Autistic Burnout, Part 1: Tips for Autistic People to Help Recover from Burnout
I don’t think there are many levels of exhaustion and mental fatigue that are quite the same as autistic burnout.
What is autistic burnout?
To me, it’s a level of tiredness and stress that can last for months and goes bone- and brain-deep, and the only thing that seems to help is a dedicated, uninterrupted period to do what I need to do to recharge my social and mental batteries.
Along with things such as self-stimulatory behavior (“stimming”), practicing good self-care, and having a reliable, trusted support network, I think that allowing these burnout recovery periods is one of the most important things an autistic person can do.
So, for autistic people: How can you take care of yourself during a burnout?
1. Allow yourself as much time as possible to recover. It’s not always possible to take as much time as you actually need (especially in a world catered towards abled neurotypical people), but it’s important to give yourself as much time as you can.
2. Keep social interaction to a minimum, if it helps. Send short messages or texts to people or groups you may need to take a break from talking to, just to let them know that you won’t be up to interacting for a while.
3. Try to remember to stim. Stimming is an important self-regulating behavior. If you don’t have the energy to do those “big” stims, try indulging in your favorite textures, vocal stimming, watching comfort videos, or maybe engaging in your special interests.
4. Set reminders and write things down. The less you have to worry about remembering a bunch of small tasks, the more energy you have to do what you need to do. Try setting phone reminders for things like medication, and write down things that are less time-sensitive and can wait until you’re feeling up to it. (Things like, “Call my friend back when I’m feeling better.”)
There is a free listmaking app that works on Android and iOS phones called Wunderlist that is really convenient if you tend to lose paper reminders. You can even share individual lists with your support network (see number five below) so that they can help you get through episodes of burnout with minimal communication.
5. Rely on your support network, if you have one. This could be a friend who would be willing to make a grocery run, or asking a parent or loved one to make a phone call for you. With most doctor’s offices, all you have to say is, “Hi, this is [name]. I’m too anxious to talk on the phone right now. Can I give you permission to speak to [other person]?” and they’ll generally allow that, even if you’re an adult.
6. Write out things to do beforehand. It can help to have a ready-made list of things that relax you. A quiet, dark room, paint mixing videos, and putting on ear defenders over my earbuds to help block out that extra noise are all things that help me!
Again, I know it’s not always possible to take extended breaks or completely stop all communication for a while, but it is important to take what time you can to do what you need to do.
This is the first in a two-part series on autistic burnout. The next part will be about what others can do to respect autistics’ need for space during a burnout.
- Tips for Autistic People to Help Recover from Burnout - November 18, 2019
Thanks, Alex. As the sole caregiver to others in my family, in addition to working full time, I rarely can squeeze in time for most of these. But when I can, they absolutely help. Good advice!
Awesome read. I’m a teacher with Autism deaing with bullying for my differences. A lot of recovery is needed for ongoing burnout. This article provided useful tips!
Where can we find part 2?
Hi, Tori! Part 2 will be out as soon as I’m able to finish it!
Thank you for reading!!
But IS this ‘autism’ or simply normal??
Is ‘stimming’ in anyway nor a displacement behaviour?
https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/immunology-and-microbiology/displacement-behavior“The felt ‘;need; to ‘stim’ is really a simply construct of being over-tense.
Unfortunately displacement behaviours really don’t help reduce stress, so if you feel a need to ‘stim’ then I’d take that as a warning.
BUT yes don’t try to suppress it, but try to find something else to actually reduce your stress. Unfortunately ‘stimming’ in public can get you into more stress than you already have.
Just like a pressure cooker stopping the behaviour can lead to devastating blow-outs when the valve bursts.
So excuse yourself, go to a quiet place, go for a walk, go to a toilet and bawl your eyes out in privacy
I don’t think you entirely know what you’re talking about. Stims are repetitive movements or sounds meant to self-stimulate (sometimes to “cover” other overwhelming stimuli, but not even necessarily so). Research actually shows that it can help people focus (which is especially relevant to people with ADHD).
There are a lot of ways to stim that are virtually invisible, so I don’t see why stimming in public should necessarily cause more stress (nor how it should lead to “exploding”).
We don’t just stim when we’re stressed, there are “happy stims” too: for example, soft textures give me a pleasant sensation, so I might keep rubbing a plushie or petting a cat for a looooong time just for the sake of it.
Maybe don’t talk about stuff you don’t experience? Stimming is not the same as a “displacement behavior” found in animals.
Your “advice” is deeply concerning to me, which may or may not be your intention.
It concerns me because it seems dismissive of the very fact of the existence of autism and it’s dismissing the lived experiences of actual autistic people.
When I stim, it is not because I am simultaneously afraid of and attracted to something, which is what your linked article says is the cause of “displacement behavior” in animals. It is simply because my nervous system wants certain sensory inputs and they’re comforting. Whether it’s the feel of a stuffed animal, the feel of a weighted blanket, or the feel of my head tilting or my hands moving. Doing certain actions that comfort me and make me feel good when under stress are a blessing; they help me control the distress caused by overwhelming environments.
Please do not propagate your own pet theories about us that are not based on anything but your own conjecture.
Enough of those are already floating around online already, and they’re harming us.
How do we make it stop sooner? My autistic burnouts are lasting an average of 1 year and it’s devastating.