dc: How would you describe sensory work?
Olivia: There’s lots of different terms for it – sensory modulation, sensory strategies, sensory whatever (Ha!). It’s a broad term and can be used in so many ways.
dc: For someone who might not quite understand, what is an example of a sensory strategy?
Olivia: A strategy could be something like grounding techniques. If someone is quite distressed they could ground themselves by:
It’s really the awareness of your space, your environment, your bodily sensations, the people around you, the things that bother you, and the things you’re okay with.
dc: So what drew you to this work?
Olivia: As an Occupational Therapist (OT) I was very drawn to mental health. In one of my earliest jobs I became really passionate about preventative work and empowerment on an individual basis. I’m passionate about giving people the skills so they can make things better for themselves rather than me doing something for them. I want to share something sustainable so that when I’m not around, they can regulate themselves and manage their own distress.
It’s like setting up the building blocks to help manage whatever is thrown at you. They’ll be able to use different things to regulate themselves, so they’re not reliant on services, they’re not reliant on workers, they’re not even reliant on other people necessarily. They can try these strategies for themselves. Through my work I’ve heard people say, “I need to call this person when I’m distressed” and I would ask, What if that person wasn’t available. That’s a great strategy, but what else can you do to soothe yourself?”
dc: You really are passionate about it in your work but do you also use sensory stuff in your life?
Olivia: Absolutely! I live and breathe it! I think that helps. I talk a lot about how I use it. I’ve had a lot of my own experiences with anxiety, perceptions of myself, and how I want to appear in a space. So I think for me, not only have I seen it work with people I’m working with but I know I find it really helpful to check in on how full my cup is, or what I use to get myself going. Sometimes it can be easy to go, “I’ll just have another coffee” because caffeine is a stimulant, but what other strategies can I use that might not send me into that faux anxiety feeling?
For me, it’s also about alerting stuff. How can I get going in the mornings and then how can I slow down in the evenings? I use light, music, and movement in the morning to alert myself, whereas in the evening it’s really important to me (no matter how late it is) to sit still. I have a dog which is really helpful, little Zoe, she’s so soft and tactile. I love patting her…and she’s heavy & sits on me which is very soothing in the evening and I might think, “Oh I really need to get to bed” but it’s nice to have that time to slow down. Maybe with a hot drink or something because I know if I don’t do those things I won’t be able to switch off.
dc: You really do live and breathe it, is that why you wanted to help co-produce the course?
Olivia: I see the course as a way of accessing a huge number of people. I’m passionate about working with my colleagues, young people, families, and the community around it. I think that the course is a unique way of me being able to bring that human element. I can bring my professional and lived experiences into an educational and interactive space. I like the fact that people bring all their own experiences, and we can be quite explorative in that space too.
In the course, you see people begin to really understand their environments really impact the way they interpret the world interact with it. They see the work as really accessible and tangible rather than scary. They just begin to connect it with their every day lives.
For instance, walking the dog on the beach. Think of all the elements that are in that, the smells, the sights, the levels of noise, the movement. There are so many things you’re regulating for yourself in that moment rather than it just being about, I got out of the house. Sensory work helps you look at it through a different lense. You see all the awesome choices you are or could be making for yourself.
For people who have used it for a very long time, they become so aware of what will be helpful in her whole daily routine. They know the difference between a coffee or herbal tea and how that completely changes the way they navigate their day. It seems simple but it gives huge insight into helping your day unfold well. It is something so tangible, it comes from a theory but you can see and do it right now, you can access it!
Curious how to make sense of your own senses?