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PTSD, SPD, OCD and Lockdown: Sensory Diet Tips to Keep Your Nervous System Regulated

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During lockdown, I’m noticing that my nervous system is becoming unregulated more frequently. I can tell because I am not always processing sensory information correctly. A loving touch from my husband hurts my skin. A smell makes me feel sick. A loud sound engages my fear response. So I find myself revisiting the habits I established when I first began following a sensory diet.

I’d read about having a sensory diet a few years before I started one, and I wish I would’ve started one right away, but I didn’t understand how drastically it would improve my life. Then my occupational therapist (OT) helped me understand that engaging my senses often throughout the day would help me stay regulated. Help me stay in my body and avoid dissociating. A concept that was new to me. I never knew I had been leaving.

Before I starting seeing my OT and learning about having a sensory diet, I was dissociating to the point where I was unable to process sensory information every day. My system was completely unregulated. Causing me to have frequent meltdowns and not to be able to think clearly. Not allowing me to connect to myself or to others. Making my life a shred of what it should be.

And then came my sensory diet.

While working with my OT, I learned that a sensory diet is nothing more than engaging your senses throughout the day, but doing it mindfully, like if you were keeping track of a food diet. So just like we follow a food diet to avoid mindless eating, I was to start following a sensory diet to avoid mindless processing.

Since starting it, I’m learning how to stay on track and how to get myself back on track when my system is dis-regulated. It’s not always easy, but now on good days, I can stay regulated to the point where I don’t fight, flee, freeze or have a meltdown at all. Improving my way of living after decades of merely surviving. 

What I’ve Learned

I’ve learned that if I don’t engage with my senses enough for my nervous system to properly regulate them, when I receive sensory information, my system doesn’t know what to do with it. So I either fight, flee or freeze. If fighting or fleeing are not an option at the time, I freeze. Disconnect. And during the worst times, I dissociate, leaving my body altogether. Unable to connect to my body’s needs. Following a sensory diet helps me meet my body’s needs. 

It important to keep all eight senses in mind when establishing a sensory diet: olfactory, visual, auditory, gustatory, tactile, vestibular, proprioceptive and interoceptive. While I was familiar with the five well-known senses, the other three I needed to learn more about. Like the proprioceptive sense, which requires movement. Or like vestibular, which requires pressure and release. Not knowing if or when I need to eat, to sleep, to rest, etc. is my interoceptive sense. So is how I know what I’m feeling. I find that I have to engage the other seven senses in order to connect to my interoceptive sense. And I find that I have to engage all my senses multiple times throughout the day in order to keep my nervous system regulated. 

When I first started my sensory diet, in order to ensure I was keeping up with it, I created a spreadsheet to keep track of my daily sensory actions and to set goals. It was a good way for me to make sure I was engaging with each of my senses in a variety of ways. I also created a picture book that I filled with sensory activities, and I would flip through it every hour and do whatever activity I landed on. Now, I have a routine (shocker) for how I incorporate my senses, but I still try to mix it up when I can. While some days are harder than others to keep the routine, I do what I can each day.

Here are the things I do for my sensory diet each day. While I find I have to engage my senses at all times throughout the day, some things don’t take much time, it’s just a matter of getting in the habit of doing them.

Morning

  1. Drink hot chai tea.
  2. Use heating pad on back.
  3. Drink cold water.
  4. Do yoga and listen to instrumental music.
  5. Take a bath using Epsom salt and essential oils.
  6. Drink cold water. 
  7. Use heated, weighted rice pack on shoulders.
  8. Light a scented candle in the space I will be in.
  9. Open the window (even when cold) and let fresh air in.
  10. Eat something crunchy: apple, chips, crackers, etc.
  11. Listen to music.
  12. Cross arms, hands and feet for at least 10 seconds on each side.
  13. Listen to chakra balancing or brainwave synchronization music.
  14. Smell and apply lavender essential oil.
  15. Stretch and do handstands and/or push-ups as needed.

Afternoon 

  1. Drink hot tea.
  2. Listen to music.
  3. Suck on mints.
  4. Workout: do yoga, run on the treadmill or jump on the trampoline.
  5. Drink cold water.
  6. Eat something crunchy: apple, chips, crackers, etc.
  7. Take a shower (using a loofah and essential oil body wash) and listen to music.
  8. Cross arms, hands and feet for at least 10 seconds on each side.
  9. Listen to music and write or read.
  10. Smell and apply lavender essential oil as needed.

Evening 

  1. Light a scented candle.
  2. Drink hot tea.
  3. Use heated, weighted rice pack on shoulders.
  4. Use heating pad on back.
  5. Do yoga.
  6. Drink cold water.
  7. Apply lavender, peppermint and frankincense essential oils to jaw, neck and shoulders, Digize (Young Living brand) essential oil to stomach, and lavender and frankincense essential oils to the bottom of each big toe.
  8. Put on sleep mask and headphones.
  9. Use weighted blanket.

Additional Sensory Diet Options I Incorporate:

  • Breathing deeply.
  • Pushing against a wall or a hard surface.
  • Applying pressure to hands.
  • Spending time upside down.
  • Using an exercise ball.
  • Doing heavy lifting.
  • Going for a walk.
  • Swimming.
  • Rocking in a chair or while sitting. 
  • Sitting in the sun.
  • Reading, writing or drawing.
  • Using a dry brush on skin before showering.
  • Rubbing hands and feet on textured surfaces.
  • Getting a deep tissue massage.
  • Receiving a tight hug.
  • Carrying/holding a baby.
  • Receiving craniosacral therapy.
  • Doing pre-birth movements.
  • Doing body mapping movements.

I wish you a safe and regulated nervous system. 

This post has been updated from the original, “How Having a Sensory Diet Helps Sensory Processing,” published on November 2, 2018. 

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PTSD, SPD, OCD and Lockdown: Sensory Diet Tips to Keep Your Nervous System Regulated


Jenna Grace

Jenna Grace is a writer and educator with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sensory processing disorder (SPD), premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder (SAD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) diagnoses. She writes and speaks about topics including healing from trauma, coping with neurological disorder and practicing mindfulness in order to help others and to explore new meaning. Visit her website for more of her stories.


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APA Reference
Grace, J. (2020). PTSD, SPD, OCD and Lockdown: Sensory Diet Tips to Keep Your Nervous System Regulated. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 4, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/neurodivergent/2018/11/how-having-a-sensory-diet-helps-sensory-processing/

 

Last updated: 15 May 2020
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network (blogs.psychcentral.com) prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.