Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by the amount of noise in your house that you could scream? You might be having a common motherhood experience called auditory overstimulation.
Before children, an evening at home meant snuggling up with a good book and wine. The only sound you had to deal with was the occasional clinking of your glass on the table.
Now that you are a parent, the daily sounds are ever-changing and ever-increasing in volume.
Motherhood comes with many new challenges: finding time for yourself, learning to care for a child, prioritizing quality time with your partner…and dealing with overstimulation.
As a new mom, I learned firsthand what happened when my already taxed system reached its limits with auditory overstimulation. Thankfully, I could use the tricks I use as a speech-language pathologist with my clients to help myself calm down and avoid a meltdown.
Now, I am passing these tips on to you.
What is auditory overstimulation?
Everyone knows humans have five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch.
Behind the scenes, we also have a way to process these sensations. Sensory processing is the organization of sensory information from the body and the external world, allowing a person to interact effectively with their physical and social environments.
Our “sensory processors” tell us when we have too much or not enough input and help us to balance our body in space through our vestibular (balance) sense and interoception, which is responsible for letting us know we are hungry, thirsty, or need to go to the bathroom.
Both children and adults can have a sensory processing disorder when it becomes difficult to filter through all the sensations the body has to interact with other people and environments.
As adults, many of us have coping strategies for when we become overstimulated, but when a new baby is introduced into the mix, all bets are off. Those with an underlying history of ADHD, anxiety, or PTSD may be more prone to experience overstimulation, especially in the postpartum period.
Auditory overstimulation occurs when the body receives too much noise or cannot process competing noises. Sensory overload activates a fight, flight, or freeze response in which you try to escape triggers. This can look like a meltdown in a young child or irritability in an adult.
When we are overstimulated, we tend to make decisions that are bold, abrupt, or not in line with the way we wish to parent (think tantrums), which is why knowing what auditory overstimulation is and how to prevent it is crucial.
Why does auditory overstimulation happen?
Parenting is noisy. Even with just one child, you can simultaneously deal with input from appliances, a children’s song, and a crying baby, which can turn your system into overdrive.
Overstimulation can also occur when we receive too much input from multiple sources. For example, too much touch and additional noise can be too much for your body to handle. Knowing that you aren’t alone and this season is temporary is essential.
Still, it’s also crucial for everyone’s well-being to have concrete steps to use when you feel the onset of auditory overstimulation.
What can you do about auditory overstimulation?
- Identify your triggers
- Take a deep breath
- Play “peek-a-boo”
- Know when to take a step back
- Receive professional help
1. Identify your triggers
I know I become triggered when I hear a children’s song and audio from my husband scrolling Instagram simultaneously.
To combat this, I remind him to ensure the volume is off when he comes home. Knowing what increases your auditory fatigue will help you avoid the breakdowns of auditory overstimulation.
2. Take a deep breath
I know this sounds basic, but stopping what you are doing to take a few conscious deep breaths will serve as a reboot for your system and help you get grounded again. Sometimes using a visual, such as this clip from YouTube, is helpful to get you started.
3. Play “peek-a-boo”
When your child is a little older and can’t step away for a moment, you can use a co-regulation strategy by playing peek-a-boo.
Covering your eyes for five seconds will have a similar effect as rebooting your system while you take a brief mental break to recover from everything happening around you.
4. Know when you need to take a step back
As a parent, we all need to know when to call on our village.
If you notice that there are certain times of the day/week when you are becoming overstimulated, find a friend to walk with at that time, or if feasible, get a mother’s helper or babysitter for an hour or two to help you take the space you need to recover and go back to making sound judgments for yourself and your family.
5. Receive professional help
If you have tried the above but continue to struggle with auditory overstimulation and what to do now, consulting with an occupational therapist for additional strategies or a therapist to help identify underlying triggers may be helpful.