As parents, our senses rarely catch a break from the constant stimuli. Whether we’re soothing a screaming infant, we have sticky fingers grabbing for us, or we’re doing the mental math of co-ordinating everyones schedules, sensory overload is a common part of the parenting experience.
So what is overstimulation, also known as sensory overload? Overstimulation is a result of our senses being overloaded with information, be it through sight, touch, sound, smell or taste (and usually a combination the lot!). When our senses are bombarded, we’re not able to process the information our brain is taking in around us, and it can make you feel:
Irritable or even angry
Unable to focus
Needing space & alone time
Feeling “touched out”
Wanting to cover our eyes and ears
Although overstimulation can be experienced by anyone, it’s a common complaint among parents. And whilst we might not be able to completely control the chaos of family life, there are certainly steps we can take to lighten our mental load and find better coping skills when overstimulation strikes.
Chat to your family
Speaking to your partner and your children about what overstimulation is and how it feels can be really helpful in reducing your triggers, and it can help them be part of the solution. If they are old enough, helping your children understand what causes our stress to rise can empower them to be conscious about their actions. If you have a partner or any other support at home, speaking with them about overstimulation is before it happens is really helpful, and gives you space to respond appropriately (i.e. taking time for yourself) with their understanding.
With a million things on our to-do list, it’s easy to find ourselves completing multiple tasks at once. Though multitasking might seem more time efficient, all the tasks bouncing around our brain can cause a lot more stress, and when we get interrupted (i.e. by a question from a little one or your partner) we can end up feeling agitated. Reducing our workload and trying to concentrate on less tasks at once will reduce the feeling of overwhelm.
Use noise-cancelling earbuds
When there’s a million noises going on around us, it can be hard to think straight. Using noise-cancelling earbuds doesn’t completely block out sound, but helps minimise the intensity of background noise whilst allowing you to concentrate on what needs your immediate attention. Meaning you’ll still be able to hear your baby or child, but feel less preoccupied by sounds like the washing machine, next doors lawnmower or Bleuy playing on the TV.
Aaaaand breathe. Making mindfulness a quick part of your routine is a great way to reset the nervous system. Step away from the noise, and practice some of the emotional regulators Suzy Reading mentions in our episode of Parenting SOS, such as pressing the back of your hand to your foreheads, and following deep breathing techniques.
Supply a screen
If you’re really struggling in the day, giving your child a little screen time can be a real help. We’re not suggesting it’s a solution for the whole day, but when you’re in desperate need to recharge, it’s okay to let them watch the iPad or TV. You need time to self-regulate too! You’ll come back feeling extra prepared with your sensory overload calmed. You can listen to our special episode in partnership with BBC, where Child Development Expert shares her recommendations of screen watching helps inspire and educate your little one.
Put your phone down
When our attention is glued to our phones, anything else that happens around us can feel like an interruption, which in turn can make us feel irritated! By putting limits on how much and when we use our phones, it can reduce our overstimulation as parents.
Have touch breaks
Being “touched-out” is response of our babies & children having constant physical contact with us, whether that’s breastfeeding, being hugged, climbed on and played with. It gets to the point where we no longer want to be touched anymore, by anyone. Try to communicate with your children about how your body can feel stressed when there is too much touch. If you can step away for just 5 minutes when feeling touched-out, even a few minutes of solitude can help reset the nervous system.
Parenting often comes with an information overdrive to our senses, which can manifest as anxiety, restlessness, and a craving for alone time. By adopting these practical tips you can help regain composure in the beautiful chaos that is family life.