In my last post, I spelled out the seemingly doom-and-gloom situation people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum are sometimes up against when it comes to our psychological, emotional, and cognitive wellbeing. Sometimes, just achieving an Inner Balance can be a 24/7 challenge. In that post, I listed the potential sources of agitation that can chip away at this Inner Balance, and then I left off with the statement that the situation isn’t hopeless; there are indeed some relatively easy steps we can take in order to strike that balance after all.
To make good on my promise to provide those strategies, I’ll start with a few examples…
I didn’t have any meetings scheduled today, so I worked from home instead. This meant that I didn’t have to drive anywhere (which I find incredibly stressful) or even change out of my pajamas. It also means that many more aspects of my environment (such as room temperature, noise, and music) were under my control. While working, I paced myself, taking periodic breaks with my mobile phone to interact with the community, which gives me pleasure and my brain gets a welcome rest.
I try to get acupuncture twice a week (my partner is my provider, so fortunately, this is feasible for me, as it doesn’t cost me anything except time). Sometimes I don’t feel much of a difference, but other times I’m all, “wow! I went from ‘tired and wired’ to a balanced, calm energy. Let’s conquer the world!” Works well for me.
On weekends, I give myself permission to do jack shizz. Besides the bare necessities like washing my hair or doing my laundry, I simply lay around and do what I want to do, when I want to do it. Doing this lets my brain’s RAM drain from the week. It’s like pressing a giant recharge/reset button.
If I am going to go anywhere, it’s only when absolutely have to, and I typically get it out of the way long before anyone else gets up. If it’s a store that I have to go to, I check their hours online the night before and find out when they open, and that’s when I go. I like to get in, get it done, get out, and get home long before the rush of the masses hit the streets and the parking lots.
Other types of self-care include (I’ve alluded to some of these already)…
Cover the basics – remember to eat and drink water regularly. Since you have to eat anyway, it might as well be something nutritious, something that’ll actually satisfy you. “Nutrient density” is the key concept here. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and organic meats (for omnivores) are examples. “Superfoods” like chia seeds, cacao nibs, and noni juice are like dietary extra credit. The same goes for water. Spring water rocks. I like stuff with electrolytes or sugar-free natural flavors in it.
Take breaks when needed, as possible. Give your brain a break. Sit and stare (shamelessly, self-unconsciously), and let your mind wander. If your brain is tempted to drift toward the pragmatic issues or any life stressors at hand, gently shoo it away. Conjure up an image of your version of paradise or a topic/subject of primary interest/focus and tell your brain to “come over here” instead.
Go mute when you need to. Don’t talk. This way, you don’t have to try to choose or form words, and you don’t have to construct sentences. I might consider wearing one of those tags around your neck that other people can look at and figure out that you’re not in a conversational mood, without your having to tell them. You also won’t be put on the spot to respond to anyone, and since you’re not saying anything, chances are that they won’t say anything that you’ll feel pressured to respond to.
Give your brain and nervous system a rest every so often; turn off all sound, close your eyes, turn off all electronic devices, etc. And just Be. Listen to the light ring in your ears, if that doesn’t bother you. Stare at trees or the ceiling. Feel the air, if that doesn’t bother you.
Relax, meditate. Meditation is probably different for Aspie/autistic people. I was never able to get the hang of traditional methods, so we might have to be inventive or creative when it comes to developing a strategy that works better for us. We might recite the Fibonacci sequence or the digits of Pi. We might stare at a complex, colored geometrical shape. We might recite a mantra. We might take a mental journey through the life cycle of a tree.
Walk, leave the room you were in for a while. Go outside, get fresh air and sunlight. Feel it on your face. Listen to the birds, the ocean waves, whatever is around you. Thank the trees for soaking up our carbon dioxide and pumping out fresh oxygen. Do a rain dance for a thunderstorm. Watch little bugs as they crawl around in grass. Connect with nature. Remember that you’re a part of it, that you emerged from the same Nature’s Petri Dish.
When you feel like peopling again, surround yourself with positive people. I’m not talking about the cheesy “rah-rah, I never have a bad day and oh by the way I’m probably lying to myself” type of people that probably spawned Grumpy Cat in response. I’m talking about level-headed, wise, even-keel, supportive and understanding, logical, balanced, drama-free people. People who are realists, people with challenges and hurdles of their own but keep them in perspective and live a good life as a reasonably happy person anyway.
Cleanly prune those who only want something from you. Filter out those who bring out the worst in you. Leave behind those who wrap you up in knotty mental pretzels. Forget those who end up making you feel bad about yourself, or those whom when you’re around them, you don’t like yourself during/after your time together. This especially goes for anyone who, when you are–or after you’ve been–around them, you feel physical symptoms like fatigue, headache, other pain, nausea, jittery, weak, hay fever symptoms (runny nose, sneezing), or some other ailment. Kick them out of your life, or at least minimize your contact with them as much as possible. Many of us on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum are significantly influenced, for better or worse, by the “vibe” or disposition of the people around us.
If your living space is large, consider consolidating to a smaller, simpler, more manageable, and less expensive place. Scale back your cost of living as much as possible. Even the Little Things (that add up, both in terms of expense and life complexity), such as household products and whatnot, can be swapped out in favor of DIY-reciped homemade stuff that’s every bit as–and often more–effective than conventional store-bought products.
Physical activity is key, too. Motion is life. It doesn’t really matter what kind of motion. The best type is the type that you: 1) can do, without injury, and 2) enjoy doing. Bonus points if you can easily work it into your day without much hassle. You can be creative here. Think back to when you were a kid; what did you like to do? Jump rope? Hackey-sack? Walking? Dancing to Madonna songs in front of the mirror? Hiking? Climbing rocks? Spinning? Building a fort in the woods? Biking along nature trails? Gardening? (Yes, that counts as exercise.) Rollerskating or rollerblading? Martial arts? Yoga? (Yep, that counts, too.) Stretching? Gymnastics? Swimming? Playing tag or Hide-and-Seek in the dark? Pilates? Wii Fit or the similar Xbox counterpart? Capture the Flag? Two-square or Four-square? Volleyball? Hula-hoop? Balance beam? Playing with the cat, dog, or other four-legged family member? Any of these counts.
Mental (at least, these are more mental than physical) activities are just as important. Coloring in detailed coloring books, collage work, scrapbooking, pottery, jewelry making/bead work, knitting/crocheting, embroidery/sewing, etc. Woodworking. Painting. Sketching, drawing. Photography. Crossword puzzles or Sudoku. Reading. Learning another language. Rubix Cube. Legos. Building models. Digital art, graphic design. Cartooning. Writing. Playing an instrument. Listening to music. Playing the non-physical video or computer games (was anyone else the Tetris and Solitaire champions of their families), too? Whatever your primary “special interests” are.
Try not to say “yes” to more than you can handle. If you agree to something, and immediately find yourself kicking yourself or resenting the other person, that’s an indicator that you might have overextended yourself and taken on too much. Remember that it’s OK to say no, even when you might not have something planned for that very minute and you have a hole in your schedule. I find it helpful to go through my calendar (online or paper-copy is fine) and input my obligations, then my recurring rituals, and then, every other day or so, block off the free space under “Me Time” or “Self-Care Time”. Then, it’s considered taken, and any little last-minute extras or favors are scheduled around it. There–you’ve just scheduled yourself some downtime, and you’ve taken care of your obligations as well, so your downtime is more likely to be guilt-free.
Just Say No to drama. Drama is one of the biggest energy drainers and emotional downers I’ve ever seen. Some people aren’t happy unless they’re stirring the pot and ruffling feathers. They can be your friends (or not); regardless, it’s easy to get sucked into the undertow, and you might end up deeper in than you want to be before you even realize it. I consider myself a fairly drama-free person who, if my warrior side is going to show, I’m going to have picked my battles carefully, and yet, this has happened to me. I don’t think anybody’s exempt. Be on the lookout for picking fights, constant negativity without any positivity to balance it out, polarizing or extreme viewpoints, a refusal to agree to disagree, personal attacks, ad hominem attacks, and so on.
That being said, I wholeheartedly acknowledge that some of these don’t apply in certain topics or situations; for example, sometimes one can’t simply agree to disagree, such as on topics like bigotry, bullying, racism, homophobia, cruelty, etc. But I try to keep as open and inclusive of a mind as possible; it may surprise people to know that I actually do have a few friends on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum who think A$ is OK. I don’t share that viewpoint at all, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to sever a friendship with an otherwise really nice person in our community.
The key for self-care is, to use the trendy cliche, to “cultivate a ritual” – essentially, to work it into our daily routine. Or weekly routine. Or some frequency in between (such as two or three times a week). Think it through, like taking a dry run in your brain, to figure out where it might best fit, so that your daily activities transition smoothly from one thing to another.
There is absolutely no shame in doing any of this. You are not “lazy” for taking some leisure time. You are not “cold and callous” for crossing certain people off your list. You are not “wimpy” for needing to stop the world and melt with silence or to avoid chaotic environments. You’re not an “underachiever” for pacing yourself. You’re not “stubborn” or “defiant” or “disagreeable” for not wanting to do something, or for saying no to someone or declining an invitation. You’re not “distant” for turning off your devices for a little while. You’re not “flaky” for backing out of something when you realize that you can’t realistically do it without accumulating too high a cost to yourself. You’re not “mean” or “fickle” or anything else we imagine too often.