“Stress is like spice – in the right proportion it enhances the flavor of a dish. Too little produces a bland, dull meal; too much may choke you.” ~Donald Tubesing
How To Deal With Stress: Stress and the Autism Spectrum
Inner Aspie talks about autistic overwhelm that often happens on the autism spectrum.
She realized how stressful answering phones for her husband’s business during a particularly busy season would be.
She tells what happened as she journeyed through a day full of appointments and phone calls.
I felt a bit rushed, but fine. I felt like I was a bit uncomfortable, but could manage. Then, I backed into a car leaving an appointment. I didn’t see him there, but it was just a superficial bump. All is good. I head to my next stops, and head home. I start not to be able to remember the phone calls I made this morning. Who did I say what to? Never mind, I will remember later. I head out to take the dog to his obedience class. Crossing an intersection I bump another car. This was almost a big accident. I should have not done this. This is my brain malfunctioning.
I forgot the rule of how my brain works. If I push myself beyond my limits, my brain will start regulating itself to conserve energy. If I am out of “spoons” as most say, my brain will start shutting down.
Here’s a powerful video that illustrates some of the stress that sensory overload can bring.
Sensory Overwhelm, Stress, and The Autism Spectrum: Video
Sensory Overload (Interacting with Autism Project) from Miguel Jiron on Vimeo.
Aspergers Stress: Signs and Symptoms
Stress, for a person on the autism spectrum, is a way of life. Living in a neurotypical world brings a set of stress and challenges even on one’s best days. If we add all the other life stressors that can occur in life, life can fall apart rather quickly.
Here are some of the signs and symptoms of stress
- Mood disturbance
- Sleep Disturbance
- Poor concentration
- Poor memory
- Even more difficulty than usual relating to others
People With Aspergers Deal With Extra Stress
People with Aspergers process information differently than the average person. Their “operating systems” are different from the average person’s, leading to challenges with social situations, rejection by others, and difficulties handling organizing and planning in everyday life.
Sensory sensitivities, described so eloquently by SRSalas, magnify the stress, which can then lead to meltdowns.
Now, overlay these unique Aspergers characteristics with stressful life events, and you can understand why children and adults with Aspergers often have other psychiatric conditions, such as depression and anxiety.
How To Deal With Stress: Skills and Tips
Learn About the Stress of Life Events
Understand the different life events that can increase your stress.
Dr. Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe developed the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale to better understand stress and it’s impact on illness. Many times we have a number of life events causing stress, but we’re not even aware they’re going on.
Here’s the link to their stress scale on Wikipedia so that you can better check your own current life events for possible stress.
And here’s a stress quiz you can take to check your current levels of stress.
Identify Your Hobbies and Interests
Pay attention to what you enjoy learning and doing.
I regularly run and read for fun and enjoyment. I notice I like learning about internet marketing, nutrition and meditation, but I don’t always make the time for those hobbies/interests.
Here’s a free worksheet that can help you start learning more about what you do for pleasure or get a sense of achievement from.
One Aspergers blogger recommended spending time on one’s special interest/s, but warned against hyper focusing. In other words, set a time limit so that your hobby or interest doesn’t consume your entire day, resulting in another meltdown.
Spend Time Alone
Many people on the autism spectrum report that alone time re-energizes them. Go for a walk in nature, or spend some time gardening, or with your pet, if you have one. All these things can have a calming effect.
Use Sensory Integration Techniques to Regulate Yourself
Here are six simple sensory solutions Brian King has found helpful:
- Use a rolling-pin for physical input. You can use it yourself, or better yet ask a friend to use the rolling pin on you while you are lying face down.
- Use a pull up bar. If you have a pull-up bar at home, just hanging from the bar stretches the upper body and can help you relax and focus.
- Indoor trampoline. You can purchase an indoor trampoline at Target or Walmart or a similar store nearby. Jumping up and down or running in place can give needed input.
- Backpack with handheld weights. A backpack doesn’t draw attention, yet can provide the same relief as a weighted vest without being as conspicuous.
- Bean Bag Chair. If you have difficulties with poor upper body tone, sitting on a bean bag or bean gag chair can help you stay alert without exhaustion.
- The Wall. A wall is a sturdy, flat surface you can lean against with your back while squatting, or you can push against it to create proprioceptive input.
Sensory Smarts’ article about the sensory diet gives sensory solution tips.
You may want to consider physical therapy and/or occupational therapy. A physical therapist or occupational therapist specializing in autism spectrum conditions may be able to design individualized sensory strategies to help you de-stress from sensory overload.
Figure out what kind of exercise you like best. I love running. Other people hate running, but love swimming or lifting weights. Or a combination of the above.
According to WebMD, being physically active should be part of depression treatment. All depression starts with stress, so start exercising today!
Pay attention to what you eat. People on the spectrum often struggle with diet. That doesn’t mean you can’t gradually introduce foods you can tolerate into your eating plan. Nutritious food is some of the best medicine for your bodies. And the right foods fight stress and disease. I make a green smoothie every day in my Vitamix blender to get super nutrients into my system. You may not like smoothies, or the color green. In that case, explore supplements you can take, or go to a dietician to find out what works for you.
I’m wrapping this article up with some wise words from Inner Aspie. She shared how she has learned to deal with stress and overwhelm –
I think that we can learn to read our own bodies, and our own emotional states enough to know when we’re heading into troubled waters, and have a set strategy in place to deal with those times. Like, knowing what it feels like to feel overwhelmed, and taking it back one step to almost overwhelmed, being able to know what that point feels like, sense it on our bodies, and have a plan of action for coping.
How Do You Deal With Stress? Please share you coping strategies and tips below!
References Cited –
Sensory Issues Can Derail Your Day, from Aspie Writer
Adult Aspergers Stress
Autism CoMorbid Sensory Problems
Sensory Integration Therapy Intervention
Here’s a book that looks helpful: Asperger Syndrome and Anxiety: A guide To Successful Stress Management, by Nick Dubin. (Nick himself has Aspergers)
Thank you to Violet for the analogy of different operating systems (Aspergers minds versus neurotypical minds), and for some insights on the impact of sensory dysregulation on stress experienced.
Image credit: bowie15 / 123RF Stock Photo
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