Sensory Break

A couple weeks ago I visited the School where I worked with Special Ed Pre-Schoolers. Of course, this prompted thoughts about how “Everything You Need to Know You Can Learn in Special Ed Pre-School.” One thing I talked with about with the teachers was how overwhelmed some of the children are who don’t speak English. They sit in a class of approx. 20 rambunctious 4 and 5 year-olds and either totally shut down or act out. One solution that is in place for these kids, or any kids who seem to be on the verge of a meltdown, is what they call a “Sensory Break”.

Basically, it’s  “a time for them to gain the sensory input they need in their bodies to stay alert, on task, and focused.” They take a break from what they are doing, sometimes even go in a separate room, and mentally and physically “regroup.” It may involve large physical activities like doing jumping jacks, running, skipping or doing push-ups. However, it could also be as simple as drinking water or chewing gum or playing with a “fidget toy”.

The other day, as I was feeling overwhelmed and on the verge of a pre-school-type meltdown, I thought to myself, “I need a Sensory Break.”  I truly felt like that child sitting in a classroom of wild preschoolers where everyone around me was speaking a different language. Confused and anxious and ready to blow my top or just shut down, I thought to myself: I need a Sensory Break. What does that look like, you ask? Well, there is no formula. Whatever works for you. Maybe some jumping jacks will do it for you—but for me, I need supernatural help to address what’s going on in my heart and head. I know it’s not always possible to leave where we are and physically refocus somewhere else, but I still think we can give ourselves a few minutes—a “brain break” as they call it at school—and get back on track.

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I do this by reading something short and to the point and then try to keep that with me until my next Sensory Break. Maybe that’s why I try my best to keep my blogs fairly short; I want people to read and remember and not let their mind wander off. It could also be because I myself can only say anything intelligible for about 3 paragraphs before MY mind wanders off! On a side note, experts suggest that anyone older than a 3rd grader needs a Sensory Break every 45 minutes.

So, what would my day look like if I would get my head and heart in order every 45 minutes? I think my stress level would go down, my worries would shrink, my peace and perspective would grow, and my spirit would be able to love others the way God loves me—without expectations or judgments.

One very important nuance of the Sensory Break: ya gotta catch it early. Be alert. If a teacher isn’t perceptive enough to see the “temperature risin'” in a child, chances are they will have a full-blown tantrum on their hands that is hard to extinguish. It is much more effective if you can address the anxiety that’s building and take a Sensory Break BEFORE it hits full force. Recovering from that takes 10 times longer than preventing it.

If I am not paying attention to my emotions and my inner voices, I neglect that needed Sensory Break and before I know it, I am rude and huffy with the guy at the DMV because he sends me to a different line that I have to wait in for 15 more minutes and will be late picking up kids from school (sorry Mister). Or, I go in to full-tantrum mode. Everyone watch out! The world as I know it is crumbling. Nothing is good enough for me. No one understands me. Everyone is getting on my last nerve. But if, when I sense that anxiety rising in my spirit, when I seem to be re-hashing and rehearsing my resentments, and when I just can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, I turn to God through prayer or a reading or a mantra, I can come back to my “senses” and start over. Sometimes my Sensory Breaks come sooner than every 45 minutes. It might involve a very deep prayer like, “HELP!”; it’s quick and concise and it aids me in realigning my heart and head.  We’ve all heard the slogan, “One day at a time.” I challenge you to live today approximately “45 Minutes at a time.”

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