Blog for Individuals and Neurodiverse Couples Affected by ASD
Are you an adult with High-Functioning Autism or Asperger's? Are you in a relationship with someone on the autism spectrum? Are you struggling emotionally, socially, spiritually or otherwise? Then you've come to the right place. We are here to help you in any way we can. Kick off your shoes and stay awhile...
The holidays often bring an unwelcome guest: stress. And it's no wonder since the holidays present a dizzying array of demands like parties, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining, just to name a few. But with some practical tips, people with Asperger's (high functioning autism) can minimize the stress that accompanies the holidays – and they may even end up enjoying the holidays more than they thought they would.
How to prevent holiday stress:
1. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 5 minutes alone without distractions can refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Take a walk in the evening and gaze at the stars. Listen to soft music. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner peace.
2. Before you go shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to that budget. Don't try to buy happiness with a ton of gifts. Instead, donate to a charity in someone's name, give homemade gifts, or start a family gift exchange.
3. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don't live up to your expectations. Set aside resentments until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get angry or upset when something goes awry. Chances are they're feeling the effects of holiday stress as well.
4. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently stressed out or depressed, plagued by physical aches and pains, unable to sleep, irritable and disheartened, and unable to face everyday chores. If these emotions last for a while, talk to a mental health professional.
5. Saying 'yes' when you should say 'no' can leave you feeling angry and resentful. Friends and coworkers will understand if you can't participate in every project or activity. If it's not possible to say 'no' when your employer asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
6. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends, etc. Plan your menus, and then make your shopping list. This will help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten items. And be sure to get assistance from others for party preparations and cleanup.
7. If you feel lonely or isolated, find some community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Also, volunteering your time to help others is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
8. Don't let the holidays become a free-for-all. Over-indulgence only adds to your anxiety and guilt. Have healthy snacks before holiday get-togethers so that you don't go overboard on sweets, cheese, wine, etc. Also, continue to get plenty of sleep and physical activity.
9. The holidays don't have to be perfect. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change too. Choose a few rituals to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones (e.g., if your adult child can't come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, like sharing pictures, emails or YouTube videos).
10. If someone close to you has recently died or you can't be with loved ones, realize that it's normal to feel sorrow and/or moodiness. It's perfectly alright to take time to cry or express your emotions. You can't force yourself to be cheerful just because it's the holidays.
Don't let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take steps to prevent the stress that can descend during this time. Learn to recognize your holiday triggers (e.g., financial pressures, personal demands, etc.) so you can combat them before they lead to a meltdown. With a little planning and some positive self-talk, you can find serenity and pleasure during the festive season.
Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time of gratitude, happiness, and fellowship with family. During the long Thanksgiving weekend, we are bombarded and inundated with reminders of past holidays. The multitude of reminders can be a trigger for several unresolved issues such as:
Anticipating a significant loss
Contrast between image of holiday joy and reality of one’s life
Contrast between then and now
Disappointment about now
Sense of increased isolation and loneliness
We asked a group of 50 men and women with Asperger’s (high functioning autism) to:
“Write down one piece of advice you would give to someone on the autism spectrum who is experiencing the Thanksgiving blues.”
Here’s what they had to say (and if you are a bit depressed as we head into Thanksgiving, hopefully you will find something here to help you through):
1. Create a box of old memories and traditions. Include in this box, new traditions that you want to create.
2. Connect with someone you have lost touch with.
3. Be careful about resentments related to past Thanksgiving holidays. Declare an amnesty with whichever family member or friend you are feeling past resentments. Do not feel it is helpful or intimate to tell your relative every resentment on your laundry list of grievances. Don't let your relative do that to you, either.
4. Remind yourself of the festivity of the occasion.
5. Set limits. Try to maintain a balanced diet, eat and drink in moderation.
6. Set up a gratitude box where each family member puts a piece of paper in it to briefly describe what they are thankful for.
7. Decide upon your priorities and stick to them. Organize your time.
8. Do one good thing for someone outside of the family.
9. Do something for someone else. Take the focus off yourself. It always feels good to help others.
10. Be reasonable with your schedule. Do not overbook yourself into a state of exhaustion--this makes Aspies cranky, irritable, and depressed.
11. Be realistic in your expectations. If you haven't got along with your relatives in 15 years, it's not suddenly going to change.
12. Invent new family traditions. This will help decrease longing for missing loved ones. Instead of being sad that grandma is no longer alive to bake her famous German chocolate cake, begin a tradition of baking German chocolate cupcakes with the kids in the family. This creates a new tradition, but honors grandma as well.
13. In the spirit of good will toward others, get involved with a volunteer activity. Check with local churches, food banks, soup kitchens, and youth organizations to see how they can benefit from your knowledge, skills and abilities.
14. If you find yourself feeling blue just remember: The choice is always yours. The sky is partly sunny, and the glass is half full and revel in our gratitude for our bounty, health, hope, and our courage to face each day with hope and determination.
15. If you drink, do not let Thanksgiving become a reason for over-indulging and hangovers. This will exacerbate your depression and anxiety. Contrary to popular opinion, alcohol is a depressant. People with depression shouldn't drink alcohol.
16. If you are feeling lonely, get out and get around people. Consider volunteering for non-profit organizations or visiting a nursing home as a good way to remember the spirit of Thanksgiving.
17. Don't expect Thanksgiving Day to be just as it was when you were a child. It never is. YOU are not the same as when you were a child, and no one else in the family is either.
18. Give priority to gifts that can't be bought--such as time, support and sharing of memories. (Last year we visited my Grandmother in Maine, which I will be eternally grateful that my husband got a chance to meet her.)
19. Give yourself a break. Create time for yourself to do the things YOU love and need to do for your physical and mental wellness: aerobic exercise, yoga, massage, spiritual practices, taking long fast walks, or any activity that calms you down and gives you a better perspective on what is important in your life.
20. Surround yourself with supportive people.
21. To put things into perspective, try waking up very early and watch a sunrise with a cup of hot cocoa or coffee.
22. Try to recognize (and put a positive spin on) unrealistic expectations.
23. Write down positives about past holidays. Start a new tradition of a journal with just 2 or 3 happy thoughts every year.
24. Go outdoors and get active.
25. Honor lost loved ones. Lost loved ones does not simply refer to those who have passed, but can also refer to those who are deployed with the military, or live in a different state. Send care packages, video tape activities and events, communicate via Skype. To honor those who have passed, have a special meal or a moment of silence or visit a place the person enjoyed.
26. Pace yourself. Don't take on more activities, make more commitments, or try and do more than you can reasonably handle during Thanksgiving.
27. Pets help me through the holidays. They provide a lifetime of fun, laughs and companionship. Be realistic about the type of pet that’s right for you. Think beyond cats and dogs. Consider hamsters, guinea pigs, and birds.
28. Plan ahead. Set priorities and budgets before Thanksgiving. Plan a calendar for shopping, baking, visiting and other events. Create a "To Do List" if things get overwhelming.
29. Get plenty of rest.
30. Get involved with community service.
31. Volunteer to serve Thanksgiving dinner at a homeless shelter. Work with any number of groups that help underprivileged or hospitalized children at Thanksgiving. There are many, many opportunities for doing community service. No one can be depressed when they are doing community service.
32. Exercise regularly.
33. Enlist your friends’ help before Thanksgiving.
34. Enjoy those who are around you.
35. Enjoy some free activities. Check with local community and recreation centers, churches and shopping malls for a schedule of free activities.
36. Don't use Thanksgiving as a time for family therapy, whether before, during or shortly after.
37. Don't pretend that feelings of loss are not there if you have them. Say a special prayer, reminisce and continue counseling.
38. If the symptoms of hopelessness and depression last for more than two weeks, or if they worsen, you need to see your doc. Anyone having suicidal thoughts should seek immediate care, either through their own doctor or through the nearest hospital emergency department.
39. Keep the spirit of Thanksgiving alive in your home.
40. Isolation increases feelings of loneliness, hopelessness and helplessness. Maintain your regular work and leisure schedule as much as possible. Accept invitations to spend time with family and friends.
41. Invite family members to your home. Be realistic about the type of event you have. If the thought of a huge family dinner is too much to contemplate, then mix things up a bit. Smaller gatherings with fewer expectations reduce the stress of preparing for a large crowd and gives you something to look forward to.
42. If you are feeling grief or loss, acknowledge them. Recognize and accept that both positive and negative feelings may be experienced during Thanksgiving, and that this is normal.
43. Reach out to past friends and family. Send a card with a hand written note, make a phone call, send an e-mail, or search Facebook. Whatever the reason the relationship has grown apart probably isn’t still relevant or meaningful. Put those long-forgotten reasons aside and rekindle that relationship.
44. Make a list of the losses and the positives that have influenced the year. Deal with the feelings that the list evokes.
45. Make pacts with friends to motivate each other.
46. Minimize the number of negative people (even if these are family members!).
47. Plan unstructured, low-cost fun activities: window-shop and look at the holiday decorations, look at people's Christmas lighting on their homes, take a trip to the countryside, etc.--the opportunities are endless.
48. Reach out and make new friends, especially if you will be alone during Thanksgiving.
49. Remember, no matter what your plans, Thanksgiving does not automatically take away feelings of aloneness, sadness, frustration, anger, and fear.
50. Spend time someone you care about. Accept invitations, give invitations. Don’t allow your negative symptoms to drive your behavior and perhaps drive away friends and family.