Stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety

Autistic people often describe this world as unpredictable, chaotic and sometimes frightening. Because of this, many people live with a constant underlying fear around uncertainty and unexpected change. Uncertainty and unpredictability are key factors in the stress and anxiety levels of autistic people.

Stress and meltdowns

Living with very high levels of anxiety is exhausting and means stress levels can rise rapidly. Autistic people can have difficulty managing their own emotions as a result of their differences and can quickly become overwhelmed. They may be more prone to meltdowns or may appear to ‘overreact’ to something others consider minor. It’s important to remember that meltdowns are a physiological response to being overwhelmed and are largely out of the person’s control.

Routines and rituals

To try to maintain some control in a constantly changing world, many autistic people prefer to follow set routines or rituals. These can help reduce some of the anxiety around uncertainty and act as anchors. Autistic people may insist on doing some things in the same way and become very inflexible at times of high stress. Or they may become avoidant - become engrossed in an interest or activity – often a repetitive motion to self-soothe and distract from the situation.

Support for anxiety

It's important that others understand what autistic people may be experiencing in moments of anxiety, and offer their support. National Autistic Society’s SPELL framework offers guidance on how to increase understanding and respond to the needs of autistic people.

Read more about how to support autistic people in dealing with stress and anxiety by clicking on the links below.

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