Resources - A Sense of Calm, Sensory Relaxation to combat stress and anxiety

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Sensory Calming
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by
Peter Higgins BSc.(Hons)

The science of relaxation through sensory calming

CONTENTS
1. Introduction
2. A Sense of Calm
3. Using A Sense of Calm
4. The Senses
5. Anxiety & Stress
6. Brain Waves, Hormones & The Senses
7. Being Sensory Defensive
8. Medical & Health
9. Dementia & Alzheimer's
10. Specific Learning Difficulties
11. Mother & Baby
12. Conclusions

1. INTRODUCTION

A Sense of Calm is relaxation therapy that requires no effort on the part of the user, so it can be used by itself, or as an enhancement to other therapies.

It works on the scientific principles of sensory stimulation, using specially created gently flowing images and specially-composed soothing music to create an alpha wave rich atmosphere which, in turn, stimulates the brain to create its own calming alpha brain waves through the natural process known as brain wave entrainment.

“The use of A Sense of Calm can make a worthwhile contribution to good care practice.” (Professor Graham Stokes, Global Director of Dementia Care, BUPA.)

This book is designed to explain why we should all seek regular periods of relaxation, how and why “A Sense of Calm” works and some useful information about sensory interaction for people going through life changing experiences, or living with specific medical conditions.   

2. A SENSE OF CALM

Although scientists readily admit that they only know a fraction of what there is to know about how the brain works, they have found certain pathways that explain how the brain interacts with the environment through the senses.

I am not a doctor, I am what these days is called an expert by experience. My interest in the subject came about after caring for my mother whose relationship with her surroundings had become compromised by vascular dementia. Having studied psychology as part of a university degree, I wanted to find something to help relieve her anxiety, so before I started work on “A Sense of Calm” I studied a vast number of research papers from different medical disciplines, including neurology, physiology and psychology. I then brought these works together and applied their findings to the images, movement and music used in all our “A Sense of Calm” products. I myself am a functioning dyslexic, so have personally experienced the anxiety that comes from intense concentration, social embarrassment and sensory conflict that envelopes me whenever I read in public.  

When someone shows signs of agitation, anxiety, or stress, it’s often not enough just to lie down in a quiet room, because anxiety can build up and stays with us, making us restless and often more agitated.  The events of the day swim around in our minds and our excitable beta brain-waves keep us awake and ready for action.

The right kind of sensory stimulation, however, can help by diverting the mind away from the irritations of the day and promoting calming alpha brain waves to help us to relax.

Sight and sound are two of the major components of sensory stimulation and the visual cortex of the brain is particularly sensitive to stimulation from alpha waves in the environment (Silva 1973), so visual elements are very effective in creating the right atmosphere.

3. USING A SENSE OF CALM

The tempo of the moving images and music on "A Sense of Calm" have been specially created and choreographed to promote calming alpha brain waves, which act as a filter to relieve the stress caused by sensory overload.

“A Sense of Calm” deliberately uses abstract, non-threatening and non-memory provoking images and specially composed music, so it does not rely on learnt memory responses to be effective.

This also means the images and music on “A Sense of Calm” are not tainted by any negative memories the viewer may bring with them. This is important because research indicates that people more easily recall their bad memories than they do their good ones (Kensinger, Garoff-Eaton, & Schacter, 2006), so abstract images are less likely to evoke those bad memories, or spoil the alpha rich environment.

Because the elements that go to making up “A Sense of Calm” have been constructed with such care, it is proving to be an effective therapy for people who experience extreme agitation due to their medical conditions.

These qualities also make “A Sense of Calm” a very effective tool for general relaxation, especially for those with a demanding lifestyle and challenging job. In fact, “A Sense of Calm” is being recommended for carers and professional health workers who need to take time out to relax from what can be a very difficult and stressful vocation.

"A Sense of Calm" helps to re-balance brain wave activity by encouraging the brain to increase the production of relaxing alpha brain waves, thereby alleviating stress and anxiety.

Although "A Sense of Calm" is effective by itself as a stand-alone relaxation aid, it can also be used to enhance other therapies - massage, yoga, tai chi, reiki, breathing exercises, aromatherapy, spa treatments etc - and can be used on a hospital ward, in a care home, in a school, at home, at work, in a reception area, chill-out room, coffee shop, waiting rooms, or as part of a purpose built sensory room.

For best results, we recommend cutting down on as many outside distractions as possible by playing “A Sense of Calm” in a comfortable quiet room with subdued lighting. The music should be adjusted for the individual – not too loud, but loud enough to be heard and to create a soothing atmosphere.

Use “A Sense of Calm” for regular sessions, or at times when anxiety starts to build, until you feel relaxed rather than lethargic.

4. THE SENSES

Our senses are our windows on the world.

    Sight         Sound         Touch         Smell        Taste

These are the traditional 5 senses, but over time other senses have been added to the list. Our vestibular and proprioceptive systems are now also considered to be part of the sensory system.

The vestibular system allows us to detect where we are in relation to gravity, movement and balance. It detects acceleration, g-force and body movement, so we know when we are moving, whether we are lying down, sitting, standing, or walking.

The proprioceptive system tells us the relative position of the various parts of the body and the strength and dexterity required to perform certain tasks, like clapping, picking up an egg without breaking it, or not banging our heads on low beams.

Some would add others to the list, but regardless of what we class as senses, their main function is to carry messages to the brain for our brain to analyse and decide what is happening and what our response should be.

Without our senses we would not be aware of anything, arguably not even ourselves. We would have no comprehension of the world outside, nor any understanding of ourselves as human beings.
 
We must also be able to integrate our senses, allowing our minds to build on the information our senses are receiving, otherwise we would remain confused and disorganised, unable to make the connections between what our different senses are telling us, nor would we build up the experience and knowledge that help our brain to learn and react to situations we have encountered before.

In other words, we identify and react to the things and the people around us by interpreting the information that comes through our senses.

So, for example, we might smell something familiar in the air, or hear a sound, but it might not be until we see the source of that smell, or sound, that we know what it is. Conversely, we may see a red liquid in a glass, but only recognise it as red wine when we smell, or taste it and correlate that smell, or taste with our memory of how red wine smelt and tasted the last time we encountered it.

5. ANXIETY, STRESS AND DEPRESSION

Anxiety is manifest in a feeling of agitation, unease, worry, or fear. If we are not looking forward to an event, like a visit to the dentist, anxiety may be mild, but if anxiety builds up and is not released it can become severe, or toxic, causing sustained anxiety, panic, depression and phobias, or even long term conditions like social anxiety disorder, general anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Our mood is often determined by the environment in which we find ourselves. When people use the expression “I’m in a good place” they mean they are happy in life, which often relates to a number of different environmental elements, including their health, their wealth, personal relationships, their self-esteem and their general life-style.  But even people who generally say they are in a good place can find themselves caught out by something that causes them anxiety, depression and stress.

Modern life can be stressful. Whether it's stress caused by work, travel, or a hectic social life, we all get times when we just need to relax, but often the inertia of our brain waves and hormonal activity causes the stress to linger long after its cause has subsided.

The fact that we have become stressed and agitated can further impact the way we process and integrate our senses, which can lead to increased sensory disintegration, causing us more distress, confusion, doubt and anxiety, all of which can further influence our response to our environment and to those around us, by making us depressed, miserable, irritable and even angry.

It is like a vicious circle, the more agitated we get, the more it raises our stress levels and although some people will tell you they thrive on stress, everyone has their limit.

Another factor is our health. When we are feeling ill, recovering from an injury, under pressure, or just plain tired, we are more likely to be prone to irritation, frustration and agitation.

6. BRAIN WAVES, HORMONES AND THE SENSES

The brain emits brain waves that vibrate at different frequencies according to our different mental and physical states. These waves are electrical activity created by the rate at which different neurons fire and communicate with one another. The lower the vibration the lower the frequency and smoother the wave.

The slowest brain waves, delta and theta waves, are more prevalent in the various stages of sleep and in deep meditation, where the brain switches our senses away from the world around us to concentrate inwardly. We become unaware of our surroundings, with periods of almost total unconsciousness and periods of vivid dreams, where our memories and imaginations can create unrealities based on memories, both pleasant and unpleasant.

Beta brain waves are a range of faster, higher frequency waves. These are prevalent during consciousness and when we are interacting with our surroundings and other people - performing actions and making decisions. The more frantic these interactions are, the higher the frequency of the beta waves.

Alpha brain waves are prevalent during relaxation and meditation. Alpha waves are slower that beta waves and aid overall mental coordination and calmness. They keep the mind alert and open to learning and perform a 'gating function' on sensorial stimulation, helping to cut out sensory overload (Toscani 2010).  

In an ideal world our brain wave activity would remain in a healthy balance, but with increasingly hectic lifestyles we are increasingly subjected to stimuli that encourage higher frequency beta brain wave activity.

Continual high beta activity can cause anxiety, agitation and stress, which makes the brain put the body on alert, triggering the fight-or-flight response (Thompson & Thompson 2003). This activates a cocktail of hormones, including adrenaline and the stress hormone, cortisol, (Seo & Lee 2010) increasing the heart rate, blood pressure, and hyper active brain waves.

Increased adrenaline increases heart rate, elevates blood pressure and boosts energy. Cortisol increases sugars, increases your brain's use of glucose and curbs functions that are not required in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes, whilst also altering our mood, motivation and feeling of fear.

This is all natural and fine when the response is short lived, like in a situation where you are confronted with a passing threat, like temporarily losing control of your car. Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels slowly return to normal, and adrenaline, cortisol, heart rate and blood pressure return to base levels.

At normal levels the cortisol helps to control our fight-or-flight response, but long term elevations can be harmful (McEwan & Gianaros 2010).

In today’s hectic world of constant stimulation we can be on constant high alert, causing us to pump out more stress hormones and while our bodies are quick to create the fight-or-flight response, they are slow to shut down.  

These high levels of stress hormones can cause adrenal fatigue and chronic stress and can lead to both cognitive and even physical changes to the brain, potentially making us less rational, more fearful, depressed and anxious. It can also affect our memories and make us more prone to diseases, hyper-tension, digestive problems and heart disease.

According to the World Health Organisation, 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health issue in any one year, which worldwide works out at around 450 million people. Many of these people will not be any more pre-disposed to mental health issues than the rest of us, but their relationship with their surroundings, the people they interact with, the pressure of their work and / or other aspects of their lives have created a sensory and hormonal imbalance, making them stressed, anxious, or depressed and tipping them over the edge.

There will be many more people not included in the W.H.O. statistic, who are experiencing stress and agitation but are not considered to have a mental health issue. This indicates that if we do not control our stress levels, we are all potentially susceptible to uncontrolled anxiety and stress that could lead to mental health issues.

The answer is to achieve a balance of brain wave activity, because whatever the initial cause of your stress, if you are feeling anxious, agitated, or stressed, it’s likely you are experiencing too much beta brain activity, so it’s time to consider introducing some alpha waves into the equation.

Because virtually all our stress is created through our interaction with our environment and we receive the messages from that interaction through our senses, wouldn’t it be great if there was something our senses could absorb from the environment that would create those alpha brain waves and stabilise our over-production of beta brain waves and stress hormones?

Well as it turns out, there is!

We can create alpha waves through sound and visual effects in the environment. An environment rich in alpha waves creates a relaxing atmosphere which is absorbed by our senses and through a naturally occurring process of “brain wave entrainment,” the brain mimics these alpha waves to create its own alpha brain waves. These alpha brain waves also act as an agent to block other unwanted environmental stimuli, thereby reducing beta brain-wave dominance and stress.

The images and the music on “A Sense of Calm” are specially choreographed and orchestrated to create such a relaxing alpha wave rich atmosphere, thereby naturally helping the brain to relax.

Alpha waves also increase the production of helpful hormones like Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a source ingredient of virtually every hormone your body needs. They also increase Melatonin, a hormone that helps to create restful sleep and Serotonin which helps influence mood.

If you are tired and your brain is full of beta wave activity, chances are you won’t sleep, but using “A Sense of Calm” to re-balance your brain waves will help the brain to embrace the natural rhythm of sleep.
 

7. BEING SENSORY DEFENSIVE

We can all become anxious, stressed and agitated through overwork, tense situations and emotional overload, but some people are more sensitive to some things than others. These are the things that make us sensory defensive, increase our production of high end beta brain waves, which evoke the fight-or-flight response and create stress hormones.

The term sensory defensive therefore is essentially our behavioural and emotional reactions to something that irritates us in our environment.

We each have a unique sensory profile of different things that irritate us.

Imagine that the activities we undertake and the objects, smells, tastes, sounds and people we come into contact with in our everyday life can be categorized into three sensory experiences.

   1. Sensory attractive  2. Sensory Neutral   3. Sensory Defensive.

The sensory attractive are the activities, objects, smells, sights, tastes, sounds and the people we enjoy being around – the things that provide us with a pleasurable sensory experience.

The sensory neutral are those we can take or leave. These are the things we just do as part of life. We wouldn’t miss them if they weren’t there, but they don’t really bother us.

The sensory defensive elements are the things that irritate us, the things we’d rather avoid. These can range from things that are mildly irritating to things that really annoy us.

Of course, life is a mixture of all these sensory experiences, but the more sensory defensive elements that surround us, the more high frequency beta brain waves and stress hormones we produce, and the more stressed and anxious we become.

If one sensory element is so powerfully offensive to us personally, it can override all the other attractive sensory influences and spoil our day by making us sensory defensive. Imagine what it must be like for someone who suffers from arachnophobia, who is enjoying a relaxing bath, when they spot a spider dropping from the ceiling.

Some environmental irritants like allergies cause physical manifestations like sneezing, or rashes, but they can also cause emotional stress and discomfort, sometimes with behavioural consequences, causing them to avoid certain situations, or become irritable when the situation is unavoidable.

Sensory defensive experiences can also stay with us in our memory and can build up over a number of days, adding to our irritability. Memories can also taint other sensory pleasurable experiences by association. For example, if you enjoy walking in the countryside, but on one occasion you get stung by a bee, the next time you go for a walk you may be tense and hypersensitive, spoiling what was once a pleasurable experience.

Someone who feels totally out of place with their surroundings may be in sensory overload. They may feel physically and socially awkward, constantly judging themselves, doubting their confidence, or their abilities, thinking they are misjudging situations, questioning if people like them and if they do, why? This can all lead to anxiety and depression.

People with hay fever may avoid gardens, people sensitive to the sun will seek out the shade, people with hearing problems may prefer small intimate groups because they feel left out at a party and people with a physical disability may find it stressful to do things others do with ease.

Sensory defensive reactions can also be triggered by something we find intellectually, or psychologically irritating.

It may be embarrassing when we just don’t get the joke that everyone else in the group is laughing at, or frustrating to listen to a pundit on the radio telling everyone something we know to be wrong, or disagree with. And for someone with a disability like dyslexia, who outwardly appears just like everyone else, it can be humiliating being treated like an idiot, or with impatience, because they can’t read easily, take time filling in a form, or have problems using a pin number with their credit card.

Some people have the ability to bottle up and hide the stress, but inwardly their beta brain waves may still be spiking, their stress hormones and blood pressure may be rising and they may be no less anxious and sensory defensive than those who display their agitation and discomfort, or those who become so irritated they become aggressive.

All of us have a unique sensory profile. Some cope with different aspects of the environment better than others and some things that give pleasure to some can irritate others, but we all get stressed at some time and we can all get agitated and anxious.

Of course, humans being as complicated and contradictory as we are, even indulging in too many sensory pleasures can make us prone to sensory overload. Too much of what we like can make us over excitable, over tired, or irritable.  

This is why people who enjoy physically and intellectually demanding hobbies often need a chill down strategy when they stop, because although they may be physically, or mentally tired, their beta brain-waves are still spiking, trying to keep them active and alert.    

Too much stress, unbalanced brain wave activity and uncontrolled hormones not only cause anxiety, but can also have long term health implications.

8. MEDICAL & HEALTH

"A Sense of Calm" is being used to help relax people before undergoing surgery and after surgery to aid their recover.

Rehabilitation, or the necessity to live with long or short term conditions, such as strokes, injuries, viruses, cancers and neurological pain can cause the patient frustration and anxiety.

Poor health, whether caused by injury, or disease, creates stress in a number of ways. There’s the frustration of not being able to do what you could before, the discomfort and the pain, worries about the future, changes in social lifestyle, the reactions of others to your condition, changes in your own neurological responses and your ability to integrate sensory systems.

Many health conditions can be considered as high sensory defensive situations where injury, pain, or disease is causing a high beta brain wave response, causing stress, frustration and agitation.

The sensory relaxation provided by “A Sense of Calm” can not only help to relieve the stress and frustration of a medical condition, but the generation of alpha brain waves has also been shown to lessen the pain.

Our next two sections cover two specific groups of medical conditions that change our ability to integrate our senses. A major symptom of dementia and for people living with specific learning difficulties is disruption of the sensory process, creating sensory overload, stress, agitation and often behavioural problems like rage.

If you are not affected by, or are not caring for someone affected by these conditions, and you are using “A Sense of Calm” for relief of anxiety or for general relaxation, it is still worthwhile reading these sections as they illustrate how an imbalance within the brain, or the brain sensory mechanism can cause extreme sensory issues.

9. DEMENTIA & ALZHEIMER’S

The word dementia describes a range of symptoms that occur as a result of various medical conditions. The most widely known conditions associated with dementia are Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia, but there are a host of other conditions that present the same symptoms, including dementia with Lewy bodies, mixed dementia and fronto-temporal dementia, as well as Huntington's disease, Creutzfeldt disease, traumatic brain injury Korsakoff syndrome and Parkinson's disease.

The World Health Organisation define dementia as –

“A syndrome due to disease of the brain, usually of a chronic or progressive nature, in which there is disturbance of multiple higher cortical functions, including memory, thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capability, language, and judgement. Consciousness is not impaired. Impairments of cognitive function are commonly accompanied, occasionally preceded, by deterioration in emotional control, social behaviour, or motivation.”

A major symptom of dementia is someone's inability to cope with certain aspects of their environment. This may display itself in confusion, difficulty in performing simple tasks (like making a cup of tea), an inability to follow a story on TV, believing something has happened that hasn't and a feeling of wanting to escape but not knowing where to go, or wanting to go to a place from their past which to them feels like the present. They may even fail to recognise familiar friends and family members.

These symptoms will differ from person to person depending on which part of the brain is affected, but because dementia is a progressive condition these symptoms become more frequent and pronounced over time, making them more frustrated with their surrounding and their inability to cope.

Adults living with dementia have years of experience and memories that are beginning to falter, making it difficult for them to process information, so damaged half memories also become a factor that must be, but often isn’t taken into account.
 
As we mentioned earlier, research has indicated that people recall bad memories more easily than good ones (Kensinger, Garoff-Eaton, & Schacter, 2006). And whilst they found that we remember specific details of a bad memory event more clearly, the peripheral details surrounding that event are subject to distortion. So, it is hardly surprising that someone who is experiencing memory confusion through their dementia may well be agitated, anxious and angry if distortion of these bad memories come to the fore as a result of their condition.

This is why “A Sense of Calm” relies on creating an alpha wave rich atmosphere from abstract images and unfamiliar music, as these are less likely to provoke any adverse memory responses which may occur with familiar images of real scenes, real people, animals and familiar music.

Imagery of a sun kissed beach, a walk in the country, or prancing ponies may bring back happy memories for some, but for others they may bring back the horrors of being bitten by sand flies, a long suppressed childhood mishap, or simply the frustration of a corrupted memory that they can’t quite recall.

"A Sense of Calm" can be viewed as a relaxation therapy in itself, or as a therapeutic means of creating a calming atmosphere that can promote social interaction and communication. It should not, however, be considered a pacifier!

During a sensory session, therapists engage with people living with dementia in purposeful activities that are individual to the patient’s needs. If, however, an individual is in a high state of anxiety it will be necessary to bring about a sense of calm first, using “A Sense of Calm” to filter out any signs of sensory overload from their mind.

If someone living with dementia is in an elevated state of anxiety, it is not always possible to sit them down for a sensory session. In these circumstances, a calming atmosphere can be achieved by playing “A Sense of Calm” somewhere in the room, allowing them to gravitate towards it in their own time.

Many people living with dementia become anxious when they are asked to perform certain everyday tasks, like bathing, eating and going to the toilet. A session with "A Sense of Calm" prior to undertaking these tasks can often relax an individual and make these tasks easier for them. It can also help at times like “Sundowning” when agitation sets in later in the day.

As we have mentioned already, Dementia is a progressive condition and none of us want to add to someone’s sensory discomfort, so carers must not only be aware of an individual’s past likes and dislikes, but also look for personality changes, changes in their patterns of behaviour and new sets of circumstances where their pre-conceived likes and dislikes have changed.

For example, at some stage, someone may start to become irritated and anxious when watching his, or her, favourite TV show. This may be because they are unable to process information and follow the plot, or because they are so familiar with the characters, they become confused between reality and fiction.

It may seem natural to help someone with dementia to remember, point out when they have asked the same question more than once, or correct their confused view of reality, but for the person living with dementia, this can be frustrating and upsetting. They may be living in a different world, a different reality, controlled by memories from a different time and whilst it may be difficult to pretend to validate their world, by “playing along,” a balance between their world and reality is often the kindest way to proceed. It can be difficult, but gentle redirection, starting by accepting what they believe at the time and gently bringing them back towards reality is kinder than pointing out to someone they are wrong.

Bearing all this in mind, In a care situation, once the relaxing influences of “A Sense of Calm” have started to take effect, the images and music from “A Sense of Calm” can be used as a background to introduce other controlled stimulation in the form of massage, exercises, task-based activities, or social interaction that are individual to the patient’s needs.
  

10. SPECIFIC LEARNING DIFFICULTIES

The definition of learning difficulties covers a number of conditions, so can often differ depending on who you ask. This generalisation can be annoying to those living with one of these conditions that include - Autism, Asperger's, Dyslexia, A.D.H.D., Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, Language Processing Disorder, Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit, and Down's Syndrome. These and other conditions classed as learning difficulties are all neurologically based and all show symptoms of sensory sensitivity and difficulty coping with some aspects of the environment.

For example, people who are dyslexic (a word recognition disability) can get very anxious filling in a questionnaire, entering a pin number, or reading a menu in front of other people.

Someone with ADHD may find it difficult to concentrate on a task because they are overwhelmed by all that is going on around them.

Someone with autism may struggle with memory associations, so they may have a favourite seat at a coffee shop simply because the last time they sat there they had a good time and they get upset if that seat is taken next time.

These memory associations can be very important to someone living with sensory processing issues.

People who are autistic often become agitated when their routine is upset because stepping outside the routine increases the danger of something unexpected intruding on how their memory has lead them to believe the experience should unfold.

Something that is pleasurable or neutral to one person may be highly irritable to another, or something that irritates them both may irritate one more than the other. A room full of toxic smoke would irritate anyone, but to someone who is hypersensitive a room full of noisy children can be as bad.

The degree to which different people cope with their environment depends on the severity of their condition.  Someone with mild dyslexia may appear to cope well, even though they themselves may be anxious inside. Others with more profound learning difficulties will find it harder to cope and may be unable to communicate the source of their anxiety. This may result in frustration, anger, or behavioural problems.

We saw earlier that sensory processing issues and difficulty coping with elements in the environment can lead to beta brain wave overload, high stress hormones levels and heightened fight-or-flight reactions, all of which can exacerbate mental and health issues.

"A Sense of Calm" uses abstract images and specially composed music to create an atmosphere rich in alpha waves. This naturally helps the brain produce its own relaxing brain waves and helps to reduce agitation.

The abstract nature of the images in "A Sense of Calm" also aids visualisation, allowing the viewer to create scenes, or assign meaning to the images in their own imagination, rather than relying on images that may be tainted by the viewer's past memories, for as we have seen research has indicated that people more easily recall bad memories and in greater detail than they do good ones (Kensinger, Garoff-Eaton, & Schacter, 2006).

So, people living with learning difficulties are more prone to sensory overload, a situation where something, or someone, in their environment becomes so irritating they become sensory defensive. They may also react differently and with more extreme consequences than people without learning difficulties, or may get more anxious in their efforts to deal with the situation and control their reactions.

For example, someone who is dyslexic may get agitated if asked to fill in a form. They may avoid eye contact and social interaction, or even become disruptive in a learning situation so they are not asked to do something they find difficult that may embarrass them in front of others.
 
Some people may become jealous and irritated by people who are more socially adept, or who can perform tasks they themselves find difficult. Their reaction may not be based on hate, rather frustration that they are unable to do what they see others doing.

So, not only can “A Sense of Calm” be used to bring someone down from a high state of anxiety, it can also be used as a relaxation tool prior to someone undertaking a task they are known to find stressful. After all, it stands to reason that someone who is in a state of calm will be more receptive and capable of learning, performing tasks and becoming socially aware, than someone who does not feel at ease with their environment.
People with severe learning difficulties may have access to a sensory room, which encompasses a variety of equipment to give an all-encompassing sensory experience.

"A Sense of Calm" is designed to give the same benefits of a sensory room, but with flexibility of use, so it can be used where and when it is needed, in the home, in the bedroom, the living room, the classroom, or in a professional health care situation.

Because of this flexibility, some special needs’ schools that already have a sensory room are using “A Sense of Calm” both as part of the sensory room and in other areas, like in the classroom for relaxation time.

It is important to state at this point that “A Sense of Calm” is not designed as a pacifier, rather it is a technique to calm and put someone at ease who has become over stimulated by their surroundings, or is sensory defensive.

During a sensory session, teachers, therapists and carers engage in purposeful activities that are often individual to the person’s needs. If, however, an individual is in a high state of anxiety, “A Sense of Calm” can be used to establish a calming atmosphere, filtering out any potentially upsetting sensory elements from the environment and from the mind, making it easier to engage.

Although people often gravitate toward “A Sense of Calm” when played in an environment of surrounding distractions, for best results, we recommend cutting down as many outside distractions as possible, by playing “A Sense of Calm” in a comfortable, quiet room with subdued lighting.

11. MOTHER & BABY

Nature, or nurture – a subject that has divided psychologists for years, with some convinced that it is our DNA that defines who we are and others saying it is our experiences that define us. In truth, it is a combination of the two with most psychologists now in agreement that both are important.

Pregnancy can be a stressful time. It is a life changing experience and a time when the stresses we encounter in normal life can be multiplied by the extra consideration of starting a new family or adding to an existing family unit.

For generations, mothers and doctors have instinctively known that stress during pregnancy is bad for the unborn child, a notion that is increasingly backed up by research.

Everyone knows that stress can’t be avoided entirely during pregnancy and it may well be that a degree of normal everyday stress is necessary for the development of a foetus, but there is increasing evidence that too much can be harmful.

Stress during pregnancy increases the mother's production of the stress hormones, which are then shared with the foetus.

Studies by Dr. Pathik Wadhwa of University of Kentucky College of Medicine shows that excess stress hormones influence the placenta and can be a factor in pre-term births.

A pre-term baby is susceptible to a range of complications, including chronic lung disease, developmental delays, learning disorders and infant mortality.

There is also evidence that babies who experience stress are more likely to develop chronic health problems as adults, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Stress in the womb can affect a baby's temperament and neuro-behavioural development. Babies of mothers who experienced high levels of stress during the first stages of pregnancy can show signs of more depression and irritability. They also appear to be slower to acclimatise and tune out background stimuli - a skill that in infants is an important predictor of IQ.

Studies by Dr. Vivette Glover of Imperial College, England found that anxiety and stress during pregnancy reduces blood flow to the foetus through the uterine arteries, which is the main source of blood and nutrition for the foetus.

Dr Glover also found that development of the brain in the womb is sensitive to exposure to cortisol and the other stress hormones of the mother - and that just like exposure to alcohol, smoking or drugs, the foetus will set a number of brain receptors to cortisol, which in turn set responses for later in life.

Besides exposing the baby to an increase in cortisol, stress during pregnancy has been found to cause several biological changes to occur. It can increase the possibility of infection (Wadhwa) and disturb the bacterial ecosystem of the baby (Jessica Griggs, San Diego). This has implications for the development of the brain, the immune system and the balance of bacteria in the gut and the absorption of nutrients.

Once the baby is born, studies tell us that the baby is very sensitive to interactions with the mother. If the mother is agitated, anxious, or stressed, the baby picks up on her mood and this in turn has long term harmful effects on the development of the child. The children may develop behavioural problems, as well as cognitive problems.

In one study, Sara Waters, of New York University, found that mothers who had undergone a stressful experience away from their babies transferred their stress to their baby within minutes when reunited with their baby and the more stressed they were, the more their babies became agitated.

As we have mentioned, experiencing a degree of stress is part of everyday life. It is part of the developmental process and can prepare us for later life, but too much stress can be harmful to mother, foetus and infant, so as with most things in life the answer is balance.

We have all experienced times when life is getting on top of us. We feel anxious and stressed by what is happening around us. We know we are stressed, but often we just work through it and cope as best we can. Only for mothers-to-be and mothers, that stress doesn’t just affect them, it affects their child too.

We saw in our section on anxiety and in the studies mentioned above that stress cannot easily be switched off - it stays with us long after the source of that stress has been removed.

“A Sense of Calm” can be used to control stress levels before undertaking known stressful activities, after encountering a stressful event, or as regular sessions to help keep stress, brain wave levels and hormones in balance.

Because "A Sense of Calm" produces a relaxing atmosphere rich in alpha waves, it is ideal for relaxation during pregnancy. This can be done passively by sitting in a comfortable chair just watching the video, or using the video as a background to other relaxation therapies.

Once the baby is born, it is still important to control stress levels around the new-born, for as we have seen babies can pick up on a mother's stress.

Infants not only pick up on the stress of their mothers, they also start to encounter stressful situations of their own. These are a natural part of their development and help to prepare them for life, but again too much stress can be harmful, so "A Sense of Calm" can also be used to calm a child as they go through the various stages of development, or calm mother and child together in a shared experience.

12. CONCLUSIONS

“A Sense of Calm” can help us to reduce anxiety, stress and agitation, whether it be caused by everyday life, or as a symptom of a debilitating medical condition.

And although it can’t eliminate all the irritants in the environment from life, nor cure an underlying medical condition that make us vulnerable to those irritants, it can help to alleviate the anxiety, stress and frustration and help us to achieve a balance of healthy brain waves activity and hormones.





Directory of useful organisations and websites for anxiety and conditions that lead to anxiety

Anxiety UK https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/

Age UK / Age Concern Website: www.ageuk.org.uk

Alzheimer's Research UK www.alzheimersresearchuk.org

Alzheimer’s Society www.alzheimers.org.uk

Alzheimer Scotland www.alzscot.org

Carers Direct (NHS) NHS help and support for carers. www.nhs.uk/carersdirect

Carers UK Website: www.carersuk.org

Contented Dementia Trust: www.contenteddementiatrust.org

Crossroads Care http://www.crossroads.org.uk/

Dementia Challengers: www.dementiachallengers.com

Dementia UK & Admiral Nurses www.dementiauk.org

The Disabled Living Foundation (DLF) www.dlf.org.uk

NHS Choices Advice and information about all causes of memory loss, including dementia: www.nhs.uk

Parkinson’s UK www.parkinsons.org.uk

Stroke Association www.stroke.org.uk

Where is the Care http://whereisthecare.co.uk/

National Autistic Society www.autism.org.uk

MENCAP https://www.mencap.org.uk

NASEN www.nasen.org.uk

ADHD Foundation www.adhdfoundation.org.uk

Down's Syndrome Association www.downs-syndrome.org.uk

Scope www.scope.org.uk

Shine (Spina Bifida/Hydrocephalus) www.shinecharity.org.uk

Williams Syndrome Foundation www.williams-syndrome.org.uk

British Dyslexia Association www.bdadyslexia.org.uk

Dyslexia Foundation www.dyslexia-help.org‎

Dyspraxia Foundationwww.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk

Speech and Language Afasic (Voice for Life) www.afasic.org.uk

Independent Parental Special Education Advice www.ipsea.org.uk

Cerebra - Help for people with neurological conditions www.cerebra.org.uk

Mental Health Foundation http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/

Mind for better mental health http://www.mind.org.uk/

Together - mental health services  http://www.together-uk.org/

The Centre for Mental Health http://www.centreformentalhealth.org.uk/

Depression Alliance  http://www.depressionalliance.org/

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy http://www.bacp.co.uk/

PANDAS Foundation - support for pre (antenatal), postnatal depression or postnatal psychosishttp://www.pandasfoundation.org.uk/

Young Minds - for anyone with concerns about the mental health of a child or young person. http://www.youngminds.org.uk/

Depression Alliance http://www.depressionalliance.org/

Depression Alliance Scotland http://www.dascot.org/

SANE www.sane.org.uk

Samaritans http://www.samaritans.org/

BeMindful.co.uk http://bemindful.co.uk/

All content within the A Sense of Calm site is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. A Sense of Calm is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made by a user based on the content of this website and A Sense of Calm is not liable for the contents of any external Internet sites listed. Always consult your own doctor if you are in any way concerned about your health, or the health of someone you care for.
copyright: A Sense of Calm Ltd 2017.
 
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