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Overstimulated Parents: 4 Strategies to Cope With Stress


Learn how to deal with overstimulation as a parent and recognize the signs. Create a safe space at home for you and your kids.

It’s a familiar scenario: You’re cooking dinner and simultaneously answering emails when your toddler clambers up your leg, your teenager flies through the door practically yelling on their phone, and your partner snaps on the TV at an ear-splitting volume. 

It’s enough to make even the most patient caregiver pull out their hair, or say sayonara to the whole scene and find peace in their bedroom.

It also has a name: Overstimulation, a term that has been making waves across social media and on the playground. It’s not just a buzzword, either. Chronic overstimulation can cause a host of physiological and physical issues that can make the already-demanding job of caregiving seem impossible.

Fortunately, it is manageable. Here’s how to identify if you fall into the overstimulated parent camp and what you can do to restore your inner calm. 

What is an Overstimulated Parent?

Put simply, overstimulation—or sensory overload—occurs when your five primary senses become overburdened with stimuli. These include your:

  • Sound
  • Sight
  • Taste
  • Touch
  • Smell

A caregiver’s senses are constantly tested, with everything from the bawling of a baby to a toddler who wants to cuddle. But sensory overload means that your senses become too overwhelmed for your brain and body to process the world around you. In turn, your parasympathetic nervous system triggers your fight-or-flight response, which may lead to seemingly paralyzing confusion, heightened anxiety, racing thoughts, and the urge to flee or raise your voice.


Recognizing Signs of Parental Overstimulation 

We all have different thresholds for how much sensory stimulation we can handle. And yet, caregivers who have anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, autism, or fibromyalgia may be more vulnerable to sensory overload. The same is true for those who identify as a highly sensitive person (HSP).

Even if you don’t have any of these conditions, you can experience sensory overwhelm simply by virtue of being a caregiver with a laundry list of responsibilities. It may manifest through:

Behavioral Indicators

These may include:

  • An inability to relax
  • Panic 
  • Anger
  • Agitation
  • Difficulty concentrating

Physical Signs

Physically, you may experience:

  • Extreme sensitivity to textures (such as a tag on your shirt)
  • Insomnia 
  • The need to “block” your senses, like covering your ears or eyes
  • Restlessness
  • Discomfort

Emotional Manifestations

Naturally, dealing with a ton of commotion can also provoke strong emotional reactions, such as:

  • Outbursts
  • Irritability 
  • Anxiety
  • Dissociation

Coping Strategies for Overwhelmed Parents

If any of the above sounds familiar, trust that you’re not alone. Moreover, feelings of sensory overwhelm can be managed with the right tools and practices. 

Self-Care Practices for Parents

Self-care is non-negotiable for caregivers: it recharges your batteries, improves your emotional well-being, strengthens your relationships, boosts your productivity, and gives your senses the chance to recalibrate. 

A few ideas to spark your imagination:

  • Yoga
  • Walking in nature
  • Journaling
  • Meeting up with a friend outside of your home
  • Gardening

Establishing Boundaries and Setting Expectations

Boundaries and setting expectations are vital to maintaining your emotional wellness. This may look like:

  • Declaring house-wide quiet time for your family, such as turning off the TV at 8 pm sharp
  • Telling your children when you need a few moments to yourself
  • Creating a list of house rules and displaying them in a prominent place

Simplifying Your Schedule

Sensory overload may feel all the more intolerable if you’re already up to your eyeballs with stress and obligations. To that end, we recommend:

  • Saying yes only to social invitations that interest you
  • Outsourcing some of your responsibilities (if possible), like having your niece babysit once a week
  • Sharing household chores with your older children and/or your partner

Seeking Support from Partner, Family, or Friends

The importance of maintaining your romantic life (if it applies) and social connections is fundamental to sustaining your sense of self—and having a solid core may make even the most hectic, sensory-stimulating days endurable. 

Meeting up with your best friend on a regular basis, scheduling date nights, and asking immediate and extended family for assistance may soothe your frazzled nerves and help you feel more balanced, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

You can also seek support from your family on a daily basis. This might look like asking your children to lower the volume on their devices, asking your partner to dim the lights in your room an hour before bedtime, and connecting with your family over quiet, relaxing activities. 

Creating a Calming Environment for Parents

Research indicates that a messy, cluttered environment can stir up even more stress for some people (and bear in mind that what you see around you plays directly into sensory overload). At the same time, the very act of cleaning and decluttering may soothe your overtaxed senses and:

  • Improve concentration
  • Offer you a sense of control
  • Enhance your physical health 

Designating Relaxation Spaces at Home

Creating spaces in your home specifically for relaxing activities may help your mind switch into a more tranquil state when you need a break. We suggest:

  • A cozy chair for reading
  • A meditation space
  • A bathroom outfitted with calming decor and products (such as bubble bath and Epsom salts)

Implementing Routines to Reduce Chaos

Consistency is crucial to caregivers and young children alike. Having an order to your days not only supplies young kids and caregivers with the comfort that’s found in families, but it also boosts emotional health and prevents negative behaviors. The result just might be reduced chaos in your household and fewer moments that strain your overstimulated senses. 

Discover Serenity with Slumberkins

Explaining why you need quiet time is made easier with Slumberkins by your side. Our line of social-emotional learning books and mindfulness toys and activities show kids how to connect with feelings and experiences—their own as well as others. Plus, they are all great resources to help your kids develop emotional literacy and social skills, serving as invaluable tools for toddlers.

Find peace of mind for you and your child with Slumberkins.


Sources: 

Cleveland Clinic. How to manage (and even overcome) sensory overload.  https://health.clevelandclinic.org/sensory-overload


Psychology Today. Highly sensitive person. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/highly-sensitive-person


Healthline. What is sensory overload? https://www.healthline.com/health/sensory-overload


Southern New Hampshire University. What is self-care and why is it important for you?

https://www.snhu.edu/about-us/newsroom/health/what-is-self-care


VeryWell Mind. The connection between cleanliness and mental health.

https://www.verywellmind.com/how-mental-health-and-cleaning-are-connected-5097496#


Head Start Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center.

https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/about-us/article/importance-schedules-routines


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