11 Ways to Cope & Process as an Overstimulated Mom

Sensory overload and overstimulation are tough realities for many parents. You might benefit from these simple tools for overcoming the stressful moments.

Published January 5, 2024
Overstimulated Young mother sipping on a cup of coffee

The toddler toys are blaring music, the baby just woke up from a nap, and you have a pot of boiling water on the stove. As an overstimulated mom, you feel like you might just burst from the stress at any second.

Your senses are overloaded and you've got a lot on your plate these days, but you can still be the calm and collected mom you've always tried your best to be. Many moms get a little overstimulated at times, but there are a few tools you can use to help you handle the sensory and stress overload without losing your cool. 

How to Know You're Experiencing Overstimulation 

Parenting is a full-time job and reacting to stress is a normal part of the job description. Though stress is often an unavoidable part of parenting, it's important to know when a stressful moment escalates into an overstimulation response.

Also referred to as sensory overload, overstimulation happens when multiple stimuli send you into a state of fight, flight, or freeze. If you're trying to figure out whether you're just a little tired or reaching a point of overstimulation, these are the signs of overstimulation to look for:

  • Anxiety or panic attacks in response to stimuli
  • Easily stressed or irritated
  • Feeling physically sick or experiencing digestive discomfort
  • Unable to relax or feeling tired but too wired to rest
  • Inability to focus
  • Feeling you need to escape
  • Having negative responses to stimuli such as bright lights, loud noises, and being touched

How to Cope With Overstimulation as a Mom

If you're a parent, overstimulation is likely to happen at least once in your journey. Chances are it will happen more consistently than you might want to admit. Knowing how to react and how to manage an overload of stimuli is your best defense for those difficult parenting moments.

1. Remove One Sensory Overload Component

A barking dog, notifications on your phone, and all the kids making as much noise as possible might be within your limit of stimuli. But there's always a straw to break the mom camel's back.

At any given moment the kitchen exhaust fan or the loud episode of Paw Patrol could set you off. If you start to sense you're becoming overstimulated, evaluate whether or not there are sources of stimuli you can remove in the moment.

If the bright lights are adding to your stress, dim them. If you're starting to get annoyed by your teenager's tapping on the laptop, calmly ask them to pause for a few moments. 

Fast Fact

Feeling "touched out" is another form of overstimulation that impacts some moms. When this occurs, just a few moments to yourself can help you reset.

2. Get Outside

A little fresh air can truly do wonders for a bad day. If the sensory overload is getting to you, some time outside might provide some peaceful sensory experiences. When staying cooped up in the house with the kids just isn't helping anyone, a ten-minute outdoor break can give you the refresh you need to reset the day. 

3. Walk Away When You Can

Unless you're cooking dinner or changing your baby, you can probably step away for thirty seconds if you need to. Just a few moments to pause and take some deep breaths might help you feel more in control of your emotions and better able to manage the stress or the stimuli around you.

4. Schedule Self-Care

When overstimulation hits, it often occurs because of multiple issues compounding. One of those issues is often a lack of self-care for busy parents.

It's tough to find the time to do the things that fuel your mind and body, but doing so can prevent a major stress overload later on. So much of managing overstimulation has to do with preventing it in the first place, and scheduling regular time for self-care keeps your cup full of good things so you aren't overwhelmed by stimuli or stressors.

5. Wake Up Early or Stay Up Late

We aren't saying you need to get up early to work out or clean. Instead, you need some time to yourself without the pressures of responsibilities.

Woman lying on sofa in living room at home, and reading a book on digital tablet in peace

Waking up early or staying up a little later to do whatever you want to do, even if it's just sitting in the quiet, might be the small action that helps you battle overstimulation when it happens. It's a lot easier to hold on in the middle of a tough moment when you know you're getting a half hour entirely to yourself later on.

6. Communicate Your Needs & Frustrations

Circumstances that lead to overstimulation are often due to a parent having needs that are unmet or experiencing relentless frustrations. It's important to remember that you are allowed to voice your frustrations and communicate your needs, even with your children.

Letting your family know that you need a few moments to yourself or that you're feeling overwhelmed is a healthy way of coping with overstimulation. If you can feel yourself starting to get overstimulated or you sense that you're more sensitive due to extra stress, let everyone know. Communicating what you need and what you're experiencing lets everyone know that you may need some extra space and patience on a tough day.

Need to Know

Communicating your needs and alerting your family when you're frustrated shows your children that your home is a safe place to express how they feel.

7. Tackle Tasks One at a Time

Multitasking isn't your friend, even if you feel you can multitask well. The practice can leave anyone feeling a bit stressed or unable to focus on the task set before them. Though multitasking is sometimes an unavoidable part of motherhood, when you can tackle one task at a time you'll feel a lot less stressed and overstimulated. 

8. Make Boundaries Your Best Friend

Setting boundaries as you're learning to cope with overstimulation is one way to protect yourself from additional stimuli that could overwhelm you. You might need to set boundaries with extended family, your spouse, your kids, or even yourself. 

If you find yourself falling into burnout or people-pleasing often, you may need to set boundaries with yourself so you know when to step back and take a breath. If attending too many events or promising too many things to those around you contributes to your sensory overload, it's okay to say no when you need to. 

9. Get Around Other Parents Often

Few people can understand the mental load of parenthood as well as fellow moms and dads. Find your parenting people and get around them often, even with the kids, to feel seen and understood. Parenting alongside people who care about you can also lighten that mental load as you tackle life together.

10. Establish a Routine That Works

Chaos and overstimulation often go hand-in-hand for parents. Life always has something unexpected up its sleeve for those with small children. Having a few solid routines might help those curveballs and all the chaos feel a little less overwhelming. From a slow morning routine to a bedtime routine that keeps everyone happy, routines can be one of the best ways to plan how you will react in a stressful moment.

11. Accept Overstimulation When You Must

You can schedule all the self-care and keep a mental box full of tools, but overstimulation is still going to happen. Sometimes the most upsetting part of experiencing overstimulation is being caught off guard by it and feeling panicked as it sets in. That's why knowing when you have to simply accept your circumstances is important.

When the moment finally comes, remember that overstimulation is common, does not make you a bad parent, and does not control who you are. You can simply say to yourself, "Right now I'm feeling overstimulated and frustrated but this moment will not last forever." 

Overstimulation Is Not Who You Are

When you're wading through the waters of sensory overload and parenting responsibilities, it's easy to believe the lie that your overstimulation defines who you are.

Emotional outbursts and feeling exhausted have nothing to do with you as a person. Rather they are a response to the weight you carry as a busy parent. These days of feeling overwhelmed will not last forever, and things like communicating your feelings, asking for help, and scheduling self-care can help you to start feeling like yourself again.

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11 Ways to Cope & Process as an Overstimulated Mom