Does everything feel like more than you can take? Does it feel like there’s too much input from every end? Do you want to clap your hands over your ears and hide in the corner? Have you clapped your hands over your ears, and maybe you would’ve hidden in a corner, but there was no spare corner to be found? Have you hidden in the bathroom for “alone time” instead? Does it come out in anger at your loved ones? You might be overstimulated.
And you are not alone.
So many parents feel overstimulated and overwhelmed right now, especially with the prospect of more virtual school looming. More than ever, self-care is important. And the first step to self-care is recognizing that you need it.
You Can’t Seem to Find Time To Recharge
You’re too busy taking care of other people and other things to take time for yourself. You’ll find this is a theme that comes up again and again and plays into a feeling of being overstimulated: you are so busy with others you have no time for yourself. You go on the back burner. You don’t matter anymore. Everyone else is more important, and your needs fall by the wayside.
You can sustain it for the short term. But it will break you over the long term. Solution: YOU are just as important as THEM. Figure out what they can do without that won’t destroy them (maybe your house won’t be perfectly clean; maybe your kids will use tablets for an extra hour. Big deal). Then take some time for yourself. Better a good parent than an overstimulated one.
I’m The Default Parent
The other parent’s sitting right there, but you’re the one they whine to for a drink. When this happens over and over, when Other Parent doesn’t do a damn thing about it, you feel overwhelmed and overstimulated because, again: everyone else’s needs come before your own. Time for a frank talk with Other Parent. My overstimulated husband finally started to say, “You know, Mama’s right there and you can ask her, too.”
Talk About Overstimulated: I’m With My Kids 24/7
Oh honey. We’re there with you. When you can’t go out and you’ve lost your support network, and all you have are those little faces watching you, waiting to be entertained… to be taught… to be fed and disciplined and everything else and you are literally their entire world, something is going to give, and that something is probably you. Take a step back. Hand out tablets. I wake up at 4am and find my peace then, and I still hand out tablets more than I’d like, and resort to educational TV more than I’d like, because I need a break. I am overstimulated.
You Feel Inadequate All The Time
There’s always something else you should be doing, so you don’t take time for yourself, because something else is always looming. My husband does this. He’s always explaining to me, “I did this and this and this and this, which isn’t enough because these things still need done, but I’m tired now and I’m going to lie down.” He says it in a frantic voice, like none of these things will ever get done, because his list will never end.
He’s right. He’s made himself a never-ending to-do list. He’s holding himself to standards no one can meet and causing his own sense of inadequacy. This makes him feel overstimulated, because he absolutely cannot stop moving, or everything will fall to pieces.
That’s another form of overstimulation, that kind of worry. And while we’re talking about worry…
Being Overstimulated Can Feel Like Being Anxious and Worried All The Time
You’re always frightened. You’re always running down lists. Did I do this? Did I do that? Are the kids getting too much screen time? Are the kids getting enough schoolwork done? Am I getting enough work done? You’re reading this essay and thinking, “Am I getting enough me-time in?” You’re worried that the house isn’t clean enough, though no one’s seeing it; you’re worried about the news. You’re worried about the election.
Sift through your worries. Worried about the news? Stop watching it. I don’t. I can’t handle it. We don’t keep our house sparkling, because no one’s seeing it. We’re unschoolers who hand our children the opportunity to learn and trust that they will take it, despite a lot of tablet time; we believe children want to learn. We also believe that a pandemic is a time to assure mental health before long division. If that means board games and Peppa Pig instead of math packets, we go with board games and Peppa Pig.
Let go and let live. Take deep breaths (which can be hard when you’re overstimulated and freaking out). Realize that all (or mostly all) of your worries are unnecessary.
I’m So Overstimulated I Can’t Stay On Top Of Chores Like I Used To
If there was ever a time to let certain chores go, it’s now.
Maybe you feel so overstimulated you need to let some things slip so that you can find yourself a sliver of sanity. That’s what we’ve done. The kids’ table has had little craft glitter stones scattered on it for about three weeks now. We just keep moving them over. There’s stuff piled on my end tables, including wooden dinosaur skeletons. I ignore it. I have enough to deal with right now to worry about wooden dinosaur skeletons.
Or maybe you’ve living my other realization: we are living in a house 24/7. If I tried to keep it spotless, I would go bonkers. I cannot follow behind four other people and three dogs, one of them a puppy who chews, and make them pick up their things.
You’re going to sing the song from Frozen that we all know so well: Let it go, let it go. You can’t do it all without becoming overstimulated and having zero time to yourself, lashing out at everyone for frustrating your results and freaking out at the never-ending cycles of dishes and laundry and picking up.
You Have No Access to Support People
I want to reach out and hug every single one of you. You are not alone. You are not fighting this battle by yourself. There are millions of us overstimulated, exhausted parents fighting it together.
It’s all well and good to know that intellectually. It’s absolutely no help when you’re up to your knees in laundry and the kids are screaming and you can’t get air. This is when you step away.
Your people can’t be there, but you can call them. They can’t hug you, but you can Zoom them. God bless my friend Elizabeth, who’s interrupted work to take some tearful Facebook Messenger video chats during this pandemic.
Here’s how I cope. I have several groups of friends I virtually night-drink with. We wait until the kids are asleep and hop on one of Facebook chats. “Anyone up for drinking?” someone will ask. Someone else will say, “Hell yes.” We all drink, several of us on one call, and… talk. Sometimes for hours. When I have that to look forward to, life becomes more bearable. Adult interaction is coming. I don’t feel as overstimulated during the day because I know I have something just for me waiting that night.
If You Feel Overstimulated, Reach Out
Feeling overwhelmed? Feeling like it’s too much? Feeling overstimulated? Tell someone. Don’t keep it to yourself. Even journaling can help. Just writing it down helped me tremendously. Talking to a friend was even better—and my friend wasn’t a real life friend, but one that lives on the internet. Don’t keep this to yourself. There are so many of us.
You are not alone.