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How to self-regulate in difficult times

How to self-regulate in difficult times

Sometimes things happen in life that can create difficult feelings such as stress and anxiety. This can be overwhelming for autistic children and young people, 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 

When we feel anxious, 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 infront of you. You can focus on your five senses, or five different things that you can see. Then use this full attention to respond to the stressful situation in a calm and collected way. 


Focusing on what you can control 

Unfortunately, we cannot control the world around us. 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  

Sometimes in life we are going to go through periods of stress and anxiety.  

Whilst life 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 Ambitious Youth Network to talk to other autistic young people and find peer to peer support. 

Childline run a free 24-hour helpline, email service and online and phone counselling service for children and young people in the UK. 


Further support  

Read our top tips for families on managing anxiety.  

Read our top tips for young people on managing anxiety.