Getting help for my anxiety – and some useful strategies

I once gave a presentation at a conference. I said that ‘all autistic people experience problematic anxiety.’ Someone in the audience challenged me, saying that he worked with some autistic people who did not experience problematic anxiety. I acknowledged that I should not have made a sweeping statement but I actually do suspect all – or almost all – autistic people experience problematic anxiety. I certainly know that I do.

I started noticing my anxiety when I was 14. I felt nauseous all the time and interpreted it as a digestive issue but hindsight tells me out was physical manifestations of anxiety. In my adult life anxiety has been a big issue, mostly because if I get extremely anxious for a few weeks or more it will turn into psychosis. In fact every psychotic episode I have had has occurred after I have been very anxious. What I would give for my anxiety to not turn into psychosis! A psychotic episode results in me having to go to hospital, sometimes for months at a time, and to take lengthy periods off work. You can no doubt understand why I get anxious when I start to get anxious! Anxiety can also result in suicidal thoughts – and actions – for me so I try to avoid anxiety.

I now take medication for anxiety which is extremely helpful so big yay to that. This medication was started last year and I have been troubled by anxiety for, um 34 years. So why did it take so long to get appropriate medication and treatment? One reason was my difficulty in being assertive and also articulating my feelings to medical staff. Like many autistic people I have alexithymia (or emotion blindness) making it hard for me to pinpoint my emotions. Another issue is that most of the time I have been accessing treatment I have either been doing OK or I have been psychotic. In both situations I struggled to express what my needs were around anxiety. If I am seeing my psychiatrist in the community I feel OK so neglect to ask for help for anxiety and at the other extreme, when I am psychotic, I have no idea what is happening and am terrified and it is very difficult to explain my emotions or concerns.

So, apart form the wonderful and effective medication I have had for a year, what do I do to address my anxiety?

  1. My anxiety has a strong physical component. I get butterflies in my stomach and tightness in my face when I am anxious. This means that physical strategies are going to address help my anxiety. Things like deep breathing are really helpful. 
  2. Distraction. This is my number one, go to mental health strategy. It involves focusing my attention on something other than the anxiety. My favourite distractions are work, watching TV, spending time with friends and writing. Everyone has their own distractions that work for them. 
  3. When I was in a residential service for mental health last year my worker gave a nifty strategy. This was to imagine thoughts which provoke anxiety as being a visitor at the door. You can’t help them being there but you can decide whether or not to let them in. I tweaked this by imagining that the visitor is Donald Trump. There is no circumstance in which I would ever let him in! I now think to myself ‘Trump’s at the door!’ when anxiety takes hold. I find this works well.
  4. A gratitude journal. This one also works for depression and I really like it. You basically write down two things you are grateful for each day. I will note that this is less likely to work for someone who is extremely depressed and may be counter-productive in that situation so only use it if you find it helpful.
  5. Medication. Medication can be really helpful. There are lots of different medications for anxiety. Medication is not for everyone but it can make a big difference. It can take a few attempts to find an effective medication.
  6. Mindfulness. This is a sort of meditation practice which can benefit mental health. Some autistic people don’t like mindfulness and find it doesn’t help but I quite like it. The concept behind mindfulness is to live in the moment. Don’t dwell on the past or worry about the future but focus on what you can do in the here and now. There are lots of different mindfulness techniques. I use YouTube videos of pretty scenery, birds or the ocean set to music. I lie back in my papasan chair and focus on the images. It works really well.

Finally getting help for my anxiety was life-changing. I do wish this had happened 34 years ago rather than 1 year ago. Imagine what my life would have been like then! I am grateful to now be living in a world which is much less stressful though. I posted yesterday ‘I like this less stress-y Yennski” and I really do. Anxiety can be horrible and debilitating. I hope the strategies here are helpful for you too. And look out if Trump is at the door!! 

2 thoughts on “Getting help for my anxiety – and some useful strategies

  1. I love the idea of leaving the “unwanted visitor” at the door! 😊 I’m glad you’ve found relief from your anxiety. I was pretty much born anxious, and it’s no picnic! Thank you to my good friends, Zoloft and Abilify! 😃


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