This is me at The BulletProof Conference 2016. I was hacking my own brain and trying to reach serenity state with NIRVANA product.
Definitely, liked the experience, and what very gentle stimulation of the vagus nerve did it to me. At the end of the session I was very calm, and overall in super pleasant state of mind.
Today, I wanna talk about subject that I believe it's important and many times issue runs unnoticed or it's under the wrong impression.
It is sensory overload, and how to staying focused in sensory overwhelming world.
Our body is an amazing sensing machine and if we pay attention to it, it will tell us precisely what we need to do in order to stay healthy.
Being stressed, feeling tight in own skin, having an issue to relax and constantly moving your body or legs, hyperactivity in general, being cranky, tired, bothered by tag on your shirt, not being able to think, learn, focus or having zero desire to communicate and connect with people around you.
Sounds like many of us, most of the time.
we call it stress or being under the pressure. Due to so many tasks, responsibilities, dilemmas and so on ...
But we can also say that those behavioral patterns and discomforts are by products of being constantly sensory overwhelmed, too.
I wanna explain how our sensory system works and what we can do to help it.
Once you understand how the external environment and an individual make up influence behavior, learning, and relationships, you can stop judging yourself and make a better strategy to become more functional and better person.
By definition: The sense is the way that we perceive the world. It's the way of how our nervous system detects changes in the environment.
And its operates by special cells called sensory receptors.
We usually recognize 7 basic senses: sight, audition, taste, smell, touch, movement (vestibular system) and body awareness (proprioception). But many neurologists identify as many as 21.
DOES YOUR SENSORY SYSTEM CREATES "TRAFFIC JAM" AND MESSY OUTPUT?
The sensory system is a part of our nervous system responsible for processing sensory information.
How does this work?
When the brain receives sensory input, it sends the appropriate response along motor neuron pathway to respond to the stimulus. In other words, the impulse travels from the receptor let's say eyes, nose, skin, vestibulum or some other receptor... to the nerves, spinal cord to the brain stem, then to the thalamus and into the limbic system ( known as emotional center).
What is important to understand over here is, that before input ever hits the conscious brain the autonomic-involuntary nervous system creates a response to the input. Before we become aware of it, our system has already sent the reaction. This is why you heard so many times, count to ten then respond instead just to react and be sorry.
It's so hard to count to ten or to do anything else, because we are not in tune with our body, we are lacking awareness and control of that impulsive reaction is almost impossible.
If we are in good shape and our sensory system is working properly our brain will recognize input, interpret, integrate and prioritize information. Then the brain outputs response.
Where is the problem?
If the brain interprets all inputs as equally important and doesn't prioritize it, under processes it, or over processed it, we get "traffic jam" in our brain, which creates messy output.
Sensory overload occurs when one or more of the body's senses experience overstimulation from the environment.
By living in today's world we have many environmental elements that can lead our sensory system to overload.
Some of those are urbanization, crowding, noise, light, mass media, technology, also an enormous growth of information available to us. And when is too much of information for the brain to take in all at once, the brain slows down and loses its processing capacity and crashes like a computer.
Sometimes a person can appear cranky for no apparent reason. Sometimes a person just shuts down, go quiet and ignores everything, sometimes can actually manage to function through it but with the usage of life's energy.
When we process input without full capacity of the function of our senses we experience all sorts of unpleasant symptoms. Heart rate goes up, we start sweating, we get hyper, jittery or freeze. Basically, all those are signals that fight or flight has taken over and the person acts on pure instinct. Which is definitely not a state of high performance!
WHAT IS YOUR TOLERANCE LEVEL?
First to say every person has own set of triggers or to call it negative sensory inputs that cause them discomfort or even pain in the cases of Sensory Processing Disorder.
Tolerance level varies depending on many factors, but also how well-rested person is. Now I just made my point- that you have to go to sleep, it's necessary!
The second thing plays a role and something that I love talking about with my clients are emotions. If we are suppressing our emotions, or we are going through something emotionally challenging in our lives, the sensory overload will appear even stronger.
INSUFFICIENT BRAIN POWER
People who are sensitive and get easily overstimulated are usually dealing with less energy in their brain. Immagine, you start your day with less capacity in your brain than other people, and as soon as you open your eyes, wake up your senses you get bombarded. It's impossible to have enough fuel to keep going and stay focused.
"If a person's body cannot function on autopilot, with a relaxed autonomic nervous system, but instead requires mental effort to keep it in balance, there will be insufficient "brain power"-focus, concentration, attention- available for intellectual growth and intellectual tasks." Vernon H.Marki MD.F.A.C.S.
HOW TO HACK YOUR SENSORY SYSTEM?
Knowing your body and brain are critical, to be aware and know your negative sensory inputs. What it is...Is it light, noise, smell...etc. Maybe combination of them.
- Sleep is your ultimate "smart drug". Forming healthy sleeping hygiene is a must unless you think you are a superhuman ;-)
When I was dealing with my son's overwhelmed brain, I've used my "secret" weapon-which was a sleep/naps.
"My child has no sleep issue" Said no parent of the autistic child.
I was zombie for so many sleepless years. It was super hard to make him sleep or to take a nap. But by knowing how crucial sleep for the brain is and his recovery or repair, I had to find a way.
Now, I treat sleep as something holy, and I am very serious about it.
Giving him up to 3h of nap during the day and enough hours during the night his brain could function in the extremely harsh environment called preschool/school. Place where kids cream, walls are full of pictures and visual stimulus, chair hurts, smell is irritating, teacher talk, unpredictable situations are happening all the time at the playground...etc.
Sleep is a natural way to preserve sanity in rough situations.
- Take sensory breaks, and find a balance in your daily routine. Balance your exposure to environmental triggers.
I know that you don't have a time for breaks, of course, we are all super busy running in a fall sense of productivity and just building our stress level even more.
Don't use your device to read during the sensory break and stuff more information in your already tired brain. Enjoy the silence, close your eyes, as they receive a huge amount of visual stimuli moment to moment, and the brain uses around 80% of its capacity to process those.
Very often we find triggers around us because we lack some organizational skills. We keep too many things on our desks, we are drowning in not so important emails, our homes are packed with things or objects that create a cluster. Clean it!!!!
-Promote growth of myelin by eating a healthy diet. It's not a secret that sugar and processed food will not help it. Practicing healthier dietary habits can help your brain improve. Personally, I use Bulletproof Diet Road Map to navigate trough my needs.
-Use some sensory blockers like sunglasses, earplugs, chew gum- it will help vagus nerve optimize it function. Go to sensory deprivation tanks whenever you find a time.
- Cut out of your day to day life, people that create noise or have a negative influence on your emotional state. Invest in positive relationships.
This can be one of the big aspects to explore. And be clear what relationships are draining your energy or create a cluster, that you can do something about it.
-Focusing on breathing, pleasant images in your memory and positive thoughts can move you from one state to the another. You can improve the brain's function and how it integrates information. By practicing mindfulness or any other meditative practice. Learning to recognize when our sensory system is going to explode, we can purposely choose to stop and decompress. By the time, it becomes stronger and we have more power over our responses. That's the part where we become the better person to us and to others.
-Some nutritional supplements might be helpful as well. When you decide to use supplements, don't go to forums in order to collect information, go to either Functional Medicine practitioner or Health Coach. Very often I see people playing carelessly with their brain chemistry. You have to know your body, your physiology, genes, metabolism pathways..etc to hit the target. I have many times seen in my house the same supplement giving 3 different reactions to my son, my husband and me. We all have extremely different brain chemistry and probably wiring too. Supplements that I use to bust my productivity are "dangerous" for them, things that make them function calmly and focused make me dull and dysfunctional. I've been witnessing the other people not reacting at all at certain brain managing supplements while me and my guys experiencing the extreme opposite reactions on the scale from awesome to overstimulating. We are all very different. Respect your uniqueness.
If instead of those tools we keep pressing the pedal for "gas", by adding more stress inducing ingredients in our life we will only fast forward meltdown of our system.
Focus and sustained attention will come from an intentional commitment improving our exposure to the negative inputs and self-discipline of sustained usage of tools for decompressing and regaining energy to become stronger and resilient.
Develop a basic trust in yourself and your feelings, learn what they are signaling to you and act in the best possible way according to circumstances.