Everyone will experience stress and anxiety at some point during their lifetime. 

74% of adults and 83% of 18-24 years olds in the UK have felt unable to cope and overwhelmed because of stress.

Stress is a reaction to a particular event e.g. losing your job, getting married or the death of a loved one. It can be something short term such as an exam looming or a long-term worry like a chronic illness. 

People who experience stress often have headaches, are tired, irritable, angry and have difficulty sleeping.

People who suffer from anxiety will have the same symptoms as stress but the anxiety is there with the absence of a stressor. Anxiety is also the body’s response to stress. 

It’s believed a massive 40 percent of autistic young people have an anxiety disorder. As for adults with autism? Research is limited, but some studies show from 29 to 50 percent of these adults have an anxiety disorder, compared to only 18 percent of the general population.

Anxiety is a massive part of raising an autistic child.

Studies are now showing that weighted blankets and other sensory products can promote better sleep and alleviate feelings of anxiety. 

Physical symptoms of anxiety:

  • A churning feeling in your stomach
  • Feeling light-headed or dizzy
  • Pins and needles
  • Feeling restless or unable to sit still
  • Headaches, backache or other aches and pains
  • Faster breathing
  • A fast, thumping or irregular heartbeat
  • Sweating or hot flushes
  • Problems sleeping
  • Grinding your teeth, especially at night
  • Nausea (feeling sick)
  • Needing the toilet more or less often
  • Changes in your sex drive
  • Having panic attacks

Mental symptoms of anxiety:

  • Feeling tense, nervous or unable to relax
  • Having a sense of dread, or fearing the worst
  • Feeling like the world is speeding up or slowing down
  • Feeling like other people can see you’re anxious and are looking at you
  • Feeling like you can’t stop worrying, or that bad things will happen if you stop worrying
  • Worrying about anxiety itself, for example worrying about when panic attacks might happen
  • Wanting lots of reassurance from other people or worrying that people are angry or upset with you
  • Worrying that you’re losing touch with reality
  • Rumination – thinking a lot about bad experiences, or thinking over a situation again and again
  • Depersonalisation – Feelings disconnected from your mind or body, or like you’re watching someone else
  • Derealisation – feeling disconnected from the world around you, or like the world isn’t real 
  • Worrying a lot about things that might happen in the future 

Suffering from anxiety is a terrible burden but is arguably harder to cope with for autistic children. They often find managing and coping with their racing emotions extremely difficult.

Tips for dealing with anxiety:

Understand your triggers – This is especially important for autistic children. As a parent we need to learn what situations our individual child may find difficult and if possible avoid or prepare the child. As children get older they will learn to do this themselves.

Try to stay positive – This can be difficult but trying to focus on happy thoughts can reduce anxiety.

Healthy diet – This is important for everything but having a well balanced diet will give you enough energy for the day and encourage a feeling of wellbeing.

Reduce alcohol and caffeine intake – Both of these can increase anxiety and even trigger panic attacks.

Exercise regularly – Exercise increases the productions of endorphins, it decreases anxiety and makes you feel good. You may also tire yourself out making sleep a little easier to find.

Family and friends – Talking to trusted people can make you feel less alone and help you cope.

Have enough sleep – Sleep is vital to physical and mental wellbeing. Getting the right amount of sleep makes you feel better and less anxious.