AUTISTIC NICK AND HIS MASK ANXIETY
Here in Western Australia we have just come out of a 5-day lockdown. During this time the WA government made it mandatory for all WA inhabitants to wear a mask.
Which only heightened my anxiety at having to head into and then come out of a 5-day lockdown.
Anxiety can happen for a range of reasons and Autistic people can vary in their ability to cope with it.
Understanding your emotions can be difficult. But by getting help from someone so that you can understand your anxiety, you can then be in a position to manage it better.
Anxiety doesn’t just affect the mind, but it can also directly affect the body as well. The psychological and physical symptoms of anxiety are closely linked, and this can lead to a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break.
As someone with Autism this wasn’t the news that I wanted to hear, it simply isn’t an option for me to wear a face covering. Partly this is due to it being a sensory issue, because on the surface, I’m having to deal with the scratchy texture of the fabric that they use to make the mask, then there is the tight contact where the top of the mask meets the skin, and the tug of elastic on my ears. I am then dealing with the sensations that occur under the mask which are no more pleasant and include the warm, damp smell of recycled air as well as the fact that you can smell your own breath! In addition, the sensation of breathing in and exhaling air through the nose made it feel restrictive for me.
But, with these safety precautions in place what can I do to in order to not be in a position where I don’t want to leave my house for fear of having to wear a mask? I came up with some strategies that I feel helped me to feel more comfortable wearing a mask.
What I Did
So, in preparation for wearing a mask in public I came up with a plan.
I only wore my mask to places that I had visited before and knew that I wouldn’t be spending a long-time in.
When I needed to go to Aldi for my weekly shop, I took my mum along with me for extra support so that if I got overwhelmed I knew that my mum (my support) was nearby and would know what to do if it escalated and we needed to leave.
Worked from Home
I was lucky that I was able to work from home during this time, I didn’t want to have to travel into the city, and then spend four hours wearing a mask, then travel home, all the while my anxiety levels would be going through the roof, also I wanted to stay safe and not be in a position where I could potentially have an Autistic meltdown at work.
But, what else can you do?
Strategies for Managing your Anxiety
Once you have understood and acknowledged that you have anxiety, the next step is to begin to identify what triggers, and situations are the root cause of your anxiety. This is where keeping a diary can be an extremely useful tool.
By keeping a diary and writing down exactly how you felt during a certain situation this should enable you to see the following;
What was the trigger?
What was the situation?
The time and the date?
Did I alert someone that I was feeling anxious?
What steps did they take?
What steps did I take?
What did I do to resolve the situation?
What can I do to prevent myself from becoming anxious the next time I am out in a social situation?
How anxious did I feel on a scale from 1-10?
Was I with my carer or was I with a group of friends?
Have I informed them that I have anxiety, did they know what steps to take?
You can modify the above to best suit your current situation. The biggest benefit of keeping a diary is that you can use this as a reference tool, and this will assist in you managing your anxiety better.
Another step to take and one that I find particularly useful to have in place is an anxiety plan.
This video gives some very helpful tips
What’s an Anxiety Plan you may well ask?
Well an anxiety plan is a list of things and situations that cause anxiety but includes solutions and strategies that you can use to help them manage your anxiety levels. This plan can be adapted, depending upon how well someone understands anxiety.
Here’s an example:
Situation – Going on the bus
Anxiety symptoms – Heart beats fast; sweat and feel sick
Solution – Have stress ball in pocket, squeeze the ball and take deep breaths, or listen to music.
By installing relaxation into your daily routine, it can aid you in managing your anxiety and release tension.
Some examples of how to relax could be using deep breathing exercises, doing yoga, going for a walk, taking a bath or listening to relaxing music.
Other options you could try are reaching out to other Autism support groups for advice, seeking professional help from a psychologist or physiatrist is another resource to look into.
You can search for a psychologist here https://www.psychology.org.au/Find-a-Psychologist
Or you can see a physiatrist here https://www.yourhealthinmind.org/find-a-psychiatrist
CARRY ON THE CONVERSATION
How did you cope wearing a mask?
Let me know in the comments section below
Thank you for reading and I will see you next time for more thoughts from across the spectrum.