How the Coronavirus Could Be Affecting Our Tactile System, and How to Handle It

Strange times. We could not have foreseen this, although there are many folks saying that the writing has been on the wall for some time now. Nonetheless, here we are. At home. Many of us continuing to shelter-in-place, or at the very least (and hopefully), operating in some socially-altered capacity. Like it or not, our lives and how we interact with others is altered for the foreseeable future. We know firsthand the social, economic, and emotional tolls that this is taking, and can imagine (for many of us, anxiously), what effect this may have for us in a longer-run worst-case-scenario type of way. But beyond social, economic, and emotional tolls, what does this mean for our central nervous system? More specifically, our for our tactile system?

What do you mean, our “tactile system”? 

Our tactile system is our sense of touch, and stimulation of it is critical to our brain’s development and function. When functioning well, our tactile system senses, measures, and modulates environmental stimulation including pain, temperature, light touch, and pressure. Sensory receptors in our skin carry messages up through different spinal tracts, and to our brain. Here the information is made sense of, or modulated, for an appropriate motor response. A very basic example of this loop is touching a hot surface, like a stove. Our skin perceives the heat, sends the signal up to our brain, and we withdraw our hand in a matter of a second or two. Ideally, we store this information in our memory, in order to avoid it happening again. 

Our tactile system helps us to connect with others. When our system is functioning well, we can handle, perceive and accept socially/emotionally appropriate touch well. Hugs, handshakes, high fives, pats on the back are all accepted and integrated well. We can tolerate having our hair cut, our nails trimmed, our face washed, and a variety of textures of clothing (even tags) and yes, food textures and temperatures. Furthermore, with a well functioning tactile system, we don’t need or seek out excessive touch input, and we can recognize (by feel) when we have food on our face, and if our clothing is on backwards. 

Hmm. This does not sound like me, my child, my partner….why is that?

Well, there may not be one nice neat and tidy answer for this.

First of all, there could be sensory processing differences. Even at birth, some of us were born being…a little different. For example, after being brought home from the hospital, my mother panicked as she tried to bathe me, and I screamed as though I was being very threatened in a much more severe way. My mother, 24 at the time and me being the first born, was at a loss. She called the nurse, who gave her the very sensible advise to “put a t-shirt on her”. And so, my mother put a t-shirt on me in the bath, and I was fine. I went on to have a number of tactile sensitivities that would confound my mom–I was very sensitive to having my hair brushed, face washed, and–heaven forbid–a wrinkle in my sock could send me into a severe meltdown that would leave me to go sock-less many times. Conversely, some people cannot get enough of tactile input. These folks love messy play, and often times would just assume be covered in paint, mud, shaving foam, etc. These are two responses that are on different levels of a spectrum. 

Secondly, we have made a lot of adaptations to the materials that our skin is constantly in contact with. We are the generation of the yoga pant, stretchy, tag-less clothes. We have soft polo shirts and stretchy jeans. Our towels are soft and fluffy. We are not used to the harsher fabrics–even regular denim–of decades past. Many of us choose fabrics that can move, stretch, and feel good in–both at home and work. Now, for many of us who have been working from home with the onset of the virus and shelter-in-place, the outfit is one and the same. Loungewear is a daily thing, and I have seen an uptick in marketing for this type of clothing. 

Thirdly, trauma. Yes, I know that this is becoming a more readily discussed topic, and even buzz word of our times, but that is because research is showing us just how much trauma can affect our brain function. Trauma can be acute (one time occurrence), chronic (sustained abuse patterns), or complex (multiple factors, situations/occurrences). And then there is perceived trauma. This is sometimes referred to as “little ‘t’ trauma”, and could occur for a child who has been lost for 2-3 minutes in a grocery store, as one example. Children who have difficulty with separation from parents experience their own form of trauma every time they have to be dropped off at school. Now, I understand that this is a big claim, and I am in NO WAY accusing parents of traumatizing their child intentionally at a school drop off. I am just trying to illustrate different ways to measure and identify terms of trauma. We hold onto trauma in our bodies, in our cells. It can affect the way our brain works. Including how our tactile system responds to non-threatening touch, namely flight, fight, or freeze. 

To clarify, the flight, fight or freeze response is not strictly reserved for a person with a history of trauma, but it is a primitive brain response to keep us out of danger. Children with sensory sensitivities or sensory modulation issues can have this response without a history of trauma, as well. 

Some people speculate that the pandemic has a very high chance of creating trauma for many people. Here is a link from Psychology Today that is illustrating what could potentially happen and how to take care during this time. 

(For more information on types of trauma that children can experience, click here. This is a link to look at for how you can help children who have experienced trauma.)

So…how does this pandemic play into our tactile system, and what can we do to help our kids and ourselves? 

So, now specifically for the tactile system; think about how much tactile information children are exposed to in a typical school day. Bumping into classmates, standing close in line, hugs/high fives from friends and teachers, sitting in cozy spaces or at least on a rug or carpet squares, PE class, art class, classroom activities, circle time, outdoor play, organized sports.  And more!

During the pandemic, we are washing hands more than ever (which is great for tactile seekers, and not-so-great for tactile avoiders), but we are also now more cautious. Cautious of touching surfaces, of touching (and even getting too close) to others. There is talk (even advice from Dr. Fauci) of making the social handshake obsolete when we return to our new normal. As we have been dealing with this in the US for a couple of months now, many of us are beginning to wonder just what things might look like in our world, moving forward. There is little certainty at the moment, which plays on our anxiety, for sure. There are things that we can do to help our tactile systems (and nervous system function during this time). 

Suggestions for tactile activities for those you are isolating with:

  • Cuddle time. Set aside time to be extra cuddly with your children, your partner. Think about massages: foot rubs, shoulder rubs, hugs. 
  • Baths are great for the tactile system. You can add in Epsom salt (safe for children over age 4 years due to the magnesium content). 
  • Messy play! Finger painting, play with shaving foam or soap, cooked and cooled pasta play, sandbox/kinetic sand, cornstarch and water in equal parts (beware–very messy, and great!), dry rice or bean bins to hide and find toys in.
  • Skin stimulation. Use of textured washcloths, loofahs, or silicone scrubbers to clean body in the bath or shower. 
  • Different textured soaps–foam, slime, salt or sugar scrubs–great for all of the hand washing!
  • Weighted blankets. This actually stimulates the proprioceptive (positional sense) part of the nervous system as well as the tactile system, and it can help people to feel more grounded and safe during this time. 
  • Earthing/Grounding. There has been more awareness for this movement in the past few years. This is, specifically, walking barefoot on the ground, and lying on the ground to gain benefits of the earth’s electric energy. More information is here on earthing. 

Suggestions for other ways to help nervous system stay regulated, and to release stress:

  • Exercise. Children: get outside and play! Run, walk, bike with your kids. Dust off that mini trampoline, build outdoor structures for play, invest in that cool geo-dome. Adults: Daily exercise is highly recommended. 30-60 minutes of walking, hiking, biking, jogging, yoga, and/or strength training are all great things to do. With the opportunity of more time on our hands, take advantage of continuing (and perhaps expanding) your routines, and discovering a potential new hobby.
  • Sleep. Children: even though in-person school is on hold, make sure your kids are getting enough sleep for their age. This is a good list for sleep recommendations for children of different ages. Adults: Try to get at least 8 hours a day. This can be challenging for those experiencing anxiety, and can be a little too easy for those experiencing depression. Please be gentle and kind to yourself. If struggling to sleep, you may consider supplements such as 5 HTP, melatonin, lemon balm tincture, GABA, and/or magnesium (consult with your healthcare provider, please to make sure that these are safe for you, especially if you are taking prescription medications, are pregnant/nursing, etc). If you are getting too much sleep, try adding in some gentle exercise daily. 
  • Food. Children: Eat as many well balanced meals as possible, focusing on fresh food and limiting foods with dyes and preservatives. Trader Joe’s products avoids artificial food dyes, and frozen foods have limited preservatives. Sneak in extra fruit (and leafy veggies!) with smoothies. Adults: Eat well, making sure to take in good amounts of vitamin c and citrus (lemon/lime water) for immunity. Eat as much fresh food as possible, and look to expand your cooking abilities. Limit alcohol, sugar consumption. These have a quick-fix effect, but can be damaging over the long run. 
  • Meditation. Children: Mindfulness can be taught to children. You can start with the idea of keeping still during a long breath. Schools have been incorporating mindfulness and meditation during the day, so ask your child if they learned how to do it in school. Adults: Daily meditation can help to build the connections between your amygdala (small alarm center of the brain) and your prefrontal cortex (thinking, reasoning). What this means is, that with regular practice, although you still may react initially to news/events/situations, your resilience and recovery time will improve. See more effects of meditation here.
  • Journal. Children and Adults: There is just something about the act of putting pen to paper; specifically, handwriting has a specific effect on the brain. Also, there is evidence that journaling can promote good mental health. Get in the habit of writing a little down every day. I suggest that you have 2 journals: one for your anger/anxiety, and another for gratitude and envisioning how you would like the world to look like in the coming months, years. 
  • Psychotherapy. Children: If your child had been receiving support, continue with telehealth sessions, if available. If your chilld seems significantly more anxious, and is experiencing distress, reach out  for support. Adults: If you are currently receiving talk therapy with a counselor, social worker, or psychologist, continue your work. If you are struggling and need help, here . Stay connected with others. Reach out on the phone, continue to FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangout/Meet. Do something to help a friend or neighbor. Check in on your loved ones. The act of reaching out to lend a helping hand can benefit not only the person receiving the help, but the person offering it. 
  • Limit Media Consumption and Screen Use. Children: As challenging as this is right now, try to limit your child’s consumption of screens as much as possible during the day. The benefits far outweigh the challenges, as excessive screens can have such a negative impact on behavior. Adults: Be mindful of your sources, and limit consumption during the day. Too much can keep us in an overwhelmed, fear based state of mind that affects our nervous system negatively. 
  • Forgiveness. Adults: Start with yourself. Things are far from “perfect”, and never were in the first place. Forgive yourself for making mistakes, not handling things the way you could have, for not being “enough”. Forgive others during this time, if you are able to, as well. Most folks are functioning in a sub-optimal way at some point during any given day, week, month since the pandemic has reared it’s head.  You free yourself when you can forgive others. This is also a wonderful practice to model for your children. 
  • Gratitude. Children and Adults: This one might feel like a cliche, but it is important! Count your blessings on a daily basis. This may be especially good to do right before bed, especially if you have trouble with sleep. This is also great to do around the dinner table in the evening with your kids. 

All in all, take care of yourselves. Offer support often to others, and seek out support as much as you need to. This situation can bring on a lot of fear. When the fears come up, stay grounded and try to bring yourself back to the present moment. Take a barefoot walk. Get cuddle time with your kids. Breathe deeply. Know that this situation is temporary, as is everything. 

 

Aromatherapy

What is it about smelling scents that move us so much? That push us into strong memories and emotions? We can smell something and specifically remember a very distinct person, or place. We may remember Aunt Edna’s floral perfume from our childhood, or a loved one’s signature food dish. Scents can also trigger a strong emotional reaction, whether it be feelings of fond memories, or an awful, rancid smell from something we’d rather forget. There is science behind this: our sense of smell is the only sense that goes directly to the limbic system in the middle of the brain before going to other parts of the brain to be further processed. The limbic system is responsible for memories and emotions. Starting to make sense now?

As a therapist, I have been using essential oils in my sessions for several years now. The purpose that I use them for therapeutically is to affect emotionsmood and arousal.  Emotions and mood are fairly self explanatory, but the referral to arousal in our therapy language refers to states of alertness, more or less. Sleepiness, fatigue, and even a slumped posture can indicate low arousal, where difficulty focusing, fidgeting, and difficulty coming to a still posture for learning or working can indicate high arousal. 

 

Here is a list of oils that can help with the following moods:

Agitation: lavender, valerian, rose, melissa

Depression: lemon, lavender, ylang ylang, orange, peppermint, frankincense

Anxiety: bergamot, lavender, orange, roman chamomile

 

Here is a list of oils that can help with the following desired states of arousal

Alerting: orange, lemon, grapefruit, bergamot, peppermint eucalyptus, and a blend of lavandin, tangerine, elemi, lemon myrtle, melissa, ylang ylang, Hawaiian sandalwood

Focusing: rosemary and lavender, frankincense, and a blend of ho wood, spruce, frankincense and blue tansy

Calming: cedarwood, lavender, roman chamomile, lavender and rosemary blend, rose oil, orange, and lavender, cedarwood and vetiver blend. 

The use of quality oils is important when considering your options. Some oils are not as high quality, or have fillers in them. Here is a list of some reputable oil companies: 

*Multi Level Marketing companies. You need to sign up to purchase products. 

There are different methods that you can use the oils therapeutically. Common methods include:

  • Inhalation. This is the safest method, and you can use a diffuser, or a personal nasal inhaler. We use both in our practice. 
  • Topical Use. This method can be used with proper dilution of the oils with a carrier oil and a roller. Proper dilution includes considering the size of the person you are using the oil with.  There is a risk for skin sensitivity with oils, especially if they are not properly diluted. We occasionally use this method in our practice in conjunction with other therapeutic activities. 

When using the oils topically, dilution levels are very important. Typically, if you are using it for spot purposes on the body, 2% dilution is OK for both children and adults. The size of the container matters, however. If you are using it for your face or your whole body (rarely would you use this), 1% dilution is recommended. Here is a link to a chart that has clear guidelines for dilution.

Using oils is a fun, safe way to bring in a powerful sensory modality to your daily life. They do need to be handled with care, however. It is best practice to keep them in a cool place, and out of direct sunlight. Also, it is important to keep them out of reach of children. The oils are very concentrated, and can cause harm if too much gets onto skin directly or especially if swallowed. If oil ever gets into your eyes, use coconut oil or another oil to dilute it versus using water. 

 

 

Grounding and Clearing And How It Can Help You

Have you ever wondered why people are learning how to “get grounded”  and why people are bothering to use sage and other herbs to smudge, or clear their space? I believe that there are actually a number of reasons contributing to the recent uptick in the awareness and regular use of these old rituals. I will describe some issues that may be causing people to feel ungrounded, and offer some tips to use that can be helpful for both grounding and clearing a space. 

  • Media  We are experiencing a lot of information coming at us in record ways, thanks to the constant stream of media that is now available to us–both a blessing and a curse. It is easy to get swept up, overwhelmed and lost into the troubles of the world.
  • Nature Deficiency  Most of us are simply not spending enough time outdoors, in nature. Being in nature is one of the most grounding practices available. In recent years, the pendulum has started to swing back, with people practicing “earthing”, or walking barefoot outside for several minutes a day, and using the Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku, or “Forest Bathing” that is spending a time around trees, as well as simply hiking or walking in nature. 
  • Lost in Thought  With all of the media and lack of being outdoors, it is very easy to become lost in thought. When we are lost in our thoughts, we can become anxious if focusing too much on the future, or have depressed thoughts if we dwell too much in the past. The popularity of Mindfulness practice is also growing in recent years to our western culture in reaction to our modern conundrum. 

How do you know if you need to get grounded? Well, if you feel lost in thought, are anxious, worried, or are feeling a depressed mood, you can certainly benefit by using grounding practices. 

By using grounding practices, we can begin to feel more connected with our bodies and the earth. Some of these practices include:

  • Get outside  Go for a walk, take off your shoes and walk barefoot in the grass, touch trees, go hiking. This is incredibly beneficial for the central nervous system, and can heal many ails. 
  • Meditate  Practice a meditation where you visualize roots coming out of your feet, or your tailbone (if sitting) and growing into the ground. Feel your connection to the earth (even if you are inside), and breathe deeply for even just a few moments. 
  • Practice yoga  Yoga is a wonderful grounding practice that offers a variety of ranges for any level of practicioner
  • Exercise  Exercise can be very grounding, especially if you can do it outside. It gets you in your body, and helps you to focus on your breath.
  • Eat Grounding Foods  Grounding foods can be things that are literally grown in the earth, such as potatoes, turnips, radishes, and other root vegetables. Dark chocolate can also be a very grounding food.

Clearing exercises can also be very helpful to keeping your home, office or even car clear. How do you know if you need to clear yourself or your space? If there has been an argument in a space, or there has been a period of sadness. If you have brought in objects from a thrift store into your home, or simply if you feel that your space just needs it.

Here are some rituals that can be used in your space or on yourself.

  • Smudging The use of burning dried herbs, woods, or resins is an old practice that has been used in many cultures. They include the use of sage, juniper, lavender, marigold, palo santo, and even tobacco. They may be used loosely in a fireproof bowl, or in a bundle, or “smudge stick”. These can be purchased at shops, online, or even made by bundling and drying fresh herbs.
  • Smudge or Essential Oil Sprays  Some people are sensitive to smoke, or may prefer the ease of using a spray in a shared space, such as an work space or in a car. These can be purchased or made at home with essential oils and water. 
  • Sound Vibration  Another way to clear a space is by using singing bowls, bells, chanting or singing, and even clapping. This is an effective way to remove stagnant energy in a space. 
  • Declutter  The simple act of decluttering your space is amazingly powerful to clear the energy. Too many things can really clutter up your thinking and energy flow. 

It is good to experiment with these practices, (safely when smudging) to know what suits you, as they can be highly personal. Take some time to bring them into your life and you should notice a real difference in feeling both grounded and clear. 

 

 

 

Check Out What’s New at AboutPlay and The Energetic Heart!

As you may have noticed, we have a brand new website with lots of new and shiny offerings for you.

We have created this new site so that you have more information on the services we provide, including individual therapy, group therapy, consultations, community-based classes and even support for therapists.

Up first, we have amazing 8 week groups starting next week, the popular “Tool Kit Club” group where children get to learn about self regulation and make and take home items to help with getting regulated. There is still room in both groups—ages 5-7 and ages 8-10. Check the links out for more details, and contact Kate to reserve your child’s spot today!

Secondly, we will be offering a series of classes at our Grant Park location for adults and teens. The first class is for Grounding and Clearing. Please check out this link to register and pay online! Class sizes are limited, so sign up to reserve your space today—and check out groups that are coming up in the next few months—including our popular and free Shoe Tying Clinic!

Finally, we also are very excited to announce that Kate is taking adult and teen clients on Mondays at the new location in Little Five Points, called “The Energetic Heart”.

These sessions can be held as needed and include focus on wellness and energy work that Kate has been practicing for the last several years. Please check out more information on adult and teen services here.

As a quick note, we do not currently accept payments on this website for therapy services; we will continue to use Theranest as our Client Portal for secure payments. You will be able to register for non-therapy classes online, however. We are excited to offer this to you! Check out the whole site to see what we’re up to.

Janine

Kate has a level of intuition, knowledge, and compassion that is hard to put into words.  She has been an amazing presence in my life, both in guiding and teaching me as a therapist, and in using her brilliant skills to heal me on an energetic level. The transformations that she has created within my body and mind are exceptional. I can’t wait to continue my journey with her.  I encourage anyone reading this testimonial to feel secure in the fact that you will not regret bringing Kate into your life!

Lisa

Kate helped me open a channel that was longing to be opened. I was able to reconnect with a part of myself that had been hidden away and now I feel more wholly myself. I feel like I have been reaping the benefits from the healing for weeks following my session. I have a new sense of clarity that has emerged since. I felt so comfortable, grounded and deeply connected to myself during the session.

Harden

Kate is a gifted and deft healer. My first session with her was powerful and transformational. I look forward to many more!

Amy

Kate keeps upping the ante in changing our lives for the better. keyword being OUR. She involves the entire family and makes sure we all understand and are informed about what is happening and what we need to do. Every time she has given us advice she has been absolutely right and that advice has really helped our child and us as well. We are sometimes reluctant to try suggestions at first because they can be lots of work, but now we will do anything she says because she knows her stuff and this “work” has actually made everyone’s lives so much more pleasant – we all believe in the power of Kate! You should too.

Marion Owen

I have had the pleasure of sharing many patients with Kate Drummond though the last few years. She is an invaluable resource for me. I trust her experience, her skills and her unwavering compassion for families struggling to help their children with developmental challenges. She is as full of ideas for kids with impulse control issues as she is for those with more profound challenges. I invariably get positive feedback from families I have referred to her and I see progress in the children very quickly.

Laura

Kate has worked with my daughter for over a year now. She has been able to help us understand the various sensory issues that are going on with my daughter, and how we could help provided a varied sensory diet at home. Kate validated our observations as parents, reassured us, and helps us understand more about how our child experiences the world. She is always receptive to our thoughts and concerns and is more than willing to go out of her way to help us through particular issues, or to share her thoughts on what might be causing certain behaviors in our child. My daughter has made great progress with Kate, has created a great brain toolkit, and has become proud of her accomplishments in the therapy setting. She is now able to use these new skills at school and at home. While I was a bit unsure of the OT process at the beginning, I now see what great things it has done for our daughter and our family.

Josh

Kate has done a wonderful job of identifying what our son needs, providing him with that input during therapy sessions and helping us provide him with additional sensory input at home. She has connected well with our son and helped us find a path to greater engagement with him.

Dana

Kate Drummond is a great parenting coach and motivator. She’s helped our family navigate major life transitions this year (expansion of our blended family, starting a new school, changing schedules at home). When my son visits her studio, he immediately jumps into her white cloud, asks curiously “What’s this Ms. Kate?”, and engages in belly laughter for most of the hour.

Ninetta & Leigh

I am grateful to have Kate listen to my perspective and watch my child. She helps me see things about him that even I may have missed. Her suggestions are profound and refreshing and yet simple. I wish he could play in her studio every day.

Tania

Kate has the very unique and invaluable ability to know what it is exactly that her clients need every time she sees them. Our son’s sessions with her (which he cherishes) had an almost immediate positive impact and we see the benefits of their work together daily. We are incredibly fortunate to have her as part of our “team!”