How to self-regulate in difficult times
Everyday situations may be more challenging than usual at the moment and this can create difficult feelings such as stress and anxiety, that can be overwhelming for young people with autism and their families.
We recognise that everybody reacts differently to difficult feelings and stresses, but it’s important to find strategies that can regulate difficult emotions and support positive mental health.
Here are some strategies that can help you and your family to find solutions to new challenges.
Understanding our Threat Response System
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic we are all experiencing lots of threats every day. These include threats to our freedom, independence and most importantly to our health and the health of our loved ones. When we feel threatened, hurt or attacked, we have three responses:
- Fight (tackle the issue)
- Fight (run from the issue)
- Freeze (stop thinking)
When we go into one of these responses our body finds it difficult to think clearly about what we need to do. Instead of thinking reasonably, we react instantly.
In current circumstances, our ‘fight, flight, freeze’ response might represent itself as snapping at those around us (fight), avoiding tasks, activities or homework (flight) or feeling so overwhelmed that we find it difficult to make decisions (freeze).
Creating a moment of pause
By recognising the threat response, you can stop for a moment and allow the brain space to start reasoning more clearly. This is called creating a moment of pause. By creating a moment of pause between the cause of stress and our response we can regulate emotions and decide on the best action to take.
Making a reasoned response
Responding to a situation when we feel emotional can affect our judgement. Below are some steps that can help us make a reasoned response.
Step one: Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings.
Understand what you are feeling and thinking and do this without judgement or fear. You may choose to close your eyes. Fully allow yourself to feel the range of the emotions you feel.
Step two: Come back into your body.
Bring attention back into your body by taking a few deep breaths, this allows you to refocus your attention. It can help to push your feet into the floor or to press your fingertips together.
Step three: Engage in what you are doing.
Bring your attention back into the room and focus it on what is in front of you. You can focus on your five senses, or five different things that you can see. Then use this full attention to respondto the stressful situation in a calm and collected way.
Focusing on what you can control
Unfortunately, we cannot control how Coronavirus affects our feelings and the world around us. It’s important not to dismiss or ignore your feelings about this.
Instead we can focus on the choices we do have, and how can we keep supporting our physical and mental health and wellbeing.
Thinking of ways to occupy time can help avoid dwelling on what we cannot control. Read more about ways to spend your spare time and promote positive wellbeing.
Remember your strengths
During the Coronavirus pandemic, it is likely that you are going to be experiencing increased distress without usual access to your full range of previous coping strategies (for example, going to the gym or meeting up with friends and family).
Whilst Coronavirus brings new challenges for you and everyone around you, try to remember a time when you successfully got through something difficult. For example, this could be a loss of a pet or a change of school.
Take a moment to remember how you coped with this. Write a list of what helped and then try to adapt these strategies to your current circumstances. Remember there are support lines available to speak to someone when you feel you need extra support:
Join our Youth Network to talk to other young people with autism and find peer to peer support.
National Autistic Society offer a helpline and text service offering support for anyone on the spectrum.
Childline run a free 24-hour helpline, email service and online and phone counselling service for children and young people in the UK.