Our senses play a vital role in how we experience our daily life and the world around us. They can affect our mood, behaviour, actions, our responses to people and things. One way we can support a happy and healthy experience is to create and manipulate our environments. We can do this by using tools to create pleasant experiences using lighting, music, textures, scents and other sensory-stimulating or calming tools.
Let’s begin by discussing the term ‘sensory design’. You’ve heard the term ‘sensory’ as in your ‘senses’ and you’ve heard the term ‘design’ but have you heard the terms put together as sensory design? Well, it’s just exactly that, we are designing for the senses! Sensory design focuses on using specific elements to create spaces for individuals, specifically to satisfy their senses and their ‘sensory diet’ is another term I would like to explain. Just like any other diet, each individual’s body and brain, has a different set of needs to operate at an optimal level. We term this sensory diet to explain these differences in needs. Your personal sensory diet is unique to you and your partner’s or child’s, is unique to them. By understanding our own sensory diet, we can educate and arm ourselves with knowledge and tools to cultivate calm during chaotic or stressful times.
Let me share a little bit about how the brain works in terms of receiving sensory inputs. Your brain is taking in information all of the time. It is receiving sensations from sensory inputs and making decisions about how to react to them. So, the brain takes in this information through your basic senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch), body movement and your spatial orientation. Your brain then attempts to organize this new information. As I outlined before, everyone is very different with what their brain tolerates; their likes and dislikes. One individual may be able to tolerate loud noises (sensory seeking in their auditory sense) and another individual may not be able to tolerate the same noise or sound level (sensory avoiding in their auditory sense). No two people are exactly the same in their sensory seeking and sensory avoiding behaviours. By understanding our own sensory diet, we can best align ourselves with environments and spaces that keep us calm.
Let’s talk sensory tools and toys. There are a ton of new devices, tools and toys to assist in sensory regulation and they’re not just for kids. There’s this idea that only children deal with sensory issues, but that’s just not the case. We all deal with it and there’s no shame in preparing yourself to better deal with adverse situations. In fact, we can use these pieces of information and tools to have a calmer existence overall. I personally use these tools on a daily basis to help with many different situations, such as being stuck in traffic, stressful trips to the grocery store, waiting in lineups, etc. I use aromatherapy, deep breaths and meditative music to take me to a place of relaxation when my senses are going into overdrive or I’m feeling uncomfortable in a particular situation.
Sensory stimulation in moments of chaos can feel very overwhelming, but learning about your own personal sensory diet can help you tune into the sensations that are pleasant for you when you are in situations that might be a little more uncomfortable or under/over stimulating for you.
Although we cannot totally control the external environment; the sirens screaming by, the long line up at the grocery store, traffic jams, frustrating or sensory overloading experiences, we can learn more about ourselves and look into our personal sensory diets and so give our body and mind the assistance that it might need to perform optimally in daily situations.
At Three Temples Sensory Design we specialize in designing these environments in schools, long term care facilities, hospitals and other medical spaces. Sensory design was originally created to accommodate individuals who live with developmental disabilities and age-related illnesses, but we now know that everyone can benefit from this type of design and are implementing it in more spaces. For more information about sensory design and our services, please visit our website www.threetemplesdesign.com and our Instagram page @threetemples.