You feel like your mind is no longer working, tasks are harder than usual, and napping for a lifetime sounds like the best thing in the world. You might also think something is wrong. But what you’re experiencing is quite common, especially for people with autism trying to navigate a neurotypical world. Autism burnout, sometimes known as regression, can be difficult to cope with and manage. Yet learning about tips and receiving support makes healing from autistic burnout not only possible but available to you.
Neurotypical refers to someone whose brain operates in a way that society expects them to or as typical.
What Is ‘Autistic Burnout’?
Imagine for a moment what it would feel like to live in someone else’s life – it would probably feel unfamiliar, exhausting, and frustrating. This is how someone with autism feels but experiences intense emotional, mental, and physical stress, as a result, known as autistic burnout. In addition, it often creates a loss of skills, increased sensory sensitivity, and disruptions in managing everyday life.
17 Autistic Burnout Warning Signs
While everyone experiences burnout differently, here are a few common signs and symptoms to watch out for yourself or a loved one;
- Increased frustration
- Chronic fatigue
- Headaches and feeling physically ill
- Difficulty with social interactions
- Increased stimming or sensory input
- Lack of motivation
- Memory loss
- Suicidal thoughts
- Difficulties with speech/selective mutism
- Difficulty accepting change
- Desire to be alone
- Frequent shutdowns or emotional outbursts
- Increased difficulty with eye contact
- Difficulty with self-care (showering, brushing teeth, etc.)
- Problems with executive function (disorganized, decision fatigue)
What Causes Autistic Burnout?
Autistic burnout occurs for several reasons, but like their neurotypical peers, people with autism experience burnout when external expectations surpass internal abilities to satisfy them says Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., a psychologist in Chicago.
- Life changes. Starting a new job, or moving are big life transitions that can cause overwhelm and high-stress levels.
- Lack of support. Limited support can increase vulnerability to autistic burnout.
- Autistic masking. Hiding stimming behaviors, faking eye contact, or changing their voice are a few ways someone might hide their autistic traits. Masking requires a great deal of energy and can often lead to burnout.
Whether you’re changing jobs or exhausted from masking, recovery from autistic burnout is possible.
12 Autistic Burnout Recovery Tips
While it’s not always easy, try to set aside time to rest. What is the best way to do this? Get into your comfort zone, away from stressors and the need to mask, and take the much-needed time to recharge.
2. Proceed with self-love
If there are things you can’t do or continue, it’s okay to rest. Begin prioritizing compassion and self-love to guide you on a path to recovery. It’s more than okay to feel overwhelmed and need time off.
3. Engage in self-soothing activities
What calms you when you feel stressed or overwhelmed? Take part in activities or hobbies that bring you joy, peace, and happiness. Whether it’s journaling, drawing, listening to music, watching videos, or exercising, do things that bring you comfort.
4. Reduce demands
If you feel you’re heading towards autistic burnout, begin reducing demands in your schedule wherever possible. This might look like canceling social plans, taking a short break from work, or any responsibilities that aren’t immediate or essential. Canceling these obligations, as a result, will decrease your workload and give you the necessary time to recover.
5. Adjust your sensory needs
You might find your sensory needs are stronger and need extra attention. If any need additional care, adjust them, when necessary, with soothing activities. For example, wear noise-canceling headphones, sleep with a weighted blanket, sit in a dark comfortable room, or hold onto an object that brings you comfort.
Connect to your community, vent, and seek advice. Either receive support from your friend group or ask those who have experienced what you’re going through and receive their perspectives. By reaching out to online support groups or communities, for example, you might find different tips, tricks, and activities to aid your recovery. Also, knowing you’re not alone will provide comfort when you feel the support and empathy of others.
7. Take consistent breaks
During a burnout, you might feel increased exhaustion but may also experience problems sleeping. Focus on a night routine that aids deep sleep. For example, avoid watching tv, the news, and scrolling on social media before bed. Instead, read a book, listen to music, or complete a calming visualization meditation to prepare your mind for bed.
8. Engage in happy stims
Managing social expectations and masking can not only be frustrating but mentally and physically exhausting. It is also a common cause of burnout. But stimming can help you deal with sensory overload and anxiety. Try to give yourself time to engage in your happy stims. Whether it’s spending more time with your favorite textures like petting a cat, or your favorite vocal stimming like humming loudly, or movements like bouncing your leg – they can serve as a calming strategy.
9. Set yourself reminders
Decrease the need to remember everything by writing it all down. Not only will it conserve your energy for the big tasks you need to do, but it will also free you from some stress. For example, write down your schedule on a whiteboard or set phone reminders for your medications, meetings, deadlines, and anything else.
Moving your body, walking in nature, or sweating out the stress, will help reduce anxiety and contribute to your wellbeing. For example, squeeze in a quick YouTube video, gym session, or any activity you love to do that helps soothe your mind.
11. It’s a natural response
Remember, there is nothing wrong with you. Autistic burnout is a natural response, and normalizing it will lead to greater acceptance – Dr. Rachel Bédard, Ph.D., a writer for Autism Parenting Magazine and licensed psychologist. Understanding this will also make you feel less alone or strange for having the experience in the first place.
If you need help managing autistic burnout, reaching out to a therapist or trained mental health professional, for example, can help you gain a few tools to decrease stress, communicate your feelings to loved ones, set boundaries, and learn how to ask for help. Above all, know that here is hope for your recovery. You can come out of this on the other side stronger.
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