’ll start out by practicing this exercise for one or two minutes every morning or night and then move to practicing pausing during the day between tasks to take a moment to ground myself within my body and in environment around me. In this way I will get used to letting go of my thoughts and concerns and giving myself a moment of peace. This will help prepare me for interrupting unhelpful thoughts and giving myself a moment of peace when emotions are running high.

Once I am familiar with this kind of exercise I will add ‘Grounding Myself with Sounds’  to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of shifting my mind away from unhelpful thoughts during moments of stress and distress.

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Acknowledgement: Mindfulness can be traced back to buddhist philosophy. Thich Naht Hanh is known for creating the Engaged Buddhism movement  and popularising mindfulness in the Western world. Jon Kabbat-Zinn is known for popularising mindfulness in the medical community with the Mindfulness-Based Stress-Reduction (MBSR) programme at the University of Massachusetts. Marsha Linehan is known for popularising mindfulness in the mental health community with Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT).  The basic practice of mindfulness features in many strategies shared in The Coping Kete. Once you learn the basic skills, you can use mindfulness in any moment you find yourself in, in countless different ways. There is an awful lot behind each of the skills involved. Follow the links above to learn more. 

No. 110: A Sense A Day

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will use mindfulness of my senses to practice shifting my thoughts and improving the moment. This week, I will regularly tune my attention into one of my senses each day and deliberately plan activities that will allow me to indulge it a little. I will plan in advance which sense I will do each day, and then throughout that day I will make myself aware of that sense. The next day I will practice being aware of a different one of my five senses.

For example, on Monday I might pay particular attention to what I taste whenever I eat or drink, on Tuesday I might stop what I am doing for a moment throughout my day and pay attention to the different things I hear, on Wednesday I might practice being aware of the sensations I have when I touch things, on Thursday I might practice taking time to pay attention to the sights around me, on Friday I might practice taking time out to notice the smells around me. In this way, I will practice mindfully shifting my attention onto something different.

Once I am comfortable practicing mindfully shifting my attention like this, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of distracting myself from unhelpful thoughts when I am distressed or stressed.

No. 107: Think of the Safer Alternatives

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice harm minimisation as a way of responding to distress. As I move through my week, when I notice small changes in my mood or any self-destructive urges, I will practice thinking of the safest way of responding to the way I feel.

Where I might sometimes have the urge to do something to hurt myself to express the way I feel, this week, I will practice thinking about the less harmful alternatives.

When I notice my thinking or feelings heading in a self-destructive direction, I will ask myself “what would be the safest way of responding to this?”

For example, if I notice myself thinking about cutting myself to relieve my distress, I will think about some less harmful things that might give me the same release. In this way, I will nurture my wellbeing and treat myself with a bit more respect and kindness.

Using intense, but safe sensations is often really helpful. Some people find that holding a piece of ice or running a piece of sharp ice over their skin gives them an intense almost painful sensation that can replace the need to cut. Other people find snapping a rubber band on their wrist does the same thing. Yet other people find that running a red felt-tip pen over their arm gives them an intense visual picture that replaces the need to self-harm. Some people find them all helpful at different times. This week I will practice imagining doing these kinds of things rather than thinking about hurting myself.

This week, I will practice thinking about doing these kinds of things whenever I notice myself thinking about hurting myself. Once I have gotten used to thinking about these safer alternative ways of reacting to my distress, I will add ‘Think of a Safer Alternative’ and the strategies I thought of to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of responding when I feel the urge to hurt myself.

No. 103: Mindfulness of My Senses

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice using the 5 senses of taste, touch, sight, sound and smell to shift my attention away from unhelpful thoughts, concerns and moods.

This week, as I move through my day I will take pauses whenever I remember to and make myself aware of my five senses in that moment. This will allow me to practice moving my attention away from a moment and onto my senses during everyday situations. I might set an alarm to remind me to practice.

Each time, I will take a few belly breaths like in the standard breathing exercise and I will mentally scan through each of my senses.

  1. What can I hear right now?
  2. What can I see right now?
  3. What can I touch/feel right now?
  4. What can I taste right now?
  5. What can I smell right now?

I will spend a moment on each sense, making myself aware of what I am sensing right now. Then I will turn my attention back to my day.

If my thoughts wander back to my day during this exercise, I will watch the thoughts pass through my mind and I will say to myself… “I am here, sensing the world.

Once I have a bit of practice with turning my attention away from the day and onto my senses for a while, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of distracting myself from unhelpful thoughts or moments of distress.

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Acknowledgement: Mindfulness can be traced back to buddhist philosophy. Thich Naht Hanh is known for creating the Engaged Buddhism movement  and popularising mindfulness in the Western world. Jon Kabbat-Zinn is known for popularising mindfulness in the medical community with the Mindfulness-Based Stress-Reduction (MBSR) programme at the University of Massachusetts. Marsha Linehan is known for popularising mindfulness in the mental health community with Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT).  The basic practice of mindfulness features in many strategies shared in The Coping Kete. Once you learn the basic skills, you can use mindfulness in any moment you find yourself in, in countless different ways. There is an awful lot behind each of the skills involved. Follow the links above to learn more. 

No. 96: Learning a Theme Song

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will use music to help me improve the moment and connect with positive emotion by learning to hum or whistle a song I associate with happy vibes and good energy.

If no song jumps to mind automatically I will get to spend some time listening to different songs until I find one I like.

Then as I move through my day, I will periodically remember to practice humming or whistling the tune while I am doing my daily tasks. This could help to insert some pleasant energy into whatever I am doing.

Once I am comfortable and familiar with humming or whistling my tune, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a distraction and self-soothing technique for times of stress and distress.

Then, when I find myself stressed or distressed, I can distract myself for a moment by trying to remember the tune and whistling/humming it. The act of humming and whistling changes the level of oxygen in the blood and can physically help to soothe negative emotions I could be feeling, so I can return to the situation later with a clearer head. Whenever I hum or whistle my tune, I will be reminded of the positive message of the song I chose and this might also help inspire me through tough moments.

This is also a pretty good strategy to use if I ever feel so anxious that it gets hard to breathe. Humming or whistling a song could help to counteract that without having to focus my attention onto my breathing.

No. 68: Grounded in my Hands

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

When I notice shifts in mood, I will practice grounding myself in my body by very simply stroking my left hand with my right hand.

I will breathe and focus my attention on my hands and then slowly move my attention inside my body: what does it feel like inside my body right now? I will keep breathing as I bring my attention back to the outside and the sensations of my hands.

Here I am in my body, breathing.

Once I am comfortable making myself present in my body by stroking my hand, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of grounding myself during moments of intensity or distress.

No. 55: Progressive Muscle Relaxation

This week to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

I will practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation for two minutes every day so that I am well-versed in its use when I am feeling stressed, pressed or distressed and really need it.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation allows me relax and distract myself from my thoughts by tensing and releasing my muscles and focusing on the sensation of release.

I will find a comfortable spot, either sitting or lying down, and take a moment to breathe. In the morning before getting up or at night before going to sleep is the perfect time to practice, because I’m already lying down.

As I breathe slowly, I will tense the muscles in each area of my body for 10 slow seconds, starting at my toes. Then I will release the tension in those muscles, again for 10 seconds. Then I will move on to the next group of muscles.  I will focus my attention on the sensations I experience in my body when I tense each muscle and especially on the sensations I experience when I release each muscle.

Throughout the exercise I will keep my breathing slow and regular as in the standard breathing exercise, as I work my way through my body, tensing and releasing one muscle-group at a time. If I am not yet familiar with the standard breathing exercise, I will spend a week with that before moving onto Progressive Muscle Relaxation.

If my mind wanders, I will bring it slowly back to the sensations in my body as I tense and relax each set of muscles.

Once I have become well-practiced at this exercise in everyday moments, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete for use at any time, anywhere to distract from and self-soothe stressful and distressing feelings.

This exercise is particularly good for racing thoughts and insomnia.

StepByStep Guide to Progressive Muscle Relaxation

  1. Toes. With legs relaxed, dig your toes into the floor; relax. Bend the toes up as far as possible; relax.
  2. Calves and feet. Point the toes (without raising the legs); relax. Point the feet up as far as possible (beware of cramps – if you get them or feel them coming on, shake them loose); relax.
  3. Thighs. Extend legs and raise them off the floor but don’t tense the stomach; relax. Dig your feet (heels) into the floor or foot rest; relax.
  4. Butt. Tense the butt tightly and raise pelvis slightly off chair; relax. Dig buttocks into chair; relax.
  5. Stomach. Pull in the stomach as far as possible; relax completely. Push the stomach out as far as possible; relax.
  6. Back. With shoulders resting on the back of the chair, push your body forward so that your back is arched; relax. Be very careful with this one.
  7. Shoulders. Pull them back (careful with this one); relax them. Push the shoulders forward (hunch); relax.
  8. Arms. The biceps are tensed (make a muscle – but shake your hands to make sure not tensing them into a fist); relaxed (drop your arm to the chair). The triceps are tensed (try to bend your arms the wrong way); relaxed (drop them).
  9. Hands. The fists are tensed; relaxed. The fingers are extended; relaxed.
  10. Neck. With the shoulders straight and relaxed, the head is turned slowly to the right, as far as you can; relax. Turn to the left; relax. Dig your chin into your chest; relax.
  11. Mouth. The mouth is opened as far as possible; relaxed. The lips are brought together or pursed as tightly as possible; relaxed.
  12. Tongue (roof and floor). Dig your tongue into the roof of your mouth; relax. Dig it into the bottom of your mouth; relax.
  13. Eyes. Open them as wide as possible (furrow your brow); relax. Close your eyes tightly (squint); relax. Make sure you completely relax the eyes, forehead, and nose after each of the tensings.

Feel free to adapt this to suit your situation and preferences as you need or wish to.

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Acknowledgement: Progressive Muscle Relaxation was originally developed by Edmund Jacobson in the 1930’s and has become a widely used relaxation method. 

No. 41: Snug

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

I will spend 10 minutes each evening, somewhere comfortable, wrapped in a feather duvet or other really snuggly blanket. I might turn the lights down or light some candles and play some quiet, relaxing music or enjoy some silence. This is ten minutes for comfort – I will focus my mind on all of the sensations of comfort in this moment by observing and describing them to myself. When my mind wanders onto concerns of the day, I will gently turn my thoughts back to the sensation of being enfolded in the warm blanket and each of the places where it touches my body.  No matter how I have been feeling, I will allow myself this time of calm and comfort.

By giving myself regular, unconditional comfort, I will create a more nurturing relationship with myself.

Once I am comfortable with giving myself regular moments of comfort, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a strategy for self-soothing when things get tough.

No. 31: Getting Sensory

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellness …

I will take 15-30 minutes at night to practice sensory modulation as a way to relax and unwind before bed. Sensory modulation is a way of regulating how you feel through your senses by making pleasant changes to your surroundings. This means putting some quiet, soothing music on, dimming the lights or lighting candles, and sitting somewhere comfortable with a snug, heavy blanket across my knees. It means just spending some time focusing my mind on the safe, content sensations of the blanket on my lap, the couch beneath me, the fabric under my hands, the calm lighting and the soothing music.

I can return my mind to this state in memory whenever I need to.

Once I am familiar with using sensory modulation to relax on a regular basis, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of shifting distressing moments.

No. 30: The Half-Smile

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellness, when I get stressed, pressed or distressed…

I will practice the DBT half-smile. The half-smile involves curving just one side of the mouth up. It might feel silly to begin with, but smiling, even just a little bit in this way, can actually help to lighten negative moods. Smiling releases feel-good neurotransmitters, and who knows, maybe my half-smile will turn into a full smile a few times too!

This week I will try to practice the half-smile at least three times a day. I will observe how my moods and thoughts responded. Did it make me laugh? Did it stop my thoughts for a second?

Once I am used to the Half Smile I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as something to try when I am feeling low.