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Sensory Overload: Parent Edition

By Brandy Browne

My older two were arguing…their words whizzed around my ears. My youngest was pulling at my leg, needing a drink and growing increasingly irritated because I could not focus on her for being distracted by the other two. The TV was playing in the background. I’m pretty sure I heard the microwave ding. Noises were beginning to blend together, and my temperature was rising. My ears were burning. I was ready to explode. 

Simply put, after a long day of being touched, pulled on, and needing to put my game face on hour after hour, I was on sensory overload. I know that we often talk about children growing overstimulated in certain environments, but needing sensory regulation is not something that goes away as we get older. 

Felicia Schneiderhan (2020), reporter for Parents.com, describes this sensory processing phenomenon in her article, 5 Ways to Cure Stimulation Overload as a Parent. She reports, “High sensitivity (which researchers also call sensory processing sensitivity) is an innate temperamental trait affecting about 20 percent of the population. An HSP’s nervous system is extra sensitive to physical and emotional subtleties in her environment; she can become easily overstimulated by bright lights, smells, and sounds as well as too much activity or interaction. But the truth is that all parents of young kids feel overwhelmed at times, especially in our increasingly fast-paced world” (retrieved from https://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/ways-to-cure-stimulation-overload-as-a-parent/).

Fear not, though. It is possible to take steps to curb that mid afternoon (or maybe mornings are your overwhelming time) totally overwhelmed feeling. Try these strategies to regain that calm, centered feeling…

5 Strategies to Cure Overstimulation as a Parent

  1. Give yourself permission to take a break. As a parent, I have learned that giving myself permission to shut my bedroom door and take five minutes to breathe and center is a powerful action to take. I ensure that my children are safe, and then I give myself the opportunity to regain control. I am always much calmer and ready to handle challenges again after a few minutes. 
  2. Accept your temperament, rather than trying to fight it. Refuse to feel guilty for needing an occasional break, whether that be a date night, running an errand without children in tow, or even five minutes alone in the bathroom. There is this stigma in place today that promotes the thinking that mothers (or fathers) must be ungrateful if they need a break from their children. This is simply not true. We had four miscarriages before the birth of our three children, and my sweet little family was deeply prayed for. For so long, I felt guilty for asking for help, or needing a break from the pressures of parenting young children. I am a much better parent when I acknowledge my need for peace and quiet to recharge. I take a run, soak in a long bath, etc. Then, the little things that just go with raising young children are not nearly as overwhelming to this full time working two jobs mom of three. 
  3. Make downtime a priority. If I do not go for a run several times a week, I am miserable. When our schedules are go go go, with no time to sit and just be, we all begin to get cranky. You must make time to recharge and center yourselves. Perhaps that is worship. Perhaps you meditate or do yoga. However you choose to be centered, make it a priority for you. 
  4. Practice mindfulness. Many equate mindfulness with meditating, but mindfulness is simply choosing to be fully present in the moment. Take some deep breaths, and as you center, choose to refocus on the task at hand. 

More Reading

  • I Choose Calm: Inspirational Mantras and Practical Mindfulness Exercises for Parents by Angela Wolf
  • Breathe, Mama, Breathe: 5 Minute Mindfulness for Busy Moms by Shonda Moralis
  • Peaceful Parenting and Mindfulness for Parents and Kids: How to Use Mindful and Empowering Methods for a Joyful Family, Loving Home, and Outstanding Relationships by Grace Stockholm

Final Thoughts

In the beginning, you may wrestle with guilt and feelings like you are being selfish for taking time for yourself. However, I guarantee that you will be a much better parent if your own cup is refilled from time to time. The key is to balance the time you take for yourself with the time you are giving to others. If you are feeling worn out, irritable, unable to cope with small changes in routine, etc., you are selling yourself short, and it is time to be intentional about taking a bit of time for yourself. 

Sources

Schneiderhan, F. (2020). 5 Ways to Cure Stimulation Overload as a Parent. Retrieved from https://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/ways-to-cure-stimulation-overload-as-a-parent/

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