A couple of months ago I wrote a post about the overscheduled mama and how moms are always running all over the place, jumping from one thing to the next, usually with no down time. Honestly, I feel like being overstimulated is just as big of an issue as having too many things to do and too many places to go and these two topics definitely should go hand in hand.
Well, what exactly is being overstimulated? The easiest way for me to explain it is when there is too much going on, usually all at once, and your brain and body become overwhelmed. And usually as a mother, you’re constantly dealing with “mom brain” as it is from trying to remember so much. Essentially, it’s the same as when people joke about having too many tabs open in their brain.
When I first became a mom, I didn’t really remember feeling overstimulated. I focused all of my energy on my one child and my job, and while I had a lot on my plate, my brain kept up for the most part. Add a second child in the mix, and I started to experience moments of overstimulation. My son Johnny was colic. He would scream everyday between the hours of 7 pm-9 pm ( perfectly called the witching hours) until he was around 8 months old. And even throughout the day, he was very fussy and uncomfortable. We didn’t find out later on that he had fluid in his ears and hearing issues but that’s a different story for a different day! I vividly remember that he would be screaming at the top of his lungs, all while I had the microwave fan going for white noise which would sometimes soothe him if I was lucky. While the noise was sometimes calming for him, it just added to the sounds I was already overwhelmed hearing. Add in a four year old sister asking non stop questions, two dogs barking, a loud tv, and an itchy sweater suddenly bothering my neck, and there you have it. I quickly learned that being overstimulated is a very real thing that moms, or anyone for that matter, can deal with on a daily basis and it in fact can be a small inconvenience or downright debilitating for some. Not to mention, the way people handle their feelings of being overwhelmed and frustrated can look very different.
After the birth of my third child, I felt the true impact of overstimulation. For example, I would be standing in the kitchen trying to make dinner and I’d have my two little ones running in and out of the kitchen screaming and chasing each other. I knew they were playing and I’d usually remind them to keep their games in the playroom because mommy was cooking and the oven was hot. At the same time, I would also have two dogs in between my legs because they knew it was dinner time and wanted to be fed. Alexa would also be playing music that the kids requested, usually a song about poop, or the new trending favorite, Corn song. If you haven’t heard it, consider yourself lucky. The television was also on for unnecessary background noise, there were toys everywhere squeaking and squawking, somebody was definitely whining, and I was constantly being touched. My kids have always been Velcro babies and have to be hanging on me and touching my skin at all times. Add in that both of my boys were always super whiny, clingy boys and still are. No shade to my kids, I love them dearly, but I tell it how it is! Take all of this at least ten times a day, every single day, without a second set of hands to help or tag in, and cue overstimulation to the max. It was also 100 times worse for me when I was nursing Tristan every three hours for a year straight. I had an overwhelming feeling of just wanting to be left alone. I wanted to hide in the shower and cry. I would have welcomed staring at a wall for hours on end just to have my brain quiet down, just to hear nothing but silence. I needed time to let my mind rest and I didn’t get it.
Now, back to how people handle this… for me, the minute I have had too much, I would immediately become anxious. I’d usually announce: “Okay, guys, I can’t hear myself think, let’s take it down a level.” I would always try and calmly express myself but let’s be honest, that doesn’t always work. After a few attempts at getting everyone to settle down and handle the noise, I’d start to breathe in and out to get my bearings. Unfortunately for me, my anxiety can sometimes manifest as rage. Sometimes, I’d find myself, yelling out, “Enough!!! I need a minute!” It was just too much with everyone needing everything and always at the same exact time. Pair all the needs with not having enough sleep and with your to do list looming over you and it’s a perfect storm.
I remember a specific time when my youngest was playing with a really noisy toy and was putting it in my face all while I was trying to have an important conversation with an adult. I kept reminding him that mommy was talking and to please give me a moment and I’d be right with him. He’s two so he wasn’t fully understanding me and I can’t blame him. Next my middle guy came galloping in the room asking me questions. Again, I tried to redirect to no avail. I legitimately felt like my brain would explode. I felt so overwhelmed in that moment and I just know most parents can relate.
The only thing I can say that has helped me work through these feelings is to stop, breathe, and explain. I have seen a lot of parents try to ignore their children and to carry-on what they are doing but that just didn’t work for me. I now completely stop what I’m doing and look at my children in their eyes and tell them that mommy has explained what she needs to do and that they have to give her a moment. And no, of course this will not work with an infant and that is just a very hard time that most parents just have to get through. But now that my kids are a little bit older, I don’t let them get away with anything! I stop whatever I’m doing, even if it’s an important conversation, and explain to them that mommy is talking and interrupting is not acceptable. I am not afraid to be myself in front of other people. Long gone are the days where I feel like I have to put on the perfect parent act and be ridiculously sweet with my kids in front of other people. I am calm, but I am firm and I feel like not letting things go is the way to do it. Now I am by no means a perfect parent, but this has been the only thing that has worked for me in regards to my sensory overload. I have to just stop it in its tracks. And of course, finally getting to sit down on the couch, even if it’s not until 10 PM, and watching some nonsense TV, or curling up with my favorite book and just letting out a deep breath at the end of the day isn’t a bad plan either. Find what makes you happy and try and grant yourself at least 10 or 20 minutes a day to do what brings you joy. Your body and brain deserve to rest. Self care is not just a shower!
And when that really annoying toy that you’ve always despised is staring and chirping at you , it’s not a crime to take out its batteries and throw it under all the other toys in the back of your child’s closet. Self care, my friends! Do it in the name of your sanity!