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  • Taylor Scott-Wood

Overwhelmed and Overstimulated, the Life of a Mom.

Overstimulation is also known as sensory overload. Sensory overload happens when you’re getting more input from your five senses than your brain can sort through and process. It’s actually very similar for both children and adults, but typically as adults we consider it multitasking and overlook the emotional side of it. Here we look at 9 ways you can help manage overstimulation.

Feeling Overwhelmed and Overstimulated

A couple weeks after my daughter was born I was finding myself getting frustrated and snapping very easily. I have dealt with anxiety a lot throughout my life and thought maybe it was postpartum related since women who suffer from anxiety, depression, etc are more likely to experience postpartum depression. I opened up to a friend of mine about it and she goes, “oh yeah you’re overstimulated, it happens to me all the time.” I had only ever thought of babies and children being overstimulated, never as a parent. But after talking to my friend, I decided to do some research about it to get a better understanding on how exactly it looks in adults, and how I can help manage it.

Here's an example.

You’re cooking dinner while the tv is on in the background, in your head you’re trying to go over your to do list for tomorrow, one of your children is whining that they are hungry and need a snack while the other one throwing toys and yelling, your husband comes in for a hug and asks you a simple question like what you did that day. AND BAM, you want to explode.

Nothing bad necessarily happens, your husband thinks you're just mad or in a bad mood, you want to scream. This is a natural response to someone feeling sensory overload or who is overstimulated, and it happens to us all. Sensory overload can be felt more deeply by those who have conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, autism or other neurodivergent conditions such as ADHD.

But even if you do not have one of these conditions, you can still easily get overwhelmed when dealing with multiple different tasks, trying to get everything done, it's something parents deal with on a daily basis. We all have a maximum capacity for how much our senses can handle and process at once, and these limits don’t disappear when we become parents. It is generally only at this point in our lives that many of us are faced with this overload for the first time, and we weren’t taught how to cope. Like me, you often don’t even know that you’re not alone in feeling this way.

You’re not alone. You are not crazy. You are not a bad mom.

There is no need to feel any guilt or shame to the already heavy feelings we have as moms. Our bodies naturally have a response to overstimulation: fight or flight, rage, disassociation). There are things we can do to help limit sensory input as well as things we can do when the agitated feelings have already set in.

Here are 9 ways to address overstimulation

1. Schedule Your Days With Less

We all know that when we're crazy busy, with a million things going on and our schedule jam-packed, it totally stresses us out. I mean, there's only so much we can handle, right? And when we're stressed, we're even more susceptible to feeling overwhelmed by everything going on around us. But here's the thing: if we simply cut out some activities or spread them out throughout the day or week, we give ourselves some breathing space to recharge. Our senses can finally catch a break, and we can process the mental load that comes with each item on our schedule.

Now, let's talk about the mental load. It's a massive burden, especially for many women out there. So, knowing its importance and making room for it, while still being physically present at events or activities, can help us avoid the stress of being stretched too thin and feeling bombarded with sensory overload.

2. Quit Multitasking

You know, as women, we're often praised for our incredible multitasking skills. We're supposed to be able to handle everything at once, right? But here's the thing: when we try to do too many things at the same time, our attention gets split, and so does our ability to process what's happening around us. And guess what suffers? Our ability to respond to our kids' needs.

Picture this: you're in the kitchen cooking dinner, while also checking emails and having a conversation with one person. Suddenly, another person asks you a question, and it's like the final straw. You end up feeling irritated and on edge. There's just no space left to naturally engage with your kids, like when they want to be hugged, have a chat, or show off their awesome couch-jumping skills. Before becoming parents, it was a bit easier to multitask because we had more control over what sensory input we would encounter. But as parents, it's impossible to predict or control it all. That's why it's important to leave room for those sensory interruptions and unexpected needs. It helps prevent us from feeling completely overwhelmed by sensory overload.

3. Schedule in Quiet Time

Make sure you actually take some time for yourself. If you've got a partner, don't be afraid to let them know what you need. And if you're flying solo, use technology or ask for a late daycare pickup—anything to snag a bit of me-time. Seriously, there's no reason to feel guilty about it. Think of it as taking care of your mental health and giving your senses a break. If you’re a stay at home mom, use one of your baby’s naps for YOU. Whether you want to take a bath, read a book, do a workout or simply just grab a bag of chips and binge the latest episode of Real Housewives.

Here's an example: Whenever we go out, I end up coming home dead tired. I used to walk through that door and snap at everyone, feeling all irritated. But guess what? My fam knows the drill now. As soon as we get back, we all get some quiet time. It's part of our routine, man. So instead of reaching my breaking point and then storming off, feeling all guilty afterwards, I take that time to recharge. I let everyone know what I'm doing, and when I'm back in action, I'm way more ready to handle whatever craziness comes next (and with kids, there's always more sensory overload, no doubt).

4. Have Touch Breaks

Every day, I hear moms talking about how they're just touched out. It's like this phenomenon that happens when moms of little ones, babies especially, are constantly in the cycle of breastfeeding, bottle feeding, being constantly needed, hugged, climbed on, and played with to the point where they just don't want to be touched anymore. By anyone, your child, friend, or even your dog.

And you know what? It doesn't stop there. This feeling often spills over into not even wanting any touch from our partners. All we crave is a little break where our bodies can just be our own for a little while. It's basically sensory overload at its finest. Our bodies reach their limit, and we're left feeling overwhelmed and on edge.

But here's the thing: we can actually help ourselves by building in touch breaks throughout the day. It's important to have a conversation with our families and explain to them that we love them and enjoy their affection, but our bodies feel stressed when there's an overload of touch. Together, we can figure out a way for them to still feel loved while allowing us to feel comfortable with the amount of touch we get in a day.

5. Use Technology For Kids

I totally get you on this one! Technology has been a real lifesaver for me and little one, preventing countless meltdowns along the way. And that's why I firmly believe it can be an effective tool when used thoughtfully. Now, don't get me wrong—I'm not suggesting we park our kids in front of screens all day long just to avoid dealing with them or their noise. No way!

But here's the thing, especially for stay-at-home moms, single moms, or any moms who spend a whole lot of time with their kids without another adult to lend a hand—technology can be a true game-changer. Let's face it, moms need breaks. Period. Sometimes we're fortunate enough to have other humans step in and help out, but there are also times when we aren't so lucky.

Personally, I'd much rather let my child have some screen time to give myself a moment to recharge. It helps me come back feeling refreshed and ready to tackle whatever comes our way, rather than pushing through sensory overload and overwhelm without a break, only to end up snapping at my kids. It's all about finding that balance, discovering ways to give ourselves those much-needed breaks, and recognizing that our well-being is just as important as our children's.

6. Practice Pre-Emptive Self Care

Self-care is more than just a trendy term. It's absolutely crucial for our well-being and for maintaining a healthy family dynamic. We often think of self-care as something we should do occasionally or as a response to a particularly stressful day. But I say, let's make it a priority to take care of ourselves before we reach the point of burnout, overstimulation, and overwhelm.

By intentionally carving out time to do things we enjoy or simply doing nothing at all, we can recharge ourselves and show up more fully present for our families. You've probably heard the saying, "You can't pour from an empty cup," right? Well, that applies to our ability to handle and process the sensory input that comes with family life. So, why wait until our sensory system is glitching and we're on the verge of a breakdown? Let's practice regular self-care to prevent reaching that breaking point in the first place. Trust me, it's worth it. Don’t wait until Mothers Day or your birthday, book that spa, go to a fancy restaurant, or pack a bag and read a book in the park.

7. Be intentional, put that phone away.

Phones and technology have become a huge part of our daily lives. As someone whose job is now based mainly online, I totally understand how easy it is to get glued to our phones. We use them to take care of our responsibilities like paying bills, answering emails, and scheduling appointments. In fact, for many of us, our phones are our workstations.

As a stay at home mom with an online business, my phone became more than just a device. It was my lifeline, connecting me to other adults and the outside world. It provided me with a sense of connection and support.

But let's be real, while technology is amazing, it can also be damaging. Numerous studies and articles have shed light on the detrimental effects of excessive phone use on our brains, and how it directly contributes to sensory overload. When we're constantly glued to our phones, our attention is fixated on that little screen, making everything else feel like an interruption. This constant distraction is a major cause of sensory overload and irritability, especially for parents.

So, one way to combat this is by setting limits on our phone usage—both in terms of how much time we spend on them and when we use them. By being mindful of our phone habits while parenting, we can reduce the risk of becoming overstimulated and overwhelmed. It's all about finding that balance and using technology in a way that enhances our lives without overwhelming our sensory experiences. You also might miss out on a magical moment with your kid.

8. Be open, honest and communicate

It’s really hard to explain how you’re feeling to your partner sometimes, especially if you are a stay at home mom and they go to work everyday. You both have very different days, but at the end of the day, you have the same goal, to have a strong relationship. Don’t forget, there are lots of people like me who don’t even know overstimulation is a thing we can experience, so educate! And let’s face it, no one can read your mind. If you are able to be open and explain to your partner and family what you are going through and how they can help, it can do wonders.

9. Get your children on a schedule

Whether you have a 5 month old or 2 year old, it’s essential for them to have good sleep, because let’s face it, if your child isn't sleeping, you aren't either. Many parents use sleep crutches (ex. rocking and feeding to sleep), and these are quick fixes that actually cause you as the parent to have a bad sleep. Every time they wake up, you are then waking up to help them.

After weeks of no sleep, I reached my breaking point and decided to hire a sleep consultant to help get my family back on track and it was the best decision I have ever made, I would have paid double knowing the results. If you have the means, hiring a sleep consultant to help you get your little one on track is life changing. Being on a daily schedule can help you plan your day, and better yet, plan your “me time.”

If all else fails, give yourself a timeout

Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, sensory overload hits us like a ton of bricks, and it feels like we're on the verge of exploding at any second. In moments like these, I always recommend taking a step back and walking away. If you have a partner, let them take charge for a while, even 5 minutes of silence can make a huge difference. And if you don't, find a safe spot for the baby or turn on the TV for a quick distraction, then take a breather.

Sometimes, finding solace in a dark, quiet room can be helpful. Other times, you might just need to let out a good scream into a pillow. Whatever it is that helps you remove yourself from a situation of intense overstimulation, go for it. There's absolutely nothing wrong with taking that time for yourself. In fact, it's crucial.

Leaving the situation is not only saving yourself from an outburst but also creating a calmer environment for your children. It's an act of self-care and a sign of being a good mom. Recognizing when we need space and taking it is an important part of taking care of ourselves, which ultimately benefits our kids.

So remember, it's okay to step away and prioritize your own well-being. You're doing what's best for both you and your children.


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