Anxiety affects many of us but what a lot of people don’t realise is that anxiety is extremely common in people with autism. If you yourself have autism and anxiety or you care for someone who does, there are ways of coping and managing with the anxiety other than pharmaceutical treatments.
In order to prevent anxiety, knowing what is actually making you anxious is crucial. However, for someone with autism, it may be hard for them to understand what is causing the anxiety or struggle to communicate this to others. This means as a carer or parent you may need to work out what makes the person anxious.
To help identify what is making you or the person anxious, and also to help them understand their feelings of anxiety, you can create an anxiety plan which could be in the form of a diary or on a mobile phone or tablet. If the person has it everywhere they go, they can record the following;
- The situation they were in when the anxiety occurred.
- The symptoms they experienced at the time (physical and psychological)
- The solution they used, how they got rid of the anxiety
Methods of coping
Meditation has great potential as a treatment for people with autism and anxiety. New research is suggesting that the of the main causes of anxiety in many autistic people is their struggle to understand their own emotions. As mindfulness works to focus an individual’s attention on their current thoughts, it could potentially be a very effective therapy for people with autism and anxiety as it can assist in the understanding of one’s own emotions. Also, mindfulness allows a person to observe their own thoughts without becoming overwhelmed by them, creating a feeling of calmness. Mindfulness can be applied in virtually any situation meaning it could provide a solution to an anxiety attack wherever it may take place.
In addition to the struggle with their own feelings and emotions, many people with autism are sensory sensitive meaning that loud noises, chaotic movements and even bright lights can cause anxiety. The anxiety caused by sensory differences can be controlled through avoiding busy places at their busiest times, for example it may be best to go to the supermarket on a weekday later in the day than on a Saturday afternoon. In addition to this, providing headphones with music to listen to can be calming in a busy environment or environment which you know may cause anxiety. If an individual doesn’t like music, ear plugs may be another method of helping sensory sensitive individuals who suffer from anxiety. In addition to this, just informing an individual that you will be entering a busy environment and prepare them for what to expect can help ease anxiety in individuals with autism.
Diet and nutrition
In addition to the environment, it is also important to think about the nutritional aspects which can affect the anxiety. Nutritional deficiencies are very common in people with autism and research shows foods such as gluten and casein are constantly shown to be problematic. If foods which contain mood altering substances are also included in an individual’s diet, it may worsen feelings of anxiety as they affect the neurotransmitters in the brain. To name a few to avoid include refined grains and bread, processed food and caffeine.
As previously mentioned, music is very useful to a lot of people who have autism in managing their anxiety. Research is now suggesting the benefits of listening to music is very useful in alleviating anxiety in people with autism and has shown to decrease anxiety-related behaviours. More research has suggested that music with a steady beat is best for easing anxiety in people with autism due to its predictableness, however any type of music which the individual prefers could be very useful in preventing anxiety.
These are just a few useful ways which you can incorporate into your everyday life to make anxiety in a person with autism more manageable and bearable.