In December 2019, when the coronavirus outbreak began in Wuhan, China, it was nothing but a distant problem, one the world naively assumed would be contained just like many other epidemics the world has faced in the last few decades. This time, it is different. Unlike any other epidemics seen before, or should I say pandemic, it has swept across 100 nations like a wildfire and threatened the current political and economic global order by throwing the status quo out of the window. In my country, the news has changed every single day. While the Prime Minister announced that schools were going to stay open, just a couple of days later the government announced a U-turn by closing all schools from today onwards. Pubs, restaurants and cinemas are closed until further notice. Homeowners are applying for a mortgage holiday. People are being laid off like there is no tomorrow. In just a short space of time, the coronavirus has turned our usual way of life upside down.
In a time of crisis, it’s normal to feel sad, stressed or angry, but for autistic people it can be extremely overwhelming and stressful. There is no longer a proper routine as chaos is slowly unfolding across the country. Going shopping is now similar to a bun fight as people are stockpiling in preparation for self-isolation. As for what the future may look like, we have no way of knowing at the current time of writing, and that is scary when we are so used to being so in control of our lives. For the first time in my lifetime, we are no longer in control. And if there’s anything I know, autistic people love to be in control of their lives. Perhaps that’s why we like routine so much. Life changes constantly, one never really knows what may happen next, so our routine acts as a way of being something stable in a world of uncertainty. Now, we are tasked with creating new ways of coping and new routines that are very different to our normal way of life.
I think on a personal level, the most overwhelming thing about what is happening is that there is more uncertainty about what the future holds, now more than ever. This is why it’s essential to minimise our stress as much as possible, and find ways to at least distract us from the current situation. Here are my tips for minimising stress as much as possible right now:
- Make a schedule
Now that most of our routines are completely out of the window, it’s a good time to start creating new ones. This schedule has been widely circulating on Instagram as it gives a clear structure to the day, that is easy to be changed or adapted depending on your circumstances. When your normal way of life has turned upside down, it can be difficult to adjust and days can easily go by without being productive. Having a routine allows you to rewrite your daily rhythm and still achieve daily goals despite being self-isolated. It’s also a great idea to create another schedule detailing when you are going to clean the house, as this is something that was never really agreed in my household. Having a routine creates more stability and certainty, which is vital for autistic people.
2. Delve into special interests, or find a new one!
Autistic people usually find a special interest as a form of escapism from daily life. Now is the time to delve into special interests, or even find a new one, as a way of distracting oneself from the current situation. As autistic people tend to be hyper-focused, special interests can absorb a lot of free time. One minute, it’ll be 3pm, the next minute it will be 6pm and almost time for dinner after researching on your special interest either by reading or watching videos on the subject. Special interests are a great escape tool, that even the general public should be using at this time to minimise stress and to distract oneself from feeling lonely.
3. Reach out to friends and family online
Having people to vent your frustrations to about the current situation is so important. They say that people often feel better for ‘getting things off their chest’ and it’s true! It’s especially important at this time to find people to talk to as being isolated, and self-isolated, is extremely bad for mental health. It is very easy to feel weighed down by the lack of being able to control anything right now, so talking to people will definitely lighten your load. A lot of people right now are sharing funny memes and videos about the situation we’re finding ourselves in. I, for one, think that using humour at this time is an exceptionally great way of relieving stress for everyone.
During our busy daily lives, it can be easy to forget the importance of meditating. Now, with more of us staying in and working from home, it has become easier now than ever to learn how to meditate. Meditation is extremely important because it calms the obsessive and fearful thoughts that many of us are going through right now. According to scientific research, meditation has a number of health benefits. One of the most important benefits is that long-term, consistent meditation increases resiliency to stress. Practicing meditation lessens the inflammatory response in people exposed to psychological stressors, particularly for long-term meditators. According to neuroscience research, mindfulness practices dampen activity in our amygdala and increase the connections between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. Both of these parts of the brain help us to be less reactive to stressors and to recover better from stress when we experience it. Here are some other benefits to meditation.
5. Minimise media exposure
It’s good to be aware of what is going on in the world, but the truth is, the media thrives off fear. While it is good to stay informed daily, as each day is bringing a new change, it’s good to minimise this to perhaps 10-20 minutes every morning (and perhaps the update in the late afternoon), and try to focus on other things during the day to take your mind off it. It’s no good constantly reading the news all day because this only serves to make you more fearful after reading what is going on around the world. It may also be best to focus on the news in your country. It can be quite startling to read about what is going on in Italy, for example. It is best to reduce your daily news intake as much as possible, even if it feels counterintuitive at this point.
6. Get creative
In our usual daily life, it can be quite hard to fit in work/school, social life, activities and so on into one week, let alone have the time and space to be really creative. We all need outlets for stress and anxiety, and being creative is just as good as doing sports, for example. Whether it is writing, drawing, making YouTube videos, or any other kind of creative activity you can think of, now is a great time to develop those interests. Here is a list of artistic things to do during this period:
- Layer some art: Make a collage with pictures from old magazines and some paint.
- Make art in disguise: Draw a picture in the dark, so you won’t judge yourself during the process.
- Put the inner you on paper: Paint a watercolour of your mood.
- Let loose your imagination: Fill a page with doodles.
- Scribe yourself: Write a poem by picking random words from a book.
- Create a gift of thanks: Make thank you cards for those who mean most to you.
- Give your creativity form: Make candles, bath bombs or soap, or play with dough and have fun sculpting.
- String some meditation beads.
7. Write down one thing you are grateful for each day
As a spiritual person, I’m aware of how you can either have a low vibration or a high vibration. During times of panic and chaos, it is inevitable that we are more likely to have a low vibration, as the emotions associated with having a low vibration are feelings like panic, anger, sadness, stress, etc. As much as it is difficult, we must try our best to stay in a high vibration, as those with low vibrations tend to get ill anyway. We’ve all been through times of stress where we’ve developed the flu, or just not felt very well. I would encourage everyone to write down at least one thing they’re grateful for each day, even if it’s simply surviving the day and not getting any symptoms, and for their family’s health. Being grateful increases your vibration and mood. If you read more about the Law of Attraction, you will understand more about why this is so important.
These are my list of tips and tricks to get us through these difficult and uncertain times ahead of us. Let me know in the comments if you have any other ideas for how autistic people can manage their stress 🙂
I hope everyone is doing well. Thinking of everyone at this difficult time.