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Dealing with Anxiety: 10 Tips

anxietyAutism often comes with a side helping of anxiety. Some studies show that up to 40% of all children with autism will be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at some point in their life. While it’s great to see a therapist to help with serious anxiety, sometimes you need strategies that will work right away. Here are our 10 tips for dealing with anxiety. 

anxietyBy Anonymous

Autism often comes with a side helping of anxiety. Some studies show that up to 40% of all children with autism will be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at some point in their life. While it’s great to see a therapist to help with serious anxiety, sometimes you need strategies that will work right away. Here are our 10 tips for dealing with anxiety.

  1. 1.       Find the app for you.

One of the benefits of smartphone technology is that you can have some serious resources in your pocket at all times. There are tons of apps that deal with mental health. Calm.com is a great place to start if you’re interested in mindfulness or calming sounds, while Emergency Chat is a great resource if you’re having a meltdown that impairs your verbal abilities. If you want more info, check out these lists of top apps for anxiety.

2.       Don’t be afraid to distract.

Some strategies for anxiety are short term while others can be relied on to help get at the root of the problem. Distraction is a short term solution. That doesn’t mean that it’s unhelpful. If you start to feel a meltdown coming on or you simply cannot turn off the worried thoughts, that might mean you need to find something else to hold your attention until you calm down. Books, video games, talking to a friend, getting some work done, or doing your hobbies are all great ways to get your brain engaged in something other than anxiety.

3.       Sweat it out.

Multiple studies have found that exercise is a great way to get temporary relief from symptoms of both depression and anxiety. Regular exercise has also been linked with overall lower stress and anxiety. ). Often, the exhaustion that comes after a workout or even running around the neighborhood leaves you with no energy left over to feel anxiety. And sometimes it can free your mind up to break the pattern of worry that was keeping you stuck. Exercise won’t cure your anxiety, but it can be a good way to take a break from stress.

4.       Ice cold.

This is a skill that you probably only want to use if you’re in the midst of a panic attack and need immediate calming. I would also highly recommend practicing when you’re in a calm state to see if it works for you and if your senses can handle it. This is a skill that comes from DBT, a therapy created for borderline personality disorder. Fill a sink or bowl with water and ice, then dunk your head into the water for up to 30 second. Make sure you hit the area just under your eyes because that will activate your dive reflex and release all the nice chemicals that induce calm in your body. 

5.       Mindfulness.

Mindfulness can seem like a huge and overwhelming project, especially if your mind is built to run a mile a minute. But there are ways to start simple and build up so that mindfulness can help you. The basic idea of mindfulness is to only pay attention to what is immediately around you instead of the past, present, or things that aren’t affecting you right now. There are a few easy techniques you can try to settle yourself when you’re about to panic. Choosing one object or area of the room and describing everything about it in great detail is helpful to focus yourself on your immediate surroundings. Other people prefer to focus exclusively on their breathing. Something as simple as counting to 3 on your inhale and 4 on your exhale can help you focus. This technique is best if you’re not having a sensory meltdown, because it relies on being in an environment that feels physically safe.

6.       Be pre-emptive.

It's easy to forget that things like food, sleep, and medications affect our moods. And it can be incredibly difficult to be consistent and healthy around these things, especially if you have any sensory issues around food, or meds that make sleeping hard. But the more regular you can be with your sleep and food schedule, and the more conscious you can be of getting a balanced diet and enough hours of sleep, the less likely you are to be overwhelmed by small things. Multiple studies have linked sleep or food deprived to higher sensitivity, which makes it harder to stay calm when something unexpected happens. This is a great long term tactic for lowering overall anxiety.

7.       Do something you’re good at.

Anxiety often comes when we feel down about ourselves, or overwhelmed with what we can and can’t do. A good long term method of fighting anxiety is to regularly do things that you are good at and that make you feel accomplished. This can help you build up a solid sense of self that will weather the difficult times more easily. This can also be a strategy for dealing with anxiety in the here and now. If you jump into a task that makes you feel good about yourself when you feel anxiety coming on, you can often distract yourself and redirect some of the emotions into positive ones.

8.       Pay attention to your senses.

People on the spectrum are often more in tune with their sensory needs than other people, which is actually quite helpful for anxiety. Sensory input can be a great way to fight anxiety because it goes straight to your nervous system. When you’re not feeling overwhelmed, it can be a good idea to brainstorm what things feel very good to your senses (weighted blankets, certain foods or scents, different stims) and what is extremely grating on your senses. Keep that list handy so that when anxiety strikes you can give yourself positive sensory input and find ways to reduce negative input (for example by using noise canceling headphones).

9.       Ask ahead of time so you can plan and be prepared for transitions and changes.

Many people on the spectrum feel anxious when they don’t know what’s coming. That’s true of most human beings as well. If you can’t predict how your day will go, it can be useful to ask the people around you. Your supervisor, family, and friends are good resources. Plan out what you think your day will look like and if there are gaps, check in with the people you’re with to see what they expect. That way you can plan ahead for transitions and keep sudden and unexpected changes to a minimum.

10.   Talk to your support team when you feel calm.

One of the most frustrating things about feeling strong anxiety is that it can be difficult or impossible to know and communicate what will help you to family, friends, and other support people. Set aside some time when you feel calm and in control to think of what helps when you’re anxious. You can write it down or just have a conversation with your support team to let them know what you prefer when you’re having a meltdown. It’s important to know that other people can’t read your mind. They don’t know what you want and need, and you have to tell them if you want to get your needs met.