Stress in People with Autism: How it Manifests and How I Cope with It
By Zach Rodencal
Autism & Stress Management
Stress and anxiety are natural parts of life. There will always be something which bothers people, which causes them mental strain, which causes them to be anxious. This is unavoidable in life, especially during the Coronavirus pandemic we are living through. However, what causes stress and anxiety in people differs, as everyone is different from one another. Though this is a fact, that does not mean that people cannot have common stressors or things which cause anxiety. Over the course of my life, I have found this can be especially true for individuals with Autism. Thus, it may be possible the ways I have found to cope with my stress can work with other Autistics as well.
Causes of Stress
First, I will go into detail about what causes me to be stressed or anxious. The first big cause of stress for me is when my schedule is interrupted with no warning, or surprises. While I can be flexible with schedules when planning or when I have nothing to do, I do not like having to alter a schedule or plan for an unexpected event at all. It always bothers me when I have managed to get comfortable with a schedule, only for something to come up and change it at the last minute. An example would be last Monday, when I woke up in the morning only to be informed my family and I would need to leave the house in an hour and a half for 30 minutes. Completely unexpected, upsetting, and a big cause of stress for me.
The second big cause of stress and anxiety is change. Linking a bit with the first cause, change can be scary for me, and even most people. I can deal with small changes much better now, though they used to be an issue when I was younger. But big change will always be a large stressor for me. I hate it when I learn there is going to be an upheaval in my life, when everything I know is going to change. An example of this is when I learned my parents were going to be moving to Italy for 2 years to go with a job opportunity my mom got there. This caused me to become stressed whenever I heard about it for months, only becoming comfortable with the idea a couple months ago. Thus, I can say without a doubt, that change, large change especially, is a big stressor for me.
These two reasons I have found to be the main causes of stress unique to me because of my Autism. There are other things that cause me stress or to become anxious, like going to a job interview, moving, school, or, of course, the coronavirus pandemic, but these are either common for most people or link back to the two stressors I mentioned before. The two I mentioned seem to be most common in Autistics. I know this from my own experience and from talking with my mom, who is a child psychologist who has worked with many other Autistic children. This has led her to learn many things that Autistics tend to share and mentioned them with me. She has found that most Autistics children find unexpected events disrupting their plans and large changes as large sources of stress just like I do. It is why I feel like some of the coping mechanism I have developed could be of help to other Autistics as well, and why I am sharing them now.
Coping Mechanisms to Use
The first coping mechanism is having a hobby you enjoy that you can immerse yourself in entirely. Usually after hearing about something that disrupts my schedule or a great change, I like to do something I enjoy and can immerse myself in that soothes and irritation or anxiety the new information causes me. For me, this is listening to music on my computer, watching television, reading Fanfiction or manga online, watching online television, playing video games, or daydreaming, sometimes a combination of some of these things. It does not have to be any of these things, only something that you enjoy, but I find doing these things helps me calm down and distress from stressful information.
My second coping mechanism is one that usually goes hand in hand with my first coping mechanism. That is to stop thinking about the startling news and doing something I enjoy to distract me from what I heard. Sometimes there are just things that are too upsetting to deal with easily and can take lots of time to get comfortable with. For example, this is what I did when I hear my parents were moving to Italy for my mom’s new job. In the beginning, whenever I was reminded of it, I got upset and would retreat to doing what I enjoyed to unwind from the stress the information caused me. Over time, as I got used to the idea of what was happening and that there was nothing I could do to change it, the information began to bother me less and less until I was able to easily deal with it without much discomfort. This is a method I only suggest when you have lots of time before the stressful event occurs, like a pending move, and not a sudden event like a change in plan, but it works very well with getting a person used to what will occur and no longer be greatly bothered or distressed by it.
My final coping mechanism I will mention is one I picked up after an anxiety attack I had last year, when the stress of my final college year was beginning to get to me. That is to exercise. I am serious. Exercising causes you to burn tension in your body, which also works to distress you and distract you from anything that may cause you anxiety. The best suggestion is to exercise for over 20 minutes, were your heart is beating at a high rate for 20 minutes straight, as that is the minimum needed time to burn off enough tension to make a difference. Even doing basic exercises, like a certain number of pushups or sit-ups can be helpful if you do the exercises multiple times a day, cumulating over time. If you have a bike, regular biking can help. Regardless, regular exercise can be very helpful in dealing with stress.
These are what I find stress me and how I deal with them. Now this information may not be completely in line with what your child might be experiencing, but it can surely help, even if you are not a person with Autism. Having ways to deal with stress is especially important during this pandemic, regardless of whether they are neurotypical or not. I hope this information can be helpful for those who can use it. I wish you all the best of luck in dealing with this Pandemic.
I am Zach Rodencal, a recent graduate from Florida Polytechnic University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Data Analytics. I am diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism and ADHD. I am interested in anime and reading Fanfiction online. I am currently looking for a job to begin my career, but I am also looking for what I am passionate about and wish to spend most of my life doing. I hope to get to know you all very well.