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The Sensory Overload of Motherhood

Updated: Jan 5

As far as I am aware, I do not have any sensory processing disorders. I've never had any issues with loud noises. I've been to many concerts, carnivals, sporting events, monster truck rallies and the like that included all types of crazy lighting, loud noises, smells etc. But, I have never had all of my senses BOMBARDED at all the same time for long stretches of time day after day, until I became a parent of 3 boys. I found myself becoming irritated that I could hear the air conditioning or the TV was too loud even if it wasn't unusually noisy. Or, I would be stressed about the smell of someone's shoes. I didn't know what was really going on, or that there was even a name for it until I saw a reference to mothers experiencing overwhelming sensory stimulation on Facebook. I did some research and felt so UNDERSTOOD.


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According to psychcentral.com, "Sensory overload occurs when you’re faced with more sensory input than your brain can process." Some people may be particularly sensitive to sensory stimuli or get overwhelmed by just certain senses like smells, or touch. Other people may have an underlying diagnosis such as autism which makes them more sensitive than others. Just being a child can make sensory overload more likely as their "brains are still developing and learning how to sort through different kinds of stimulation. For more on sensory issues and children you can read https://www.healthline.com/health/sensory-overload#in-children.)


Or, you may be a mother and just have too many sensory signals being inputted into your brain. It is not uncommon for one of my children to be dancing and singing along to a toddler song on the tv while another is playing Nintendo Switch nearby, and the other one is crying on my lap because he wants his turn to watch tv or play switch. Meanwhile, the timer on the stove is going off and I realized the dog just threw up in the house. Suddenly, the sound of the washing machine and the gardener mowing the lawn are bothering me. Or, two dragons are running around the house with nerf guns and yelling, of course, having left the tv on. I go to turn the TV off while getting hit with a few darts, and step in sticky juice someone spilled. Before I can get that cleaned up, there is a toddler calling me in to wipe his butt. The bathroom is steamy from hot baths, and now I'm annoyed. These are just two examples. I don't mean to say the TV is always on in my house, or the kids are always running amuck. But regardless, kids are loud, kids like to use people as a jungle gym, they can be messy and there's a lot of bodily fluids you have to deal with. And, if you have a pet...there's more. Moreover, there are everyday household sounds and smells going on with laundry or cooking etc. Now, here's the kicker; I recently read this statement from an interview with an occupational therapist names Larisa Geleris, "[Even] if the kids are engaged in quiet independent play, we still have to be able to hear a scream or a fall. And evolution has made sure we have the ability to do so. Because of that, our auditory system never gets a break. . . It’s getting tired, because it’s working all the time." To read or listen to the entire podcast, check it out at https://www.momwell.com/blog/the-overstimulated-mommy.


So, what's the point here? Realizing what is going on with your body is the first step! At first, I just thought, I am not cut out for chaos. Not considering that my brain was overloaded. And, remember its not just things that your brain has to process, you also have to do something about all these things. Clean messes, help the crying child, hold the sick baby etc. So, there's an added level of stress there, especially since we are emotionally invested in how these things get done. But once we recognize all this, we can understand why we are feeling irritated, upset, panicked or feeling like we just cant think clearly, we can take steps to mitigate. That can be through prevention and/or planning ways to handle the situation. The podcast I mentioned earlier gives a few ideas such as running the dishwasher or laundry at night. You could also have a family meeting and delineate certain times that loud music or TV cannot be on. Perhaps, when safe, you can wear ear plugs or an eye mask. I personally like putting these on my eyes, especially if I have a headache. Mothers can also practice mindfulness and body scans in dealing with situation and resetting your nervous system. Read more about mindfulness at wellness.huhs.harvard.edu/Mindfulness. Another thing that could help, is grounding, which I've touched on before in Fighting one fire at a time-for moms managing anxiety.


I hope this finds someone who needed to read it. If your are interested in more self care articles, please check out Dragon Mama's Self-Care-For-Moms.


Dragon Mama


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