National Stress Awareness Day

Stress is often described as one of the major barriers to leading a fulfilled life for people with autism. It affects those across the spectrum at all stages of their lives.

Of course, stress can affect everyone, but there is growing awareness that autistic people may be particularly susceptible to continued high levels of stress or anxiety in everyday life.

There are many things than could cause stress in people with autism, such as uncertainty in their surroundings or problems with sensory processing. Sometimes the cause may not be apparent, even to the person concerned.

A surge in ‘stress hormones’ is thought to help us react to stressful situations. In most people, these usually return to normal levels once the stressful event has passed, but research has shown that in people with autism, these hormones may remain in the body much longer, causing a residual level of stress.

Challenging behaviour such as ‘meltdowns’, ‘shutdowns’ and ‘catatonia’, could all be manifestations of stress and be related to feelings of powerlessness or lack of control over stressors. The build-up may go unnoticed until it is too late.

It is important therefore that we can help the individuals that we support to identify the sources and mechanisms of stress wherever possible and help them to develop coping strategies. This could include regular exercise, understanding how to relax, introducing a structured timetable to allow for time management and to build in ‘wind down’ periods, or time spent in a relaxing hobby such as listening to music or painting or drawing.

Managing stress really can play a big part in leading a happier and more fulfilled life.

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