As an autistic adult, I know burnout can be incredibly disruptive. Usually, it happens after stressful or overwhelming situations, causing exhaustion, mental health issues, and struggles with functioning in day-to-day life. Sometimes, in burnout, something as regular as doing the dishes or taking a shower can feel impossible. Thankfully, developing healthy ways of coping can help.
If you’re an autistic adult struggling with burnout, here are a few strategies to try.
Tip 1: Recognize the signs
You may be burnt out if you’re tired, having a hard time concentrating or dealing with unusual amounts of anxiety and irritability. Other signs are struggling more than usual with verbal or written processing, motor skills, motivation, and decision-making. Once you know you’re in burnout, you can start taking more steps to manage your stress.
Keep track of your symptoms in a journal, notes app, or voice note diary to identify patterns and triggers for burnout. Talk to your therapist or another trusted healthcare professional to get their advice if possible.
Tip 2: Make time and space for self-care
Caring for yourself through activities you enjoy, quality time with loved ones or alone, and physical wellness can help alleviate burnout. If you’re able to, focus on getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, drinking lots of water, and doing exercise. Get outside as much as you can, and take baths or showers as needed. Relax and reflect in a way that feels right to you.
Establishing morning and bedtime routines can be a really peaceful way of practicing self-care. Try building it around a special interest (for example, every morning, I scroll through autism TikToks before work with a cup of coffee) or a safe food. Limit things that make you anxious — caffeine only works for some people — and put more time into the things that you find soothing.
Tip 3: Set clear boundaries
Often, burnout can be avoided or lessened by setting clearer boundaries. This might mean saying no to things you don’t have the capacity for or requesting accommodation at work, at school, or in relationships. Try reducing how much time you’re spending in spaces that trigger your sensory overwhelm. Once you set these boundaries, do your best to stick to them and ask your support system to do the same.
If you’re having a hard time figuring out which boundaries you need to set, try using a visual schedule. Make sure you book time for self-care, recharging, sleeping, eating, and cleaning. That should leave you with limited time for socializing, so only say yes to the things you have the energy for.
If you’ve noticed triggers from journalling, think of accommodations you could get to manage them. For example, if you often have meltdowns in noisy environments, bring earplugs and noise-cancelling headphones with you. In your journal, note which coping strategies are effective for setting boundaries and which aren’t so you can use that information for your benefit next time you burn out.
Tip 4: Seek external support
Talking to a therapist, friends, family, or other autistic folks can help you feel heard, understood, and accommodated. If you’re eligible for benefits in housing and financial support, consider using those too.
Join a support group or social group like Getting Together on the Spectrum, our recurring online event for autistic adults. Attend meetups based on hobbies you enjoy. Getting in touch with a therapist you like can also make a huge difference, along with spending more quality time with people who make you feel safe.
Tip 5: Try different coping strategies
What calms you down when you’re feeling burnt out? What helps your body and mind get some stillness? For some people, all it takes is to put on noise-cancelling headphones or sensory-friendly clothing. For others, it might be crocheting, yoga, or swimming. I like putting on a sleep mask and ear plugs and taking a nap. Weighted blankets and stuffed animals, stim toys, and video games can all help keep your nervous system regulated. Play around with different coping skills to see what you like best and incorporate that practice into your self-care.
Recovery from autistic burnout is totally possible, though it looks different for everyone, and each autistic person moves at their own pace. Be patient with yourself, focus on self-compassion, and reach out for professional help if you need it.
Some Clinicians recommended by AutismBC members:
Vancouver Island region that Tara Watters at Diverse Pathways & Alex Leslie at Understory Counselling are excellent and ND/AA practitioners.
A lifetime of working in journalism and advocacy prepared me for becoming a content creator with AutismBC. As an autistic person with OCD, anxiety, depression, and myotonic dystrophy, I understand firsthand what it’s like to live and think differently than most, and I’m passionate about advocating for and communicating with others in the community.
I’m also a non-binary lesbian in a happy relationship. Outside of writing, I love to make music, watch horror movies, and hang out with my partner and cat.