I’m an adult and I get sensory overload. I have 3 kids and I get sensory overload. I’m an introvert and I get sensory overload. I’m a working mom and I get sensory overload.
Do any of these sound familiar to you? Sensory overload is when one or more of your body’s senses experiences over-stimulation from the environment. It could be from hearing loud noises, being crowded or in cluttered spaces, seeing constant movement such as in crowds or on television, smelling strong aromas, being touched by someone or something, being exposed to mass media, navigating technology, or what have you.
Highly sensitive people are more likely to become over-stimulated in these ways. Not all highly sensitive people are introverted. Research shows that about 15-20% of the population is highly sensitive, and of that 20%, 30% are extroverted.
I remember my mom giving me a book during my senior year of college. It was titled The Highly Sensitive Person. At the time, I was a little offended. “What?! Me? Sensitive? But I go with the flow. I’m laid back. I’m not sensitive!” Exactly how a sensitive person would react, no?
As I got older, and more responsibility came into my life, and my body started to react to it in worrying ways, I started to come to terms with this label. I started reading this offensive book and I started checking off the points listed in the book.
I get easily overwhelmed by loud noises and touch. I tend to complain about loud noises in the neighborhood that don’t seem to bother others, like my neighbor’s loud pool pump or the other neighbor’s dogs barking constantly. I’m often in a state of tension, causing my body to ache. I have low pain tolerance (my husband thinks I’m crazy that I have electrophobia, especially in the winter).
I startle easily. I was labeled as shy when I was a young child. I fell to the floor every night it was time to clean the kitchen, of course when I was a kid. I felt very deeply in dating relationships and would cry uncontrollably when a breakup happened. I always want to withdraw into a darker, quieter space after a busy day.
However, seclusion is impossible when you have 3 young children at home. It can cause a sensory overload of sorts when you can’t shut your mind off and you start feeling ill and you might even be a little hypochondriatic at that point. You just need rest. Some of you know what I mean. You’ve been there.
And with each child that comes along, the more I am aware that I am a highly sensitive person. Going to family gatherings are mentally exhausting for me. I love seeing family, but I don’t love the after-effects. I absolutely love my children, but I don’t love the times my body responds to the non-stop noise and care of them. I like the ability to search for anything at any time on the internet, but it’s often too overwhelming for me.
How do I cope with this characteristic?
I take advantage of any quiet time I can get. I go to bed at a reasonable time. I don’t totally avoid triggers because if I do, it weirdly makes the problem worse the next time I’m unavoidably triggered, if that makes sense. I make to-do lists because the organization helps bring me peace of mind. I share the load with my family. For example, instead of planning dinner by myself, I give my son two choices each night. Boom. I know he’s going to like what I make and it’s taken the decision off my plate, pun intended.
These are just a few coping mechanisms that came to mind. How do you cope with being a highly sensitive mom?