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 –