Ep 57: Are You Mad Or Are You Overstimulated?

As mothers, we often mistake our feelings of sensory overload for anger. We’re peeling back the layers on this misunderstood emotion, exploring how overstimulation can trigger our fight, flight or freeze responses, and looking at how this can leave us feeling overwhelmed. Let’s face it, our nervous systems can take a real beating in the whirlwind of motherhood.

We dive into the importance of recognizing our triggers, setting healthy boundaries, and taking crucial steps to nurture our battered nervous systems when overstimulation hits. This journey of self-discovery equips us with tools to handle our children’s devices and activities when we’re at our limit, and teaches us to shift from self-blame to self-care.

This Episode is For You If: 

  • You find yourself losing your temper with your kids over minor incidents
  • You feel an intense desire to sit in a quiet hotel room all by yourself for a break
  • You find yourself overwhelmed while doing everyday tasks
  • You lie in bed at night, exhausted from the day, but unable to switch off your active, noisy brain

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Listen to the Full Episode:

Full Transcript:
 Welcome to the Mom On Purpose Podcast. I’m Lara Johnson and I’m here to teach you how to get out of your funk, be in a better mood, and play more with your kids. Manage your home better. Get your to-do list done and live your life on purpose with my proven method. This is possible for you, and I’ll show you how. You’re not alone anymore. We’re in this together. Hello, hello, can I tell you something really sad? I just recorded this whole episode. It didn’t save it. So, we are going to trust in the universe, because isn’t that what we learned in book club? That the universe has our back. So, for whatever reason, something in that last one was not to be shared, and I’m really sad about that because I felt like it was a really good episode. But we’re actually going to talk about this again because it’s such an important topic and it’s one that I really love to talk about. So, a while ago I saw this Facebook post and it was widely shared and I even had a couple of my clients bring it up to me and it basically said moms aren’t mad, they’re overstimulated. And it was such a great thing to call out, because I don’t think it gets enough airtime because moms are so busy shaming themselves over when they get mad and in reality, I would probably say 95% of the moms are just overstimulated. So, I wanted to talk about the difference between these two again. The universe must be wanting me to know this for sure today. But I do want to share this with you because I want you to be able to take full responsibility for yourself and where you’re at, but being able to understand the opposite of anger, or just being able to understand that there is an alternative to the anger that you could be feeling and that gives you more compassion and understanding towards the way that your brain and body works. So you’ll know, this episode is for you is if you find yourself losing it at your kids, if they spill something while you’re cooking dinner, or they’re sitting at the counter for lunch, or just they come in to fix themselves a snack and suddenly they dump the gallon of milk over and you just find yourself losing it, even though milk can be easily cleaned up and you know that. Or if you find yourself tripping over a toy and suddenly, when you trip over that toy, you feel like you have to pick it up and throw it across the room. It’s not good enough just to pick it up, you have to throw it. Also, if your dog or cat throws up and suddenly, while you’re cleaning up the throw up, you start yelling at everybody this is not my dog, this was your dog and you told me that you would help clean it up. You’ll also know this episode is for you if you get in bed at night and you close your eyes, so exhausted from the day, and your brain won’t stop. It’s so noisy, thinking about things all day long and you just wish you could make it stop. Or if you have this intense desire to sit in a quiet hotel room all by yourself and never leave. I laugh a little bit because that’s actually my most favorite vacation at this one. Or when I get to go to a hotel room and sit in the quiet and never leave. So I share all of this with you because these are all experiences that we have as moms, and I’ve seen so many moms shame themselves and say, oh my gosh, I should be better, I shouldn’t be doing this, and then they start to spiral out when, in reality, all of those things that I shared are just symptoms that you are overstimulated, not that you’re angry. So, let’s first talk about the difference between what is anger and what is overstimulation. So, when I’m looking at anger, anger is something that feels more like it has a starting point. The results are really good. I’ll show them later. A to Someone says something to you in passing it might be a friend or a sister-in-law or a co-worker, or even your, your spouse where suddenly it like flickers something inside of you where you’re offended, or it felt rude or disrespectful and you get frustrated. And then you start having these like imaginary Conversations of all the things you want to say back to them. You wanted and you just are mad about it. Okay, so a couple things. Like I mentioned, there’s usually like a start point. It’ll usually start like in your headfirst. Even if you don’t realize, it starts in your head. There will be like that starting point or something triggers the anger. It could be someone or something, and so when you get to that point, it’s important to process the emotion, not just, you know, shove it away. So, we’ll come back to that. Unlike what it means to process the emotion, but when we’re talking about over stimulation, it has a similar flavor to anger, but it’s important to recognize that these are very different. So, when you’re looking at the word Stimulate, let’s start there. So, when you’re looking at the word over-stimulate, that means that your physiological and mental levels of activity have increased to an excessive degree, like off the charts. So, everybody’s body is built with these biological needs for survival. You’ve probably heard them called Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You need the food, the water, the shelter, all of those things in order to survive. But we live in a very sensory, loud world and the sensory of the world around us can cause our Physiological or like the, what makes up our body. It can increase that activity in our body to an excessive level when you are unable to process what is coming into your body fast enough. It’s like a traffic jam inside of you and you’ll feel that okay, where suddenly you’ve maxed your threshold and you no longer can behave logically. What is happening at this point is that you have reached your fight, flight or freeze response. Your body cannot process all of the input and you go back to your basic survival instincts. Now what’s interesting about this is that we can see this happening in real time. Your body goes back to these basic needs and then it’s very easy to shame ourselves on like this as a child, they just spilled milk. Why am I yelling at them? So, it feels very much like this out of body experience at times. Okay, so what is happening is you’re again overstimulated and your physiological and nervous activity in your body has reached max capacity. So, you no longer behave logically, you go back to those survival instincts. So, when this starts to happen, it’s important to recognize your signs and your symptoms so that you know which tools to use in order to either process anger or to heal your nervous system and have nervous system care. So, when we’re looking at over stimulation, there’s kind of three phases that happen. There’s the over stimulation, where you’ve reached the max and you’re exploding. Everywhere there’s. You’re getting close to the threshold, and you can feel yourself like Simmering at the top a little bit. And then there’s under the threshold, where your nervous system is well cared for. So, we’re going to talk about these three phases, but as we do, I want you to keep in mind that Everybody’s threshold will look very different to them. There is no right or wrong threshold. There is just Thresholds that are, like everybody’s body is built so different. So, a good way to think about this is like some people are really great at math, some people are really great at art and some people are really great at talking to people, and you can be all of those things. But I’m just using that as an example that None of those things mean one person’s smarter than the other. They just exist. There are different skill sets, there are different ways that the body and the mind work. It’s the same thing with your threshold, with the way your nervous system reacts to things. So, imagine for just a second, a blender and someone’s blender. It may hold eight cups of liquid before you turn it on without the lid on and it just explodes all over the kitchen. Someone else might have a blender that can hold one or two cups, and being able to know and understand the capacity of your brain and your body allows you to use thought work to your benefit, so that you are working with your body and not against your body. And I’ve made this mistake before and I’ll share some experiences about that in just a second. So, let’s go back to our three phases, overstimulation, reaching close to threshold and then under threshold. So, when we’re looking at this, I want you to think about this for yourself, on your symptoms of when you’ve become overstimulated. For me, I know I’m overstimulated when something happens and my immediate reaction is to grab something and chuck it across the room, like I always know the second. I have that desire. I know that I have completely gone over. I’m overstimulated, I’ve reached my capacity. My blender turned on and I spewed all over the kitchen because I didn’t have my lid on. I even blew my lid off, probably. So, for me that’s a sign of overstimulation. Another one is I have a temper. I can yell very loud, and in the past, I remember yelling so loud that my voice was hoarse, and I hate thinking back to those times because I was in such an unhealthy mental space. But I kept thinking, like, what is wrong with me? Like why can’t I be more patient than you know, as all these other moms seem to be? And I realized now that I was overstimulated in so many areas of my life and so my nervous system was acting out and I was behaving illogically, even though I wanted to change my behaviors. So, I want you just to consider that for yourself. What are your signs or your symptoms when you are overstimulated? Okay, so the next one is when you’re reaching threshold. Now I know I’m getting close to the threshold, when I start getting really snippy, where someone will ask me a question and it might be a simple question, but I’m a lot blunter than I normally am. I’m pretty honest person, I’ll just say that. But it has a little bit of an edge to it, and I’ll get more naggy with the people that I love, and I find that when I go out, I’m kind of a little grumblier and I’ll just have like a lot of grumbles under my breath at the grocery store or like, oh, I can’t believe they’re out of this again. They never have this, and it just is a different level of talk that happens within my brain when I’m getting close to the threshold and when I’m under my threshold. I am a very jovial person. I am a person that can have fun and laugh, and I’m really create. This is where my best like creativity in my parenting comes in, where if my kids don’t want to do something, I can have humor with it, and so it looks very different to parent these. So, I want you to consider that for yourself. What are your signs and symptoms of when you’re overstimulated, when you’re reaching your threshold and when you’re under your threshold? And the other thing I would say, as you’re considering this, is recognize that your threshold, your capacity, can fluctuate based on where you’re at in your menstrual cycle. It can fluctuate based on how much sleep you’ve had, what transitioning you’re going through in your life. I know right now I’m at a very tender threshold, we’ll call it. We’ve got a lot of big transitions that are happening in our life and so I’ve just been gentler with myself and built in more time. I know if I’m already at kind of that threshold or getting close to it, it’s not the time for me to over schedule myself with girls’ nights out or lunch dates or kid appointments or volunteering at the school or client calls, you know, whatever that is. That’s more my time where I need to practice some nervous system self-care and maybe reschedule a couple appointments that can be rescheduled. So, a couple things to consider for yourself. With those phases Now, when you are getting to this spot where you are at your threshold, there’s a couple things that you can do. So, the first is to focus on healing your nervous system and I want you to consider this if you were bleeding, like, say, you accidentally cut yourself, you were gushing blood all over the floor what would you do? Probably get it wrapped up, probably go to the emergency room. Even if you had people over, even if you had an appointment to be at, you would call and you would reschedule those things when you are overstimulated. I want you to think about it and treat it like you would if you were gushing blood. Your nervous system doesn’t have blood to gush, but it will still spew out, and it is as essential for you to reschedule things when you are overstimulated as it is when you are bleeding, and you might need a couple stitches in your finger or something. So, I want you just to consider that for yourself, because we will use thought work against ourselves. I did it for so long that, like, my brain is so powerful that I fought against my body. The second, I let go of that fight and I learned what my threshold was and how to work with my nervous system and with my body. Suddenly, that’s where I got the most out of thought work and that’s what I want for you. And so really think about this for yourself. Treat your nervous system care as important as you would if your finger was bleeding and you needed to go get it stitched. Okay, so the first thing is to heal your nervous system Now. Over time, it will be living underneath that threshold. That takes time, but when you are overstimulated, one of the best things you can do is remove the sensory inputs. That might be removing your place, removing yourself from wherever you’re at. It might be communicating with people in your life that you need to remove yourself. It might be turning off all of the sounds and sitting in a dark place. It might be turning lights off so it’s not so bright to your body. Whatever it is, I want you to really focus on creating a safe environment for your nervous system. Now, over time, as I’ve practiced this, my kids are more aware. They are a little bit older, but I started this with them when they were very young and there were times where they would have to sit outside of the bathroom door with a book or with a toy while I was taking care of my nervous system so that I could return Healed. Okay, so that’s the first thing. The second thing is to start learning what your overstimulation triggers are. I will always know that when I am cooking, I will already be at my threshold. Cooking is very stressful to me. I am not a great cook. I would much prefer baking something, and there’s all the steps and the multiple things that have to happen. Executive functioning wise, it doesn’t really work for my brain, and so it becomes very challenging, as I’m like thinking and reading through the ingredients and trying to measure them out and cooking things at the same time, and then you throw kids into that mix and it’s like I’m gone. I am overstimulated. The second one of them breathes in my direction while I’m cooking. Okay, so one of the biggest things that I do for my nervous system care is I schedule electronic time. Here are the kids’ devices. Sit down right here. Here are some vegetables. You can sit and eat this, so you’re not asking me about being hungry while I’m trying to cook. It lowers the number of people that are talking to me so that I can focus on what I need to while keeping myself under that threshold. The other thing that I noticed that I have to do a lot is to send my kids to different locations in the house. There are certain times of day or however long I’ve been with them. I know that I kind of have this max like three-to-four-hour window where I’m going to need to take care of my nervous system. When all my children are in the house. Especially like I’ve got one that loves to make these very squeaky, loud noises, and I think this child is like an energy release for them, but whole my nervous system it’s like a hit every time. And so, we always say, oh, you can make those noises all you want down in your room or all you want outside, and so what we’re doing is I’m recognizing my trigger there and creating some healthy boundaries to assist with my nervous system care around that trigger. The last thing I’ll mention is that you’ve got to create very healthy boundaries around your nervous system. There are some places that, for my nervous system, I just can’t go. I would probably, if I were to go, get tested. It would be like sensory processing disorder. I can walk into an arcade and feel like I’m going to throw up within five minutes. I just can’t go to arcades anymore. That is a boundary I’ve had to create for my nervous system. You know that’s just an example, but I want you to think about that for yourself. There are certain things that I can’t eat, or I will start gagging uncontrollably. It’s very embarrassing at nice restaurants when I’ve tried to like use that work against my body and it’s just the way my body works. And you know, even traveling like there’s very specific boundaries that I put around my time when I’m traveling so that I build in that nervous system care which allows me and my family to have a better experience on a trip. So, I want all of that to you know. Just come back to say that when you’re thinking about your nervous system care, it’s important to first heal it, it’s important to recognize the triggers of it and it’s important to create boundaries so that you can create some helpful tools for you to ensure your success with your nervous system and stay below that threshold. So, there you go. I want you to really consider this for yourself. This is a big topic. Are you mad or are you overstimulated? If you’re overstimulated, help. This episode was helpful for you. Have a wonderful week, friend. Thank you for listening. Please share, review, and subscribe to this podcast so that together we can live life on purpose.

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