I’m an adult on the spectrum, and recently I've felt like I’m getting more autistic. I’ve taught myself a lot of skills for socializing over the years, but in the past few months it feels harder and harder to keep them up. I’m worried that I will fall into depression, lose friends, or make mistakes at my job because I am tired all the time and struggling to focus. I think that I might be experiencing burnout. Do you have any suggestions for refueling and rejuvenating myself so that I can use my skills again?
-Burned Out and Feeling Bummed
Dear Burned Out:
Burnout is a very real phenomenon, and one that we’ve covered in
. Know that you’re not alone, and you haven’t done anything wrong to cause this. Burnout can happen thanks to many years of working hard to fit into a neurotypical world.
But beyond accepting what’s happening and cutting yourself some slack, it’s important to use a new set of skills that will help you get your energy back up so you can keep up your social skills and feel more on top of your tasks.
A good place to start is with the basics. When we’re stressed or fatigued, it’s easy to miss meals, forget to exercise, or end up with skewed sleep patterns. Create a schedule for yourself that helps you eat regularly (with a good balance); move your body during the day; and get enough sleep. Taking care of your body will help even out your emotional state.
Once you’ve stabilized your basic self-care, think about how much you’ve got on your plate. If you are experiencing burnout, you may need to start saying no to more things. It might seem like other people can do more things than you can because they have energy when they get home from work or on the weekends. That’s ok. Give yourself permission to make rest a priority. If people ask you to take on additional responsibilities, this is permission to say no. Think carefully about what social engagements are important to keeping up relationships you care about, and which are just a drain on your energy. Focus on those that will help you to create a strong support system.
Speaking of a support system, this also is a great time to practice asking for help. If you have a roommate, a spouse, or someone else who is willing to help you with chores around the house, let them know that you might need to renegotiate who is keeping up the space, at least for a few months.
We consider it normal when someone has a physical illness to bring over meals, but when someone is experiencing depression we don’t typically think to support them in that way. If you have a couple of close friends or family members who would be willing to make you a large batch of food that will save, this can help you keep up your health while also cutting back on the amount of work you need to do.
Finally, a good place to focus your self-care is sensory needs. You may not notice how much energy gets sapped each day due to sensory overload. Take some time to figure out which sensory experiences feel good to you (whether that’s a weighted blanket, a hot bath, a fidget, a massage, or a combination of sensations), and make sure that you add one of those experiences to every day. When you start to feel tired or overwhelmed, try incorporating one of your sensory preferences. There’s nothing wrong with putting on fuzzy pajamas when you get home if it means you don’t end up melting down.
Remember that burnout doesn’t last forever. If you spend a few months focusing on your well-being and self-care, there will be a change. Your health and fatigue are a priority right now.
-Beth Pitchford, LPCC