When you’re highly sensitive, being a mom can sharpen your sensitivities. After all, kids are loud and boisterous and messy. Which can be uncomfortable and overwhelming, making the desire to retreat somewhere quiet even more acute and urgent.
But, of course, retreating isn’t exactly possible when you’re a parent. In general, when you’ve got kids, there’s very little alone time. And, of course, alone time is vital for highly sensitive people (HSPs) in order to recover and recharge. We are already overstimulated.
You also constantly feel like you’re short on time, and there’s always sooo much to do, which rattles you. You feel your child’s pain along with a range of their roller coaster emotions. It feels like the sleep deprivation just might destroy you. You find yourself utterly exhausted, both from the emotional and the physical overwhelm. Maybe you shut down. Maybe you cocoon. You yearn to crawl back to bed and put the covers over your head, and stay there.
Psychologist and highly sensitive mom of three Karin Monster-Peters, Psy.D, can relate. As she said, she’s gone through it all. “I was so exhausted with having two children only 14 months apart who weren’t sleeping that my body just gave out. I couldn’t even lift my arms to pick up my crying baby. I developed an extreme sleep disorder, which then led to fibromyalgia.”
Monster-Peters also had an “existential crisis”—sparking questions such as “who am I? why me?”—which made her realize that she needed space to connect to the other parts of her identity. She hired a nanny and reopened her private practice, where she specializes in working with highly sensitive individuals and parents.
Maybe you, too, need to make major changes to reconnect to yourself and feel less frazzled. Or maybe you’d like to make tweaks in how you care for yourself. Either way, the below tips may help.
Honor your tendencies. Figure out what works best for you (and what doesn’t work, and tends to lead to burnout). Figure out what’s most important to you. Figure out your boundaries and protect them. Try not to compare yourself to other moms and how they do things.
For instance, as Rebecca Eanes, an author and highly sensitive mom to two boys, writes: “I just can’t be the mom who plans big parties and has my kid involved in every single sport and extracurricular out there. There have to be blank days on the calendar for cozying around the house. These free days are essential for allowing my nervous system to rest and recharge.”
Maybe you, too, include big blocks of free time in your schedule. Maybe you get your groceries delivered. Maybe you’re very selective about the invitations you accept. Maybe you decide to work part-time, and put your child in daycare. In short, do what honors you and helps you build a strong bond with your kids.
Prioritize soothing activities. Monster-Peters gets up early so she can practice yoga and meditation. She also goes to bed early to make sure her “body has enough processing time.”
“Sleep and movement are the two main ways that the [highly sensitive person] gives their body space to process all the stimuli that comes in all the time.” What types of movement do you enjoy? Maybe you love to dance or walk or run or use weights or take kickboxing classes. Again, pick physical activities that you genuinely like.
Incorporate tiny acts of self-care. Add bits of relaxation, comfort and calm into your life. Every few minutes, take several deep, slow breaths. Light a lavender candle. Put your favorite essential oil in a diffuser. Have classical music playing in the background. Get outside by yourself and with your kids as much as possible. Brainstorm small ways you can soothe your nerves (and your soul) throughout the day.
Create routines. Monster-Peters has created various routines that support her needs. For instance, she does her deep work in the mornings, a time when her “body is ‘empty’ of stimuli.” In the afternoons, when her “brain is fried,” she tackles other responsibilities, such as grocery shopping and cooking. What kinds of routines can you create that nurture your needs, that nurture you?
Create a community of support. Monster-Peters has worked with many women who are absolutely exhausted because they don’t have help. She stressed the importance of accepting help even if it doesn’t look like you want it to. “I had a client whose parents wanted to help with [her] girls, but because she had issues with her parents, she wouldn’t accept it. She ended up crashing massively.”
If you have a partner, communicate your needs clearly, and talk about how you can navigate parenthood together, Monster-Peters said. If you can’t afford help, try a babysitting trade schedule or playdates to get a break, she said.
When we honor our sensitivities, and take compassionate care of ourselves, we feel fulfilled and less stressed. We have the emotional and physical energy and mental space to listen, show up and deeply connect with our kids. In short, we are able to get what we need, and our kids are able to get what they need from us.