Coping skills for anxiety

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Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD, BCBA. 7.30.19

Anxiety and issues related to anxiety can overlap with many other different needs, including autism.  What exactly is anxiety?  And what can you do when it happens to you or someone you love?

Anxiety and worry are part of every day life for most people.  We can all identify things that cause us stress on a daily basis, and most people have things they worry about on a regular basis.  Most people are able to keep these stresses and worries under control on their own, but there are many who need extra support for managing anxiety.

Anxiety becomes more of a problem when it begins to interfere with daily life, having a significant impact on work, leisure and personal relationships.  We all have things that cause anxiety, but we are able to process, cope, and carry on with our days regardless.  With more significant anxiety, this is not possible.

People with autism often have features of anxiety, some of which are more prevalent with autism spectrum disorders.  For example, many individual with autism become highly anxious when there is a change in routine or when things don’t go as planned.  To figure out when anxiety has reached a point needing extra support for someone with autism, ask the following questions:

  • Does the anxiety stop me or someone I love from doing things we enjoy?
  • Does the anxiety interfere with relationships?
  • Does the anxiety lead to more difficult behaviors, such as verbal or physical outbursts?
  • Does the anxiety lead to other maladaptive behaviors, such as self-injury?
  • Does the anxiety lead to misuse of substances, such as alcohol?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you or your loved one may be able to benefit from some strategies to help cope more effectively with anxiety.  There are plenty of tools available to support people with difficulty managing stress and anxiety.  Here are a few of the tops:

  • Stress ball
  • Squishy
  • Fidget items (Fidget cube, Koosh ball, Infinity Cube, Thinking Putty)
  • Talk to a trusted individual.
  • Take a break from the situation.
  • Classic and effective!  Taking slow, deep breaths (in through the nose, out through the mouth).
  • Progressive relaxation.
  • Physical exercise.
  • Distraction techniques – anything from reading to watching a show to playing a video game to drawing or coloring – each person should have a list of effective distractions to help reduce anxiety.

For some people, a skilled therapist who understands autism and anxiety can provide more individualized ideas and supports for coping with stress.  Most importantly, make sure you remain positive and optimistic about dealing with anxiety.

Thanks for reading and check back in soon for more posts!