Sleep-Deprived, Overstimulated and Stressed: How I Deal With The Chaos
So I don't think I've spoken about this topic much as I'm newer to mothering, but I thought it would be helpful to share my experience with overstimulation as a mom and how I've worked to protect myself and my children from becoming worn out.
So I get overstimulated pretty easily and have mild sensory difficulties.
I knew this before becoming a mother, which is why I waited a little after getting married to get my footing and figure things out before having a baby. I was scared of facing the chaos while being sleep-deprived, unshowered, and touched-out. I wanted to be strong in my character and coping techniques before entering into possibly one of the most overstimulating roles in this world: motherhood.
Everyone knows that babies crying, toddlers whining, and the general neverending chaos of parenthood can be a challenge. It's loud, messy, needy, and extremely demanding.
So before becoming a mother, I spent my time learning about overstimulation as a mom, researching the stressors, how to overcome challenges, and methods other moms had used to combat sleep deprivation, noise, and the general craziness of motherhood.
Since then, I've come up with a lot of strategies and mechanisms for handling the chaotic days of motherhood, and hope to share some of those with you today! Hopefully, some of this will be helpful for you, and if you don't relate at all, I hope you can at least find it interesting!
I am extremely sensitive to a lack of sleep.
I am not a person that can function on a few hours of sleep without feeling like I'm going to throw up. Even broken-up sleep can cause me to feel nauseous, impatient, and sick for the whole day. I tend to feel like I have a headache all day, and I've noticed that I become really melancholic, depressive, and doom and gloom with little sleep... essentially, the total opposite of how I want to be as a mum. It feels like everything bad that's ever happened to me comes to weigh on my shoulders, and I even notice other problems like body dysmorphia, anxiety, and rage seem to come up from nowhere when I am running on less than four hours of sleep.
It's bad lol.
So to help with this, I learned a lot about sleep options BEFORE becoming a mother. Neither I nor my husband felt comfortable co-sleeping in order to get more sleep. He worked EMS part-time in university and unfortunately witnessed many heart-breaking co-sleeping accidents, not to mention the sad stories I've heard from him since he began working as a trooper. It just wasn't worth the risk for us. We wanted baby in a crib, safe, comfortable, and happy.
So for the newborn time, we decided to do "shifts" in order for me to get a consecutive five hours of sleep a night, even in the beginning. This meant that from 9pm to 1am, one of us was responsible for the baby, and then from 1am-6am, the other one was responsible. This meant that we both got at least 5 hours of unbroken sleep, allowing us to function properly. We also put Troy and Bodie in their cribs right away with the parent sleeping on the ground next to them so that the other parent could sleep undisturbed in our master bedroom.
After four and a half months old, we gradually decreased night feeds by offering pacifiers or rocking instead of a bottle, and they naturally dropped those feeds until they began sleeping through the night. Both our boys have struggled to put themselves to sleep for the INITIAL stretch at night, but we didn't mind rocking them at 7pm because we love the cuddles. It was the nighttime sleep that we had to deal with ASAP because most nights, I'm on my own while my husband is at work, and all of that sleep deprivation really adds up.
Being refreshed after a good night's sleep helps me enjoy motherhood so much more and also helps me face the challenges of the day with strength, positivity, and energy. It is a form of self-care, and an absolute priority in order for me to be the best mum I can be.
Before becoming a mother, I also knew that I was sensitive to sound.
If there is too much sound, even my husband coming into the living room playing his guitar while the dog begins to bark at the mailman or something... it's enough to make me want to crawl out of my skin or hide under the covers.
This is only exacerbated when my children are screaming because it ignites the place in my mind that flares up and shouts "emergency! emergency! emergency!" even if Bodie's just crying because he's mad he can't pull something off the counter, or Troy is just screaming because he noticed I got up from my chair to pick something up from the kitchen for a second. They're not real emergencies, but my brain can't tell that.
So to help with this, I'll often wear my noise-cancelling headphones set to the "noise cancelling- high" setting, with nothing actually playing. I read this tip on a mom forum, and it's amazing. I can still hear my babies loud and clear, but it lowers the decibels of their screaming and helps me think and process, and make decisions without feeling overwhelmed. A day of full-volume whiney screaming is enough to make me feel impatient and even angry, but I've found by lowering the volume of my boys, I can attend to their needs and be a lot more patient with them.
This is helpful because Troy especially is a very loud and very needy child. He screams and whines a lot of the day and is just really really loud LOL. Even the doctor mentioned what a noisy baby he was when she took him out of my belly. I do my best to make sure his needs are met so that he doesn't have to scream, but sometimes when I'm attending to Bodie and don't have a choice but to let Troy scream for a second at my feet, I find that keeping my headphones on can really help me feel calm and not anxious. It's like wearing earplugs.
I also really recommend going outside into nature if you are overstimulated by noise. Being in a quiet forest or park, or even listening to the waves at a lake or something can help you feel less stressed by sound. It allows the children's voices to carry wide and far instead of clamoring around the walls of your tiny kitchen. Going on walks is a lifesaver for me in order to get away from some of the noise, and I also like to schedule play dates so that I can be with another mom when some of the noise is happening. It helps me feel less alone and also helps me tune out some of the noisy stress.
Another hurdle of motherhood for me is that I get extremely overstimulated by physical mess and smell.
I feel very overwhelmed and overloaded if my skin feels dirty or my hair feels oily while I'm also being touched and clung onto with sticky fingers by my babies. I CANNOT wear a shirt that had spit-up on it, even if I clean it off because my nose is so sensitive, it will feel like I'm swimming in baby puke.
I've noticed that if my hair is dirty or my body feels unclean, I tend to get extremely grouchy and unhappy until I can take care of my hygiene. I feel overstimulated by dirty hair in general, so adding clingy kids just makes it worse. Sometimes I also feel stressed when I'm not dressed for the day, including hair and makeup, because it feels like I'm trapped at home, like I can't go out because I'm not "ready." Feeling dirty, wearing clothes from two days ago, or having a half a pound of dry shampoo in my hair is truly a recipe for disaster.
So to combat this, I try to keep clean, hygenic, and cute. I get ready in the morning at 7am before getting the boys up, and it has been such an incredible lifesaver. I'll also shower at night to make sure I'm absolutely getting in my cleanliness routine, even if it means sacrificing an hour of television, reading, or hobby time. I have a lot more bandwidth and patience for having baby koalas crawling all over me when I'm clean, and it's so much easier to get out of the door with both of them if I'm already clean and dressed and ready to go!
There are also smaller things that can cause sensory overload, like clutter, a dirty house, or even too many emails and responsibilities.
This has lead me to have a strict "tidying" routine. I put my entire house to "bed" every night, tidying the living room, kitchen, nurseries, bathroom, and downstairs before I let myself relax. I try to do this during the last hour of the day before the kids go to bed so I can save more of the evening for myself, but even if that doesn't happen, it's always worth it to clean up because it leaves a blank slate for the next day.
I'm also fortunate that my husband takes care of a ton of the "mental load" in our house, like finances, insurance, planning vacations, doctor's appointments, and church things. He does all our budgeting, credit card stuff, side gigs, investments, utilities and anything to do with paperwork, voicemails, or money. This has been a huge blessing because it also helps me not feel too overwhelmed with everything. I tend to take care of the cleaning, organizing, food, routines, and general care of the kids and myself, so having him do all of the background paperwork to make our life flowing well... it's amazing.
Finally, I've also chosen to step back from anything overwhelming in my personal life, even online things that stressed me out.
I've had to put YouTube, this blog, and any future social media ventures on the back burner to deal with all of this, probably because I had two kids so close together, but also because I'm a sensitive person. I just can't handle as many things on my plate as other people, and that's okay. Picking and choosing my priorities has helped me feel more in control of my days and has helped me enjoy motherhood more. I know that there is a time and a place for everything, and these days with my kids are the most important.
I also have chosen to mute anything stressful on my timeline, whether it's the news, conspiracies, crunchy mom stuff, birth content, and really anything that makes me feel icky.
I enjoy my cat videos, fashion, decorating, and humor when I go online, helping me to feel less overwhelmed when I tap out of Instagram and tap back into mothering.
I really have learned the value of not inviting obstacles into my home through my phone. When I go and look at the news or even stressful religious stuff and then have to shift gears back into being a loving and joyful presence for my kids, it's just so difficult. I've learned that it's best to make a benign feed for myself to enjoy when I want to scroll or just tune out a little, cushioning my brain so that I can relax before jumping back into the intensity of kids.
The truth is that my kids deserve my best: they deserve my mental energy, my joy, and my focus. If I'm putting all of that onto online things or the news or the stressful world of mommy infighting, it's only going to make me feel depleted, fussy, and riled up: NOT the mum my babies deserve.
So will I get back into controversial topics? Maybe someday. But for right now, when I need to be the world moon and stars to my one-year-old and a mood-setter for my toddler, I'll be sticking to the cat videos and sewing content thank you very much.
And yeah. There is so much more I could write about when it comes to overstimulation, like cycling toys, choosing my outfit the night before, and how I plan their routines, but I'll stop at these tips and insights for now.
I hope you all have a joyful and relaxing week my friends: don't feel bad about putting your needs on the forefront of your plans... it can really help your kids in the long run!