10 Steps For Coping with Overstimulation as a Mom

November 18, 2021

You Are Not a Bad Mom For Being Stressed Because Of Touch and Sound, Just a Mom Dealing With Overstimulation!

Moms everywhere are constantly being bombarded with sensory stimuli which outpace their ability to process or cope with it. Being constantly needed, touched, and hearing overlapping sounds all while trying to run a household and complete mental tasks is very overwhelming.  Feeling irritable because of these things is not a sign you are a bad mom, it is a sign that you are experiencing overstimulation as a mom…

Disclaimer: My story is a personal account of my own journey overstimulation and overload, and what I have learned along the way. It should not be taken as a substitute for professional advice. I strongly believe that anyone who feels they may need support seek the help of a qualified health care professional – they were vital in my own journey, and are trained to find the right support for each person’s unique and individual care. If you are in crisis – know there are many compassionate and expert teams available to help you. Call 911 or consult with your local emergency department. If you need help you deserve it, and can get it.

I shared about this on my Instagram recently and moms everywhere chimed in with their stories. See the post here

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. For example:

The TV is on, you are cooking dinner while simultaneously thinking about your to do list tomorrow, one of your children is whining that they need a snack while the other one is running and yelling joyfully through the house, your husband comes in for a hug and asks you a simple question like what you did that day. YOU WANT TO BLOW.

Seemingly nothing bad is happening, but inside you want to scream, maybe you do scream. This is a natural response to someone feeling sensory overload or who is overstimulated. For a full list of symptoms of sensory overload click here

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 or those who are Highly Sensitive People

But even if you do not have one of these conditions, you can still get overwhelmed when presented with overstimulating sensory input, something parents deal with on a daily basis. ALL humans have a capacity for how much of their senses they can use and process at once, and those 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.

So fear not. You are not crazy. You are not a bad mom. 

There is no need to add guilt and shame to the already heavy feelings of overwhelm we have as moms. Our bodies naturally have a response to overstimulation (fight or flight, rage, disassociation), but there are things we can do to limit sensory input as well as things we can do when the agitated feelings have already set in. 

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What Can You Do To Combat Overstimulation & Sensory Overload in Motherhood?

1. Schedule Your Days With Less

We all know that when we are too busy, have too many things on the go or our schedule is packed it causes stress. We can only do so much. When we are stressed we are even more prone to feeling the effects of overstimulation. By simply taking out activities or spreading them out throughout the day or week, it creates space for us to recharge, for our sensory system to get a break, and for us to process the mental load that comes with each thing in the schedule.

Carrying the mental load is a huge task for many women, so knowing and making space for it AS WELL as physically being a part of an event or activity will help negate the stress of being overcommitted and sensory overloaded. 

2. Quit Multitasking

As women, we are known for our amazing multitasking abilities. We can do it all! Or can we? The problem is that when we multitask our attention is divided, which means our sensory processing is divided too. This leaves a very small window for any other input (Kids).

This is why when we are cooking dinner, answering emails, having a conversation with one person, when we get asked a question by another- we end up irritable and agitated. We leave no room for natural parts of parenting (being touched, talked to, or needed to look at a sweet jump off the back of the couch). Prior to parenting it was a little easier to multitask because we could control what sensory stimuli would come our way, but as parents it is impossible. Leaving space for sensory interruptions or unexpected needs helps limit our feeling of overwhelm from sensory overload.

3. Schedule in Quiet Time

Be intentional about taking time to yourself. If you have a partner, make your needs known. If you don’t, use technology or a late daycare pick up- anything that gives you some time. This isn’t something to feel bad about. Think of it as preventative care for your mental health and sensory system.

For example: whenever we go out,  I end up coming home thoroughly exhausted. I used to come home and be very snappy and irritable with everyone. Now, my family knows that we all get quiet time when we arrive home. It is part of the routine.  Instead of getting to the point that I burst and then leaving and feeling guilty, I take the time to recharge, let everyone know what I am doing, and when I come back I feel much better equipped to deal with what comes next (always more sensory input- because kids).

4. Have Touch Breaks

Everyday I hear moms talk about how they feel touched out. Being touched-out happens usually when moms of small children and babies are constantly breastfeeding, bottle feeding, being needed, hugged, climbed on, and played with to the point that they no longer want to be touched anymore. By anyone.

This often leads to not even wanting touch from our partners. We just want our bodies to be our own for a little while. This is classic sensory overload. When our bodies cannot take anymore touch, we end up feeling overwhelmed and agitated. Building in touch breaks to our day can help. Talk to your family, and explain to them that you love them and you enjoy their affection but your body feels stressed when there is too much touch. Figure out a way for them to know they are loved and for you to feel okay with the amount of touch you get in a day.

5. Journal in the morning

When use my guided journal to help me be realistic about what sensory input I will likely have to deal with that day or what capacity I will have to take a break or what my to do list looks like, it helps me to get ahead of the game so that I can better implement the rest of these tips. Simply having and building self awareness help. That is why I created this journal for struggling moms. 

6. Use Technology For Kids

I believe technology has saved me and my kids from many meltdowns and for that reason I think it CAN be a really effective tool.  I am not saying “put your kids in front of a screen all day and then you won’t have to deal with them or their noise”. BUT. Big but here, for stay at home moms, single moms, or any moms who spend a great deal of time with their kids without another adult to step in and help-technology is extremely helpful. Moms need breaks, period. Sometimes we are lucky enough to have other humans help and other times we aren’t so lucky.

Personally, I would rather put my child in front of a screen to allow myself a moment to recharge so I can come back feeling prepared than push through my sensory overload and overwhelm, not get a break, and then snap at my kids. It’s all about balance, finding ways to give ourselves breaks and realizing that our wellness is equally important as our children’s.

7. Use Noise Cancelling Earplugs

One of the best investments I made for my overstimulated mom brain was noise cancelling earplugs. There are many on the market, but I prefer the ones which take the edge off rather than block out all noise. As someone who is hard of hearing, using these earplugs, I can still have conversations with my family, but they limit how much of the shrill noises I hear or the constant buzzing of kids in the house.

I can use them and still be present with my family and keep them safe. If noise is a trigger for you, I highly recommend using some noise cancelling earbuds, even if it is just for a portion of the day.

8. Practice Pre-Emptive Self Care

Self care isn’t just the latest buzzword. Looking after ourselves and allowing our family to prioritize our wellness is extremely important to our wellbeing and to our family dynamic. Many times we talk of self care as something to do once in a while or after a stressful day. I say make it a priority to care for yourself before you feel burnt out, overstimulated and overwhelmed.

By taking time to do things or to do nothing so that we can feel more refreshed, we will be more capable of being present with our families. You’ve heard it said “you cannot pour from an empty cup” and that applies to our ability to take in and process sensory stimuli with our families. Don’t wait until your sensory system is glitching before taking time for self care practices, practice self care so that you don’t get to that breaking point in the first place. 

Libby Ward and son walking through orchard on a sunny day
Photo by: John and Samantha

9. Put Down Your Phone

Using phones and technology is now a daily part of living. As someone who works as a blogger and content creator I know all too well how easy it is to be attached to my phone. We pay our bills, answer emails, book appointments and often work from our devices. As a young mom with 2 little children at home, my phone was my only access to other adults and the outside world. It became my lifeline in many ways.

Technology is beautiful, but also can be so damaging. Several studies have been done and articles have been written about the damaging effects of phone use on our brains and how it directly links to sensory overload. When we are always on our phones our attention is on it, so anything else that is happening can feel like an interruption. This is a leading cause of sensory overload and irritability for many parents. By limiting how much and WHEN we use our phones we can limit how overstimulated we get while parenting.

10. Open Up a Conversation In Your Home About It

Let your partner and your children know what overstimulation is, what causes it and how it makes you feel. Talking about our experiences and our feelings lets others know that we value our own well-being and they should too. It gives them a more in depth look into what our lives are like and also teaches empathy. It is so important to allow our families to feel like they can be part of the solution, and not just the problem.

When our kids understand what causes our stress levels to rise it empowers them to be conscious about their actions. If they aren’t able to do that developmentally yet, it sets the stage for when they are. Letting our partners in on what is going on also lets them know how they can help.  Talking with our family about overstimulation before it happens also sets the stage for the next tip: walk away.

*BONUS. Walk Away and Find Quiet

Sometimes no matter what we do, sensory overload sets in and we feel like exploding. At this point I always suggest walking away. If you have a partner, leave them in charge. If you don’t, put the baby in a safe spot or turn the TV on for the kids and leave. Sometimes sitting in a dark quiet room is helpful, other times you need to scream into a pillow. My therapist loves to tell me to do that. Whatever it is, removing yourself from a situation that causes immense overstimulation is a great tactic particularly if you err towards full on rage once you are pas the point of overstimulation.

There is nothing wrong with leaving. If it is saving you and your children from an outburst and helps you to calm down that is what is important. Part of being a good mom is recognizing when we need space and taking it. You are taking care of your kid’s mom, and that is important. 

Books for Moms with Sensory Overload

The Highly Sensitive Parent – Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a Highly Sensitive Person (take the test here), this book has amazing recommendations on how to cope

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids. There is something to be said about doing less and feeling calmer, both for ourselves and for our kids. 

Atomic Habits– An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. This book can be applied to anyone trying to achieve ANY goals (it is amazing), but looking at it from the viewpoint of building habits that keep us calm, this is a fantastic resource. 

There is Hope For the Overstimulated Parent: you are not alone

If you are a parent and you find yourself overstimulated, overwhelmed and feeling guilty about it all- you are not alone. I want you to know that each of us, parent or not, have a limit to the amount of stress and sensory input we can take on and process in a day. Moms in particular face an onslaught of touch, sight, movement and sound stimuli day after day so it is no surprise that we get burnt out and overstimulated. 

Mom guilt is a terrible thing to feel because deep down we all want to do our best for our kids. Nobody wants to be the parent who has outbursts, or not be able to cope with the sounds of their own children’s voices, or not be able to play with them because it feels too overwhelming. But we are human and deserve to have breaks and to have our needs met. 

Don’t feel guilty for being overwhelmed. Feel proud that you are trying to find ways to change. Feel proud that you care enough about being a good mom that you read this far. Feel proud that you are learning every day. Feel proud that you are raising your children with intention. We aren’t going to get it perfect, we were never meant to. 

Hopefully, knowing that overstimulation is often the cause of our feelings of overwhelm, of our outbursts or of our desire to escape helps you put it into perspective. It’s not you, it’s your sensory system. 

Hopefully these tips help you to get on your way to feeling more moments of calm in your day, you deserve it. 

- Libby

Does this resonate with you?

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PS. Let’s reinvent motherhood. 

Click here to watch one of my Tiktoks on How to Know If You Are An Overstimulated Mom – trust me, you won’t regret it.

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One Response

  1. OMFG………. this is me. My kids scream, yell, cry, always eating, in my face, co-sleep, just always there….. I suffer with depression, anxiety, ptsd……. and I have to cover my ears and scream back at my kids when they’re being waaaayyyy too loud!! I cry at them to stop and be quiet etc, I get frustrated and agitated fast. But it has only been within the last 1.5years I have noticed this about myself. My oldest is 15, my youngest is 2.5. My 12 year old lives with my mum (pnd asked her for help), and then my 5year old is so full on, my youngest is his double in everything. I will be making an appt at the doctor next week, as I am really going to try the Journaling buzz. Thank you so much, I really thought I didn’t love my kids and was ready to walk out.

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