The Overstimulated Adult
A parade of flashing lights and sounds bombarded us as I opened the door to the children’s entertainment center, Chuck-E-Cheese. The families in front of us had formed a line, patiently waiting to put money on a card so that their children could play games.
My eye began to twitch a little, and I could feel a headache developing.
My then three-year-old was thrilled and transfixed by all that lay before his sweet little eyes. My almost one-year-old didn’t have a clue how we had gone from the snowy outdoors to this barrage of overstimulation. I quickly realized this was more overwhelming than I had expected or remembered as a child.
The climbing gym and ball pit no longer existed for children to climb, run, jump, and play. There was no longer a stage where characters would come out performing and singing together.
Instead, the climbing gym had been replaced with more games that had flashing lights and sounds, and the stage characters had been exchanged for large televisions blasting music and dancing characters on screen.
As we stood in line, I now felt the nausea setting in with my quickly developing headache. I thought back to the time when I had had a concussion and remembered how difficult it was to look at any light or focus in a crowd. The overstimulated environment put me back to that spot, but this time it wasn’t due to a concussion. My brain was simply trying to catch up to everything my senses were taking in.
As much as I wanted to turn around and head back out the door, I was committed. We had made the 45-minute drive, and I didn’t want to try to explain to a three-year-old why we had to leave and then try to figure out where else to go (I’m sure many moms can relate to this). I figured staying for an hour would be reasonable, and I’d survive.
After playing several games, my husband was soon able to meet up with us to join in on the “fun”. My son’s excitement failed to dissipate as he traveled from station to station, trying out the different games. He was all too excited to show his dad what he had discovered.
We sat down for pizza together, and that seemed to help my headache. My eye had also stopped twitching. But even while seated, we couldn’t escape the call of the games and televisions beckoning us for more of our attention and time.
I stayed put.
My daughter and I hung out at the table long after we finished our pizza. Thankfully, my husband gladly took our son back around to play a couple more games before we headed back out into the snowy weather. Suddenly, my mind had to adjust from the barrage of lights and sounds to the quietness of heavy snow falling. I went through the routine of buckling my kids in the car, and I could feel my brain and body slowly coming back to a state of normalcy.
While we haven’t gone back to Chuck-E-Cheese in a year, that memory has been a jolting reminder of how overstimulation can affect the body and mind. In our culture, we’re often so bombarded by the overstimulation of screens in almost every environment. It’s normalized, and we often don’t even recognize the need to have these stimuli in our lives until we’re in a place where we don’t have it (Yikes).
And then, there’s the added pressure and speed in which our culture moves. The world travels at such a fast pace that it’s easy to fall into the trap of putting unrealistic expectations on ourselves or allowing others to dictate what we should or shouldn’t be putting into our lives.
I consider myself primarily a stay-at-home, and even still, I felt my mornings slipping into a place of busyness by adding just one more thing to my “to-do” list. I didn’t even have to leave my home or our quiet rural neighborhood, and yet this lie had baited me.
Unlike the immediate barrage of the overstimulated Chuck-E-Cheese environment, this type of bombardment was slow, subtle, and crept into our home until I couldn’t pin-point exactly where it started or how it had gotten so overwhelming.
As I tried to get more done each morning, I was spending less time with my kids, plopping them in front of the television, and pushing them to play nicely together while I finished up just one more thing. They wanted more of their mom in those morning hours, and I would only zoom in and out to give a quick kiss or quickly separate them in a toy battle without actually dealing with the heart of the matter.
More battles were sneaking into our morning routine. Morning transitions were becoming extremely difficult for my four-year-old. As we transitioned from T.V. to playtime, playtime to reading, reading to getting out the door, and so on, the meltdowns ensued. As a parent, I realize this is normal for a 4-year-old to have meltdowns, to challenge and push the boundaries, but something was stirring in my heart that we needed a change.
Even after I had gotten my “to-do” list done for the morning, I still found myself escaping into e-mails or checking “events” we could attend on my phone. I would read articles, pay a bill, or check out books that I’d want to read, all the while justifying it as “getting things done”. My quality time kept getting pushed aside and I was piling on more and more distractions that took me away from actually addressing the heart issues in myself and my children.
I soon found myself saying “no”, “I have to get this done”, or “maybe later” more often than I wanted. My children understand that there are certain parts of our day where mom needs to get things done, but that part of my day was taking up more and more chunks of time.
I was beyond frustrated, as I was putting too much pressure on my children to behave a certain way and play a certain way while I “got things done”. As my children acted out, I was triggered. It interrupted MY time (cringe). Frustration turned to anger and anger turned to lashing-out at them for the pressure I was putting on myself to uphold an impossible standard.
I was becoming the overstimulated adult.
Somewhere along the line, I had bought into the lie that if I was achieving enough, doing enough, and having something to show for my mornings, then I would feel complete and accomplished. But in actively doing so much, and overstimulating my mornings with more and more, I was actually taking away from what I really needed- those heart connections with my kids.
My son wanted more time to play Legos with his mom.
My daughter wanted me to read her story.
Both of my kids wanted me to play hide-and-go-seek.
And both of them wanted to “help” mom by doing some chores, but I was too busy.
We’ve slowly been making changes to get back to our slow mornings. In early January, I cut out coffee (which can be overstimulating in itself) for 21 days. I also spent time without television in my afternoons to sleep, pray, read in God’s Word, or literally just do nothing. It was a jarring reality of what I had been filling my day with, and it brought me back to a place of relying more on God in my day rather than the stimuli in my environment to escape, find worth, or peace.
We’ve been doing more playtime, coloring, and reading together. After the 21 days in January, I’ve been sticking to turning off my Wi-Fi unless I’m actively using my phone. I stay logged out of social media apps. I’ve even gotten into a better routine of just logging on every couple of days instead of multiple times a day; surprisingly, that’s been easier than I thought.
I’m still doing the dishes and prepping for dinner in the mornings, but now with more pauses and breaks. I’ve had to accept that it’s okay that I’m not getting it all done in the morning. The rest of the day won’t fall apart because there are dishes in the sink. And I’m thankful my husband is happy to help if I let him… sometimes, I just need to let him.
As the Lenten season begins this week, and we reflect on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, I will be focused on prayer and sticking to those quiet mornings.
I need to continually be praying for…
- Less stimulation
- Making and sticking to quieter mornings
- Choosing quality time
- Ways to incorporate my kids into what I’m doing
- More time in prayer over my husband and children
- Becoming more like Jesus in how I love my husband, kids, and others
Have you ever felt overstimulated? If so, what did you do to combat overstimulation?
Do you practice Lent? If so, what will you be focusing on in this season?
Or, if you don’t practice Lent, have you ever given anything up for an extended amount of time? What did you realize about yourself or others?
One of the books that we started reading together during this season of Lent is by Kids Read Truth titled, “This is the Gospel”. I purchased this book after seeing the recommendation from Jackie Hill Perry. If you haven’t read her book, “Gay Girl, Good God”, I highly suggest checking that one out too!
Here are some snapshots from “This is the Gospel”. This is a great book for preschoolers through elementary school-aged children. It gives references from scripture as it tells God’s story of love and redemption through Jesus in a way that little hearts and minds can understand.