Just Needs Podcast: Episode 35

Managing overstimulation during the holidays

Let’s talk about overstimulation, especially during the holidays. All of our kids – no, wait. This one is about how to manage when the ADULTS get overstimulated. Here are 4 tips that have helped me a lot.

Narrated and written by Christina Kozik

Listen to Episode 35Visit podcast homepage

Christina Kozik:

Hello and welcome to Just Needs, a podcast where we talk about parenting children with disabilities. I’m your host, Christina Kozik, and let me just say I’m so glad you’re here. This podcast is a project of Exceptional Lives, a nonprofit organization that supports families like yours. You can learn more about Exceptional Lives at our website, www.exceptionallives.org.

Welcome back to our holiday survival series. This is the third episode in our five-episode series. You can catch them all on our website or by subscribing to this podcast.

Today I want to talk about overstimulation, especially during the holidays. 

Here’s the interesting part, though. This is about overstimulation for us parents. We are often aware of things that may upset our children, and we try to minimize those triggers for them. But what about us?

I don’t know about you, but I know for me, the holiday season is not just stressful, but it’s overstimulating. Now, I have ADHD and chronic migraines, so I know that I can get overstimulated easier than most, but it’s definitely not just me. 

I want you to think about yourself and really think about what happens when you’ve been running from one activity to another all day long while trying to keep small humans fed and happy. At some point during the day, do you just think to yourself, I need quiet? Or do you find yourself cranky or do you have a headache?

If so, you may be overstimulated. In today’s digital and fast-paced world, it’s so easy for us to get overstimulated. Studies have shown that digital use by itself can cause overstimulation. Now, add in a child asking for a snack while pulling on your sleeve, cartoons in the background, and that looming pile of laundry that just needs to be folded. Honestly, I’m getting worked up just describing that.

So how do you know if you’re getting overstimulated? Well, here are six signs to watch for. You feel anxious or restless, or you can’t stop worrying. You feel agitated or irritable. You are losing focus or having trouble focusing or concentrating. Have you ever had that experience of forgetting what you were doing the second you walked into another room?

Or maybe you find yourself extra sensitive to noises or textures or smells. You’re having difficulty relaxing or even sleeping. You may even experience headaches, eye pain, or digestive problems. For me, I usually get sensitive to noise first, then can become cranky and agitated, and if I’m still overstimulated, a lovely headache follows.

I can already hear you though. “But Christina, what can I do if I find myself in a situation where I’m overstimulated?” 

I want to share four tips with you that have helped me a lot.

Tip number one, know your triggers.

Now, if you’re new to thinking about this, these may take some work to figure out. You probably don’t know what your triggers are right away, but think back to a time when you felt anxious or irritated after interacting with others. 


This could have been with other adults or even your kids. What was going on? Was there loud music or kids screaming and shouting? Was there strong smells like perfume or stinky kids?

I know loud noises and bright lights are two of my triggers, so this makes going to my son’s basketball games hard. I almost always walk out with a headache, but because I know my triggers, I can wear my earbuds and play brown noise at a low volume to help me stay grounded and regulated. It muffles the loud squeaking of shoes and the shouting from the coaches enough that I can watch the game and be there for my son.

Tip number two, set boundaries. 

This one is hard, and it’s one I’m constantly working on myself. Saying no and not over-committing yourself is the best thing you can do if you get overstimulated, especially during the holiday season. 

There’s always one more thing we feel we need to take our kids to or to be a part of, but if you’re overstimulated and snappy with your family and not able to enjoy the moment, is it really worth it?

This year, my husband and I picked three things we knew we absolutely wanted to do as a family to celebrate the holidays. Anything else that comes up is only a yes if it doesn’t require us to make it fit into our schedule, and y’all, setting those boundaries has already made this holiday season less overwhelming and more enjoyable.

Tip number three, focus on your body. 

Y’all, this is a big one. Are you watering and feeding yourself? Are you getting sunshine? When you’re thirsty or hungry, it’s really hard to focus, and I’m sure you see it in your kids all the time. They’re upset and crying and melting down, but as soon as they have a snack, they become a completely different child.

You are the same. So focus on your body, especially before going into a situation that may be overstimulating. My son and I always have a snack on the way to his basketball game or practice, and I always make sure I have water for myself during the game. Because of this, I’m less likely to get hangry and cranky if I do get overstimulated.

Tip number four is prioritize sleep. 

This is another tip that I’m always working on myself. It’s so easy for us to put off going to sleep because once everyone is asleep, it’s quiet and you can finally do whatever you want. But studies show that when we don’t get enough sleep, we’re not allowing our bodies to do the restorative work that it needs to do.

Now, here’s the tricky part. Being overstimulated can actually affect your sleep, so going back to setting boundaries, set a sleep time routine for yourself with consistent bedtimes and wake-up times and avoid devices before bed. When we have a good restful sleep, we can start the day less stressed and ready for whatever may come our way.

Again, thanks for listening to this series. I hope it helps you this holiday season and throughout the year. Please subscribe and follow the podcast at our website, www.exceptionallives.org/justneedspodcast. We’d love for you to follow us on Facebook and Instagram at Exceptional Lives.

This podcast was written and presented by me, Christina Kozik, for Exceptional Lives. Our website, www.exceptionallives.org also has blogs, guides, upcoming events, and a resource directory for Massachusetts and Louisiana.

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Click to play Just Needs Podcast: Parenting children with disabilities episode 35 on Buzzsprout.