Emotional self-regulation is a crucial life skill. Our ability to modulate our emotions keeps them from becoming excessive, counterproductive, or inappropriate. We cannot help having emotions, of course—and they are quite important after all—but when we let our emotions control our decision making, we tend to run into trouble.
It’s quite normal to be temporarily afraid when confronted with acute and real danger but chronic or intense anxiety over something most people do not worry about is unhealthy. It’s normal to grieve the death of a loved one or to be sad over a romantic breakup but prolonged deep depression due to unprocessed grief is pathological and requires treatment. Reacting to unwanted challenges in life with uncontrolled rage is equally counterproductive, to say the least.
Appropriate modulation of any emotional response prevents all kinds of social and psychological trouble—and physical problems, too. In terms of addiction, unprocessed trauma or excessive, prolonged sadness and anxiety often lead to attempts at modulating one’s mood with drugs and alcohol—a maladaptive coping strategy with devastating consequences. With substance misuse, the “cure” very quickly becomes another problem.
In recovery, people with addiction have to learn healthy coping skills. A unique specialty at Recovery Ways is the use of two multi-sensory rooms to assist with strengthening self-regulation, a foundational skill taught in our occupational therapy program. The sensory room provides a carefully designed, saturated environment filled with calming and organizing inputs. Sensory modulation involves taking patients’ sensory input and turning it up or down to help them self-regulate.
Life Skills Program Director Stormy Hill, M.D., designed the rooms, had the software installed, and trained staff on how to use it.
Sensory modulation is “a great fit for Recovery Ways because it is a very holistic way of working with patients,” says Dr. Hill. “The room is super-saturated with sensory input,” shifting people with anxiety issues into a state of “neurological calm.” Or it can help “more lethargic patients bring their level of neurological alertness up to better focus on the task at hand.”
“The room is about movement,” says Hill. Patients can sit in different areas of the room. “We’re empowering them to pick an area based on how stimulating they want it to be.” They get to play with various modalities.
Sensory modulation is a great way to teach patients body-based stress management skills they can rely on after their discharge from Recovery Ways. It’s a great adjunct to any other therapy a patient may choose.
“You can alter a patient’s sense of alertness through the use of sensory input. Based on where their neurological level is, they get to pick the color of the lights, they get to pick the smell that comes into the room. They pick where to sit and what equipment to use,” explains Dr. Hill. “A lot of their therapy at Recovery Ways is bottom down, mind-body. In the sensory room, we do the opposite, it’s from the body to mind.” Many patients have unlearned how to be comfortable in their own bodies while in active addiction. This modality is a method to reconnect people with their bodies. They re-learn to trust their bodies without the use of substances—an invaluable skill in recovery.