Danielle Aubin, LCSW
How To Give Yourself Grace When Autistic Burnout Strikes
Burnout is an alarm signal. It is telling you that something is not right and needs to be remedied. In our fast-paced lives, it is hard to even notice that we are burned out. We may think we are just a little stressed or that we need to push ourselves even more. As a mother, a highly sensitive person, and an autistic individual, I have experienced firsthand the overwhelming feeling of burnout. I was so used to being overstimulated and overwhelmed, it took me a while to even recognize burnout for what it was.
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged and intense stress. It is not the same as feeling temporarily overwhelmed and stressed, which is a natural response to a difficult situation. Burnout is the accumulation of significant stress and pushing ourselves beyond our capacities in a world that was not made to support autistic people.
Parenting a highly sensitive autistic child with minimal support can be incredibly challenging, especially when you're dealing with your own autistic traits and sensitivities. It's important to understand that autistic individuals often have a lower threshold for stress and sensory overload, and therefore, we are more prone to experiencing burnout. This can be even more challenging when we are also caring for another highly sensitive autistic person.
When an autistic person experiences burnout, it's essential to give ourselves grace and self-compassion. It's important to acknowledge that we have pushed ourselves beyond our limits and that it's okay to take a break, that in fact taking a break is vital to our survival. Saying no to obligations and people can be difficult, we may feel guilty for prioritizing ourselves and our high degree of empathy may cause to feel the vicarious stress that is caused by us stepping away. Saying no is an art that requires practice.
Here are some strategies that may help you if you are experiencing burnout:
Set realistic expectations: It's important to set realistic expectations for ourselves and others. We need to acknowledge our limitations and communicate our needs clearly. Allowing ourselves to be #actuallyautistic and take space/time/resources to meet our needs is incredibly important.
Prioritize self-care: Self-care is essential for preventing and recovering from burnout. It can include activities such as taking a break, spending time in nature, getting enough sleep, eating healthy food, and engaging in activities that bring us joy and relaxation.
Seek support: It's important to seek support from friends, family, and professionals who understand and respect our needs as autistic individuals. It can be helpful to join support groups or seek therapy from professionals who are neurodivergence-affirming and/or are autistic themselves.
Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is a powerful tool for managing stress and preventing burnout. It involves paying attention to the present moment with curiosity and without judgment.
In conclusion, burnout is a common experience for autistic individuals who push ourselves beyond our limits in a world that is not designed to support us. It's essential to give ourselves grace and self-compassion when we experience burnout and to prioritize self-care, seek support, set realistic expectations, and practice mindfulness. Remember, taking care of ourselves is not selfish; it's necessary for our wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around us.