Even through the thick walls of our brick home, I heard it.
Screaming coming from outside.
Lots of screaming from more than one child.
We live in the sticks so there are any number of dangers… snakes and wild boars for starters.
I jumped up from my chair started running outside where the kids were. It felt like my heart dropped out of my chest as soon as the screaming started. It was like my entire body kicked into overdrive.
I was nervous, anxious, and angry all jumbled together. Hoping something terrible hadn’t happened, but also knowing that kids just scream. You know… because they’re kids.
So why do I get all worked up when my kids scream?
It’s honestly one of the biggest struggles of my role as a mother. Listening to all the dadgum screaming. Screams, squeals, high pitched yells.
They make me want to bang my head against a wall.
Is there something wrong with me that hearing my kids scream makes me want to scream back at them or the sky or an unsuspecting passerby?
Well, turns out… I’m not crazy.
Our bodies have a physiological response to screaming. Our heart races then drops. Our blood pressure skyrockets. Our brain signals the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. We become instantly on edge. The hormonal surge also causes our heart to pump blood more forcefully to our muscles and we get shaky.
Interestingly enough… screams also trigger our brain’s fear center and alarm circuit. And, the rougher (or louder and more severe) the scream, the greater the fear response.
So when we hear our children scream, our body is on alert. This is a mother’s innate response to make sure our children aren’t in danger or, if they are, to rescue them. We are hard-wired to respond to our children’s noises.
It only took me milliseconds to jump up and start running outside when I heard their screams.
And it is an amazing thing…
Unless my children are screaming for no good reason.
Which they usually are. All day long.
Every single stinking day.
At the end of the day, my body feels like I’ve been through the ringer. And, with 5 kids aged 6 and under, I have. There are many daily situations that cause my body to respond in dramatic ways.
- My baby cries impatiently as I’m preparing his food… my heart races and my palms sweat. I move as fast as I possibly can because his crying is like a knife to my brain.
- My 2-year-old takes a plastic toy car from my 3-year-old so he retaliates by hitting then they both start screaming and my body reacts instantly and dramatically like I was slapped. I want to let them sort out their own problems, but if I let them scream any longer my head will explode.
- I’m resting on the soft couch reading a book for 5 seconds and I hear a BOOM. My body shoots upright and before I even hear a cry from down the hall and I’ve gone into fight or flight.
I’ll admit it…
I feel completely worn out by the end of the day. I’m not so offensive I’d compare myself to a soldier in a war zone, but in my own way, our home is a toddler and preschooler battleground. I’m in a hyper-vigilant scanning-for-danger state from morning to night. Except no one is really injured and I don’t actually need my fight or flight responses so, honestly, my body and brain are confused.
At 8:30 p.m. my body is saying, “I’m so exhausted and I feel like I haven’t slept in 3 years and I think my brain cells are dead and I am Past The Point.”
At 8:30 p.m. my mind is saying, “What is wrong with you? You didn’t even leave the house or put on real clothes, you should feel fine.”
This is why moms are so dadgum tired.
Taking care of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers is like having heart attacks, hypoglycemic attacks, and lion attacks all day long.
To the brain, anyway.
This isn’t a complaint. It’s not a “woe is me.” It’s a simple observation about why I am completely exhausted by 9 p.m. each night, even if I haven’t “done anything.” I love being a mom more than I’ve ever loved anything in my whole life. But
some most days, my brain is mush.
How to Calm Your Fight Or Flight Response Quickly
Living in a hot zone, it’s important for our sanity we learn how to calm our fight or flight response. If we live in overdrive we’ll become angry moms. As a highly sensitive person, I can’t live in this high stress state all day without becoming irritable and frustrated.
I’ve got to manage my stress response to screams, loud noises, and constant background chatter and here are some easy ways to do that.
- Take a deep breath. When you hear screams, shouting, or loud noises that trigger fight-or-flight, stop and breathe deeply. This will help lower your heart rate and blood pressure and stop the progression of your physiological response.
- Hot or cold. Ever noticed how stressed people in movies stick their head in the freezer? When we’re in fight or flight our body has taken over our mind and it’s simply reacting. Hot or cold sensations help bring you back. Hold a hot or cold beverage or suck on ice (like you did in labor).
- Physical Movement. Do some jumping jacks, sit ups, or run in place for a few minutes. That physical intensity will wear you out and help you get back in touch with your body.
So here’s what happened…
I ran through our house like a cheetah. Leaping over toys, baskets, and LEGO threatening to slow me down. The screams got louder and louder as I got closer, and when I got to the screen door I threw it open so hard it slammed against the wall.
I felt like I’d never moved so fast in my life, running to save my children in peril… and then I saw it. Saw them, actually.
Screaming. Squealing. Laughing.
They were happy.
My children, who apparently give me PTSD symptoms just because they’re alive, were happy. They weren’t scared, injured, or giving warning screams. They were happy screams. They were all muddy and wet and gross. And happy.
It stopped me in my tracks and for a minute I just stood there. Looking at them all sweet and innocent and childlike. I sighed dramatically (which helped lower my heart rate) and then turned around and went back inside.
Next time they scream I’ll ignore them, I told myself. Next time I’ll just take a deep breath and I won’t react like a crazed lioness defending her cub from hyenas.
But my brain might.
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