You may have heard the term 'overstimulation' before. It means to “stimulate psychologically or mentally to an excessive degree” (Oxford Dictionary). It is often associated with babies, young children, or neurodiverse populations. Anyone can be overstimulated. It isn’t something that you are diagnosed with or that habitually happens. You can be overstimulated at varying degrees and the symptoms of being overstimulated can differ from person to person. If I was a betting woman, which I am, I would bet that almost every mother is overstimulated on any given day. Tell me if the following feels relatable to you:
There's a baby crying, a kid's show on TV, a phone buzzing, a conversation on the phone, a toddler screaming, you're breastfeeding, there are baby toys droning on, toddler hands pulling your hair, a toddler telling you to watch them, a toddler telling you a story, emails from work dinging, your spouse trying to get your attention, and the list of to-do's trailing off in the back of your mind–-ALL AT THE SAME TIME! Overstimulation much?
This list is from a usual day for me. No, not even a full day--just a plain-Jane few hours even. I am a pretty patient person, but sometimes ordering at a drive-thru while the radio plays Harry Styles (my beloved) and my toddler screams at me for pizza (that the drive-thru does not have) is the final straw and I lose my absolute crap.
For some, losing your crap may look like screaming, crying, throwing things, stomping, or slamming doors. For me, I just shut down. I completely ignore what is going on around me and can't focus on anything.
So, how do you deal without going postal? Well, one day your babies will be old and no longer live in your home so cherish even these small moments and give it time...
Just kidding! Nothing triggers the mom guilt like some good old invalidation of your feelings. Let’s continue to normalize that being a mom is hard work, and sometimes we are irritable and grumpy because we are overstimulated and we are doing fifteen million things at once and trying not to unravel completely by the end of the day so we can spend some one on one time with our significant others.
It is hard now. What do I do? Here are five things to turn into habits that will hopefully bring your overstimulation down to a more manageable level.
1. Know Your Triggers
For me, I know Cocomelon will send me into a state of panic. Don’t ask me why, but it does. I see the awkward movement of that bug-eyed child and immediately become irrationally impatient. I can’t deal. So, we don’t watch Cocomelon with Mama.
I also know that I cannot think straight when we play in the ball pit. I don’t like sitting squished in it while my home gets colorful balls strewn everywhere, and I get pummeled in the face. So, the ball pit is hidden in the basement.
Clutter is a huge trigger for me as well. Decluttering, donating, and limiting what I bring into my home has literally been life changing. Purposefully limiting what triggers me has been the best gift to myself.
Being proactive can be the best line of defense. Take note of what triggers you throughout the day. What things can you say no to? What can you change to limit those things?
2. Make Routines
I am a routine girl now. I'm a school teacher, and routines are huge in the education world. Mounds of research has been conducted on how routines help children to feel more comfortable, safe, and foster learning. When a child knows what is coming, they are more likely to be able to focus and get the task at hand done. I also recognized that when my daughter was told the routine for preschool she cried less at drop off.
So, why not create your own daily routine? In my family, we have our morning routine, a lunch routine, a grocery shopping day, a library day, and then just our usual bedtime routines. It is great for me to know what to look forward to and to focus on what is on hand, because I know I will have time for the next steps to come.
Having routines also helps my daughters transition from something they may think is fun to something they think is more of a chore because they know what is happening in their day. This leads to fewer tantrums from both babies and mama.
Planning your week out on Sundays or planning the next day the night before is a helpful way to get in the practice of this. It is also great to communicate with your spouse and prevents over-scheduling, chaotic moments, and miscommunication.
3. Learn to Say No
Do not over-schedule. It is okay to chill. Take a deep breath and just stay home. My mom is laughing right now because I am never home. I am working on getting better at this right now. I am improving, and I have honestly seen such a huge difference.
I have this issue that if I am at home, I start wondering what am I doing for God and my country? I must be lazy! And what am I missing out on?! And, quick, I need a plan! And I need to get out of my house! My brain and my body just can’t sit still. Because of this, I often over-schedule and say yes to everyone. When it was just me, it was overwhelming, but whatever. With my daughters, though, it makes them grumpy and sad to never be home.
Try finding a few mantras or affirmations to repeat in your mind to remind yourself that you deserve calm and that staying still is okay.
4. Turn off Notifications
Turn those bad boys off! I cannot rave about this enough. My generation is the first to come of age with the fullness of social media and cell phones. The dependency I have on them is depressing. I am quite literally a cyborg. I mean, I remember the first time I was grounded from my phone--I thought my life was over and my first boyfriend would dump me because I wasn’t texting back incessantly.
It seems funny, but that very real fear of missing out has only been built upon over the last thirteen years, and it can be crippling for some. I turned off notifications and deleted certain apps that I found myself impulsively on. When I realized that I was missing out on real life because I was on my phone, I decided I needed to fix my behavior.
There is absolutely no need to multitask your life with your phone. Put it down. Set limits. You'll find it is one less thing cluttering your mind and nagging at you for attention.
5. Sleep and Eat
This one is so hard. When my babies are down, I am so excited for some kid-free time, and then my husband and I find ourselves staying up way too late. I also find myself either just snacking on junk food all day because it brings me little sparks of “joy,” or completely forgetting to feed myself in the midst of the chaos.
Remember to take care of yourself! If you are ticked off at the world because you decided to stay up until 1 am and then you didn’t eat lunch, that’s on you. There are a million things out of our control as a mama, but try and do these two little things to help you throughout your day. You'll be less likely to break down or freak out when things get chaotic.
What are a few other things that are in your control that you can do now to help improve your health or mood?
Other things that I have found help me to feel more calm include:
This article from Psyched Mommy was also an awesome resource.
Hang in there, and remember you are not alone in this motherhood thing!
For more motherhood tips go to babycubby.com.