Managing Stress, Insights from an Autistic Perspective

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Managing stress daily when living with autism

Why is managing stress so important? Some days, the imaginary cup fills up very quickly. It can be encounters with people at work or on the street. Overstimulation from loud noises, flashing lights, weather events, or simply hearing the neighbor’s children playing in the yard. Sometimes routines are disrupted, and adjustments to the schedule are necessary. Or perhaps a relative calls and invites you to a party on Saturday. Life is full of everyday things that can be overwhelming for someone with autism.

When receiving advice from rehabilitation, occupational therapy, and others, you often get plenty of suggestions for managing stress such as:

  • Exercise, physical activity to help reduce stress levels.
  • Structure and routines in your daily life probably help.
  • Meditation, yoga, and relaxation exercises can help you disconnect and focus.
  • Communicate with your fellow human beings; keeping your emotions inside creates stress.
  • Create a safe place where you can retreat to disconnect and take a break from the world.
  • Your interests can help you let go of stressful and demanding things. If you enjoy drawing, doodle in your notebook; it helps. Have I tried them all, you may wonder? No, I haven’t, and some tips have increased my stress levels rather than reduced them. An example is physical activity, and perhaps it’s because I haven’t found an activity that suits me. Being outdoors has always been anxiety-inducing for me, whether it’s running, cycling, or just walking. I do notice how much better I feel after being outside and moving, but I get extremely tired from all the stimuli when I cycle, walk, or run. But with that said, it may be the best thing you do to reduce your stress.
I’ve been practicing relaxation exercises since preschool
managing stress by playing games perhaps?
Perhaps the most common thing I turn to is trying to play some kind of game on the computer, mobile, or console

I’ve been practicing relaxation exercises since preschool; it has been a prerequisite for me to get a good night’s sleep. It’s something I know reduces my stress level. I had “restlessness” in my legs as a child and found it incredibly difficult to sit still, even harder to calm down when it was time to go to bed as my legs preferred to jump around or try what it’s like to walk on the ceiling. I got the tool to relax from an educator in preschool, and it helped me enormously. It was something I used several times a day for years just to be able to sit still or go to bed to sleep. Today, I can still have moments when my legs just want to jump around, but it’s becoming less frequent, and I exclusively use my relaxation exercise when I feel like I want to disconnect from the world and sit in my safe place. I have some interests that are very good for me when it comes to reducing my stress level. Perhaps the most common thing I turn to is trying to play some kind of game on the computer, mobile, or console. It makes me let go of my swirling thoughts for the moment, and the cup empties slowly. Other things that are good for managing stress levels are the moments when I can go out to the garage/workshop by myself and work on a project that I have at the moment.

Fixing the snowblower if it is broken… Can be good for managing stress level.

It can be anything from carving a butter knife to disassembling the snowblower to change the friction rubber on the friction wheel. In the fall, I always try to get preferably a week or two when I indulge in hunting and fishing as it lowers my basic stress level and helps me for months afterward. I get the same effect when I take a trip into nature one morning. For many years, I’ve tried to create safe places where I can retreat for a while when it gets too much. I mentioned the garage earlier, and it’s one of those places. But I can also sit on the patio in the sun or the loading dock at work. It doesn’t have to be a remarkable place, but it needs to be somewhat secluded from all the stress-inducing moments. Sometimes you have to put the earbuds in and close your eyes to create that place; then you can even find peace in a messy lunchroom.

Lastly, we have the issue of structure. Something I’m worst at. Or am I? It’s something that has come naturally to me over the years when I’ve been in an environment where stress has built up. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always tried to structure and organize my workplaces. I’ve previously written an article about structure where I talk about my relationship with order. There I write about how I’ve always had clutter at home, and I think that’s because the basic stress level is lower at home than at work, so the need for order and structure hasn’t existed.

How is my stress level today? Well, at times, it’s very high. When I think about what the future will look like, can we afford to live as we do, or what am I doing in two years? These thoughts quickly build up my stress level. Does my son have problems at school? Why does my partner have so much pain in their foot? What really happened at work? Yes, as you can see, I already have more than enough thoughts there to quickly get a knot in my stomach. But most of the time, my anti-stress strategies help and bring the level down to a level I can handle.

If you want to learn more about Autism, check out my understanding autism posts.


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