An Epiphany thought: overstimulation

Don’t you love Epiphany? It’s a season that allows Christmas to sink in; it allows us to reflect on Christ’s love, the Love that deigned to come to us as a babe in the manger. We have a time of grace to begin to contemplate how this love is for us and for the whole world.

New Year’s resolutions actually fit into this season, I think. The light grows and we have a new energy and are bolstered and emboldened with the knowledge that God has come to redeem us. It’s a good time to take stock and try to make new habits.


We didn’t used to call it overstimulation back when I was young, but when I recently saw something about this idea for moms, I reflected on how, as a young woman definitely fighting through to a quieter situation, I developed some strategies to address just that issue, of needing to be calmer so that I could think!

Some circumstances make thinking harder. There are habits we lack that can make life seem disorganized and draining. And our bad habits express themselves as “being in a bad mood” or “snapping at our loved ones” and it’s probably a good idea not to find excuses for those things (as what I read, the silly post that prompted this probably silly post, was basically trying to do), but to confront them.

Over the years that I’ve been writing here, I have definitely mentioned many of my strategies, but as we are in the glow of a new year with all its promise, I thought I’d collect them in one place under this rubric of “making things less overstimulating” in hopes of alerting you to them as well, since that’s the way people are talking about the whole subject at the moment. (Also, p.s., I wrote three volumes about it all! You can use your Christmas money to get The Summa Domestica and know more about it!)

It’s also fashionable to talk about triggers — I am here for it!


Let’s have a list! A random list of things to tackle, triggers to confront, and habits to make or break:

Dust — somewhere along the way, dusting got to be treated like an old-fashioned activity that can certainly be dispensed with in order to simplify, but dusty things are overstimulating. One approach is to have fewer things. This is a matter of the situation. We may indeed have too many things, but even if we have only a few, those few need to be wiped down occasionally, as does the surface they sit on and even, yes, the baseboards below.

Wrinkles — ironing is like dusting, so passé, but wrinkled clothing feels like we look terrible and have nothing to wear, which in turn leads to buying more clothes, which is overstimulating because having lots of clothes creates many issues (discussed here). So making ironing things a part of our routine can help create a calmer environment by reconciling us to the clothes we already have.

Plastic bags — don’t leave anything in your house in a plastic shopping bag if you can help it. Depending on where you live (because I know in some places they have gotten rid of them completely), you may be more or less susceptible to this form of stimulation, but if it’s a factor, do your best to eliminate it.

A plastic bag looks like a bag of trash, so your vision is being challenged in that way. It makes an unpleasant crinkly noise, affecting your hearing. It sets up a static-electricity field that adds a level of unpleasant response to your touch. And yet, often we just leave things in their bags, on our counters, tables, chairs, and floors.

I long ago decided to adopt the habit of taking things right out of the bag as soon as possible and putting the receipt (also unpleasant and even chemically stimulating — handle them as little as possible and then wash your hands) where it should go (throw away or file). I am fine with the items then being loose on the kitchen table or stairs while they await their final destination.

The exception is if you are returning something. It’s so irritating to have that plastic bag lying around that the return happens faster, but I like to get it back into the car as soon as possible.

Unnecessary print — eliminate it from clothing, household items, decorations. Your brain reads words and can’t not read them. If things are emblazoned with words, you will be reading them unconsciously all day long. EAT EAT EAT — do we really need to be saying this to ourselves while we are in the kitchen? MOMMY’S LITTLE GIRL — does that need to be in our heads just because we happen to look at this child, who is indeed our little girl? COFFEE COOKIES PITCHER MILK– I knew this trend of having every dish stamped with its function was not for me. Think about pillows, towels, signs, blankets… it will be better for them not to have words on them. It even takes mental effort to keep these things from stimulating us — a part of our brain has to work at not focusing on words it doesn’t want to worry about… similar to…

Background music and noise — it’s bad enough that stores have it. At home and in the car, let’s have silence or something we really mean to listen to. It takes a mental effort to shut down the part of our brain that listens, which we have to do if we are going to think our thoughts or listen to a conversation instead. If we are wondering why it grates on our nerves to have a child or spouse say something to us, the answer may lie in all the other noise that we are unconsciously dealing with.

Our machines are constantly humming and even beeping. It’s worth it to me to seek out a toaster/microwave/oven that doesn’t constantly beep (the worst was when I had an oven that played a little tune when it preheated, and the best gift my son ever gave me was disabling that satanic thing). Have some awareness and maybe put some of these things in another room or run them when you are not there, if possible.

It goes without saying that there should not be any device on your body that is beeping or otherwise alerting you to anything. That apple watch may be actually driving you insane; is it worth it…

Having to think through things that should be routine — hence my “taking a shower” post and also my advice to clean a room in the same direction every time. These aren’t arbitrary rules to torment you. On the contrary! They are attempts to lift the decision-weights off our own shoulders.

Make the decision once and then embed it in a habit.

Advice from those less experienced than they should be, if they are going to be giving advice. Lots of advice sounds good, but consider the source. If someone has only young children, should you expend mental energy on their childrearing advice? homeschooling advice? marriage advice? What happens is that we end up discounting our own experience and trying to implement untested ideas. This is overstimulating and sorting through it all takes up a lot of time.

Lights — LEDs emit blue lights that overstimulate. CFLs actually hum* and their light is terrible. Do your best to replace bulbs in your living area with incandescents. Consider using candlelight or oil lamps (at least for the period after dinner, before bed) until the rest of the country comes to their senses on this topic and allows for free manufacture of incandescents. You’re overstimulated and your kids are super overstimulated — could it be the lights?

*I went to do a search to check this bold statement and the first result was “no they don’t hum any more because of the electronic ballast” and the second result was “why your CFLs hum” haha…

Oh there is a much longer list of things that overstimulate me, having to do with making sure my tights are comfortable and my clothing in general doesn’t ride up, twist, require constant adjustment, or otherwise call my attention; making sure I’m warm in winter; putting mats at the door so I’m not battling extra dirt for no reason…

But you get the idea. Identify what is winding you up and see if you can do something about it — for the sake of your poor family, who are just not sure why you are at your rope’s end!


bits & pieces


from the archives


liturgical living

Epiphany richness

St. Raymond of Peñafort (and encouragement for continuing the celebration of Christmas/Epiphany!)


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