Proprioception: What is it and why is it so calming?

Your proprioceptive system is one of the most organizing and regulating system in our bodies.

Case in point, Temple Grandin’s squeeze machine, “a device that delivers deep touch pressure to help her learn to tolerate touching and to reduce anxiety and nervousness”. When I think about things that are relaxing to most people, I think of things like massages, weighted blankets, and being swaddled. All of which give you proprioceptive input. Imagine that!

So what’s actually happening in your body that makes you feel so calm? To know that, you’ll have to know about your nervous system.

You have your sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for you “fight or flight” reaction. Your parasympathetic which takes care of your organs while you’re resting. This study showed that you can activate your parasympathetic via proprioceptive input, and it actually lowers your heart rate! People who have sensory issues and/or anxiety can highly benefit from getting deep pressure.

I asked someone with autism what it felt like when they didn’t get enough sensory input. They told me, “it almost feels like the outside of my body is ‘hungry’. Similar to how it’s hard to think when your hungry in needing food, it’s also hard to think when you’re ‘hungry’ in needing pressure”.

It makes sense, if you have a decreased (or lack of) body awareness, it can feel stressful. Behaviors like leaning on or bumping into things, hitting, jumping, fidgeting, bouncing your leg, or tensing your muscles are all activities that can counteract that uneasy feeling.

As an occupational therapist, we tend to want every activity to be functional and purposeful. We strive to find activities that provide our patients with the things they need without it being harmful or counterproductive. Luckily for you, dear reader, I have several activities to try out here.

What other activities have you tried that give that calming proprioceptive input? Let me know in the comments!

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