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Managing Emotions with Sensory Processing Strategies

Effort and attention are limited commodities that the brain assigns accordingly to the actions it predicts will be successful in protection or pleasure. Therefore, sustained states of boredom (too easy) or frustration (too hard) are stressful to the brain.


The part of the brain that reacts to stress (amygdala) acts as a switching station by activating either the reflective or reactive centers of the brain. Activation of the Big Brain (i.e., reflexive) results in learning and retention vs. outcomes of activation of the Little Brain (i.e., reactive) are fight, flight, or freeze behaviors. This is how the brain is designed. It's NOT A CHOICE!


Emotions are caused by chemical messages from the brain traveling through the body and driving our behaviors. Some factors that impact the regulation of emotions include body functions, sensory processing skills, attention, and behavioral skills.


Calming sensory strategies that are especially helpful for those with low thresholds for sensory input include:

  • Massage

  • Calming Aroma (e.g., lavender)

  • Rocking

  • Pressure Garment

  • Headphones

Alerting sensory strategies, on the other hand, support those with high thresholds for sensory input including:

  • Inversion

  • Dancing

  • Face Tapping

  • Music

  • Crunchy/Sour/Frozen Foods

  • Cold water splash

Just-right sensory strategies are helpful for both high and low thresholds. Examples of these include:

  • Yoga

  • Gum/Mints

  • Change

  • Music

For more specific and individualized information on your sensory processing pattern and strategies to manage your emotions, schedule an assessment with an OT practitioner like Dr. Amanda.

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