A response to the question about anxiety…

I tried to simply comment, but found myself writing entirely too much for just a comment… so here’s the post:

The first step to controlling anxiety is understanding the purpose behind fear. Fear is designed to give mortal beings a heads up that they are in danger. It evokes the “fight or flight” response. Most people when they are startled or in a tense situation (or even if a terrifying thought goes through their heads) are able to automatically assess the situation and respond appropriately. An Aspie is likely to go into full “fight or flight” mode without that assessment. It’s just going to hit, and we’re going to respond. The assessment part does not come naturally. I had to learn to do that part ON PURPOSE. (Just like I have to make eye contact on purpose.)

When I was a teenager, I was terrified (still) to sleep in my own room. The things that terrified me were mostly imaginary, but the physical response was the same. I learned a trick for dealing with that. I learned to take cues from my cat. If Peter was sleeping calmly on my bed, then I knew that everything was ok, regardless of how I felt. It was safe to go to sleep. I transferred this cue taking trick into other areas and learned to assess the situation to see if there is real danger… if not, then it’s time for the next step.

The next step is to take control of the physical response. I learned first to purposefully breathe very slowly and to feel the response of my heart rate to each breath. Somewhere along the line, I learned an excersize that taught me to purposefully contract and relax each muscle group from the ones in my face all the way down to the ones in my toes. Eventually, I learned to do it all at once… which is a little tricky because it has occasionally resulted in appearing to have passed out… and it’s a little difficult to “come back” after doing it. The trick is to find a happy medium, not relaxing so completely that I turn to jello. (Unless I’m trying to sleep anyway.)

The whole thing is about learning that I do have control, if not over the situation, at least over my response to it. Do loud noises still bother me? Yes. Do crowds still bother me? Absolutely. Can they hurt me? The answer to this one varies, but statisticaly it has been no. So my response can be to tune them out and focus my attention on the positive aspects of the situation. I have to ask myself sometimes, “What do I like about this?” It took a lot of effort at first. It took energy… but after a while it does become habitual, even if it is not entirely automatic. As I’ve had to put less and less actual thought into it, I’ve learned to enjoy things more and more. Instead of the “instinct filters” that most people seem to have, I’ve learned to build “thought filters.” My “instincts” tell me to respond to every possible little threat (real or imaginary)… my reasoning has taught me to assess the situation and CHOOSE my response.

Because of this method, I have done a whole lot of really cool things that should have otherwise freaked me out. I’m a Skipper on the Jungle Cruise at Disney World. (If you’ve ever been there, you know what that entails.) I’ve sung in front of audiences of more than 800 people. I got my driver’s license. I learned to drive a stick shift. I got my motorcycle license. I’ve fired a gun at a shooting range and hit center mass 96% of the time. I got married. I have three kids. I moved from PA to FL. I held a job at a gas station in Philly for three and a half years. (Trust me, that was anxiety central with Philly having such an insane high crime rate.)  This is not in chronological order. I still feel the anxiety. I just don’t let it control me. I control it. It is a purposeful choice. Life has too much to offer to spend it hiding from every little thing that makes me uncomfortable. (Uncomfortable is a gross understatement, but there isn’t a better word available at the moment.)

Most people here are dealing with children, and kids typically don’t have fully developed reasoning skills. Talk about the things that make your Aspie kids anxious. Get them to put their thoughts into words or pictures and work them out. What does a loud noise feel like or look like inside your head? What does a person standing too close feel like? or smell like? or even sound like? Then rationalize it: Can anything about this situation actually hurt you? The answer is usually going to come down to a, “No.” In that case, you (being the parent) can tell the kid “Let’s get over it.” Then work together to face situations little bits at a time where you go into it knowing that you are going to practice the steps to not freaking out. Assess the situation. Choose your response. Put the response into action.

Kids need practice to feel assured of their own abilities. Thing is, it seems that Aspie kids have to know that’s what they’re doing. Most kids will learn without realizing they are learning. An Aspie kid, probably needs to be told, “You’re doing THIS to learn THAT.” Then, when you’re faced with a new situation where you’re not practicing on purpose, you can just say, “Hey, remember, we practiced this? Let’s do it!” Teach them to apply what they’ve practiced in real situations and eventually they won’t need the reminders as much because it will become habit.

They’ll pick up on your anxiety too. So, if you’re anxious about how they are going to respond… expect their anxiety level to be even higher. If YOU can relax, your Aspie can learn to watch you for how to respond as well. Just like I learned to watch my cat and trust his instincts. Kids don’t know that they CAN do things on purpose. You (the parents) can teach them how.

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0 thoughts on “A response to the question about anxiety…

  • August 29, 2009 at 6:27 pm
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    By the way… I am the same keystspf on xanga and on autisable… just haven’t figured out how to make the two the same… different profile pictures, same person.

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  • August 29, 2009 at 6:23 pm
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    @brokenangel125@xanga – I used the easiest to write about. I did not use my irrational fear of imaginary dinosaurs that had me terrified to walk through the church building because the handles on the doors looked like the ones in Jurassic Park that went on for three years. I didn’t mention the panic attacks that caused the entire youth group to surround me and attempt to cast demons out of me. I didn’t mention the months I spent taking one excedrin pm after another to escape being awake and afraid. (I was only 13 years old.) I didn’t mention seeing demons. I didn’t mention the incessant nightmares.

    I know what fear is. I know that insane heart-pounding, gut-wrenching, terror that has no rational explanation. I get dizzy on the second floor of the mall, and if I see someone too close to the rail it takes sheer will-power to remain standing… it does something to my knees that I have no explanation for. I have to control that reaction or look like a total whacko in public. Even playing video games where the character has to jump over a hole causes the reaction.

    It takes a dire emergency to get me to a doctor. I am afraid of them too. Imagine trying not to pass that fear on to my kids? You can ask my husband how I respond to being approached by a big dog… even a friendly one. Yes, I know what a full blown panic attack feels like… and I have learned to control the responses that lead to one… there are signs that come before it. Thoughts that can be intercepted and redirected to head it off. It’s not easy. Not at all. You CAN do it though.

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  • August 27, 2009 at 3:49 am
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    thank you so much for this post.
    i am also an incredibly anxious 17 year old, terrified of all the things you mentioned (including sleeping in my own room)
    i’m currently preparing for my drivers, and after every driving session i am so strung up. but i like what you said, “Life has too much to offer to spend it hiding from every little thing that makes me uncomfortable.”
    i hope i can come out top as you did

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  • August 26, 2009 at 6:37 pm
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    Try having agoraphobia.. it sucks the life right out of you. Have you ever been locked in your house for months on end? Paralyzed by panic attacks and feeling like you’re going to die every second that you’re out in public? I’ve been seeing somebody for over a year, Cognitive behavioral therapy.. it’s helping slowly and I one day hope I can be free. I think you’re lucky for just being scared of sleeping alone in the dark, or singing in front of a group of people. Some people don’t have it as easy as you did/do.

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  • August 26, 2009 at 5:15 pm
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    Great post.  Love the logic and detailed step-by-step move towards solution.  Good writing, thumbs up, what-ho and I’m recommending this to all audiences, diagnosed or not.

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  • August 26, 2009 at 11:07 am
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    Thank you so much for this. My sister has anxiety problems (she’s 9, but she’s had them since she was 6). I hate that she’s on medication but it has helped alot, along with support from my family on teaching her how to react to situations. To be honest, it was hard at first to understand why she did certain things (she won’t go down our basement without someone walking her down – even in daylight, she apologizes for things she didnt do) but I’m trying to understand/learn from her so I can help.   

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  • August 26, 2009 at 3:27 am
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    Very interesting article.  I’ve sort of been applying the same thing to myself.  I keep having to remind myself the positive side of things before I would actually do it.  But still on my bad days, I wouldnt even try reminding myself of the positive things.

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  • August 26, 2009 at 1:23 am
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    I suffer from anxiety really badly and so I was glad to read through these hints.  It can be hard to cope with sometimes because it can be so irrational. It’s nice to have some tips about how to tell whether it’s in your head or real.

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  • August 25, 2009 at 8:19 pm
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    the only method i have found that GREATLY reduces my anxiety is mindfulness meditation.  5 minutes a day and it’s down by about 50%, and the more you do it, the easier it gets.  🙂

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  • August 25, 2009 at 5:11 pm
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    I suffer from social anxiety, and I had some trauma happen to me.. so it has  gotten worst..Sometimes its hard, to cope with anxiety espically when something really bad happens in you’re life…I’m sorry I didn’t read the whole post,  but you are right, you have to try different methods, to control your anxiety..Even though I suffer from anxiety really bad, it helps that I have some control over it!

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  • August 25, 2009 at 3:36 pm
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    Thank you so much for posting this. I am not affected personally by Asperger’s, nor is anyone else in my family, but I definitely needed to read something like this. I’ve had issues with anxiety for years, and it’s gotten worse now that I’ve become an adult. Thanks so much for not only providing tips to deal with it, but giving me hope that I will be able to deal with it! 

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  • August 25, 2009 at 2:16 pm
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    I am more than glad that I can help. It has taken quite a bit of thought and practice to be able to put this stuff into words. Finding them is sometimes quite a challenge because I think in pictures and concepts and feelings, not words. That’s one of the reasons I’m going to school and getting my degree in Communications… to help me keep going with this so that more people can see inside a rather “Aspie” brain that has been learning through experience to communicate with the rest of the world. I figure, if I can figure this stuff out mostly on my own… then it CAN be taught to other Aspie kids so they don’t have to fight quite so hard to both keep their unique personalities AND live productive and happy lives. I am terrified by the idea of having kids (or any people) dependent on drugs to control anxiety, the side effects can be so devestating. I watch the commercials for depression and anxiety and the list of side effects sounds more awful than just facing the depression head on and bulling through it on purpose.

    It’s about choices. Knowing that you CAN choose to be ok goes a very long way. The rewards are worth the challenge. That’s hard to see though. When you’re in the middle of it, it is hard to see that meeting the challenge and pushing through will pay off. But it does. I am living proof that it does. Not everyone is the same, of course, but there are underlying principles to life and living that are universal. It is just a matter of tapping into them. Faith plays a big part in it. You HAVE to believe that it is worth it. You HAVE to believe that it is going to work. You don’t necessarily have to believe in God, but that helps too. If you believe that you’ve got an omnipotent God who is genuinely looking out for you… that goes a REALLY long way. Who can’t do ANYTHING if they’ve got all the power in the universe on their side? (be it God or the Force… whichever gets the point across…LOL)

    It is the power of thinking positively as well. Not the refusal to see the problem, and pretending that everything is ok, but rather seeing that you will make it through and out the other side even stronger. See each obstacle and mistake as a chance to learn… and if you learned something from it, there are no regrets, no failures, only positive steps forward.

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  • August 25, 2009 at 12:25 pm
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    EXCELLENT Post!!!  Pictures work well with some autistic kids that are visual learners but have no verbal skills.  Drew a picture of arrows going into a nose and arrows point out of a mouth with the word breathe under the pictures.  He got it right away and you can tell it helps if he catches it in time before the fight or flight takes hold.  I sympathize with anyone going through anxiety.  My first attack at 8 years old resulted in me passing out in public.  No one knew what anxiety was back then but thankfully people like you can brilliantly articulate helpful solutions.  Great Job!!!

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  • August 25, 2009 at 10:51 am
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    I find that our son wants it to be perfect from the start, and he’s only 6.  I have to remind him that, “it’s ok.”  Practice is part of the fun.

    He’s improved in terms of anxiety over the past couple of years.

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  • August 25, 2009 at 10:28 am
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    Thank you for this post! I cannot tell you how helpful this information is to me at this stage of raising my aspie son who just began second grade. The anxiety level is definatly high and the way that you talk about asking him what it looks like is a great idea. He almost never wants to talk about a situation that has caused him to feel uncomfortable and so, he holds it in until it is forced out of him via complete and total meltdown. Asking him what it looks like makes so much sense, but it is something I have never asked. Thank you for your insight! I will try this out ASAP.

    I also love your story about how you handled your sleep fears. My son sleeps with his dog everynight, but still wants me or my husband to lay with him because he is afraid. Using the dogs instincts to know that it is safe is a great idea. I have always told my son that Chippy will protect him, but learning to trust and model the dogs instincts is even better. Great post!

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  • August 25, 2009 at 9:58 am
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    I for one am glad you decided to post instead of commenting! I hope we will have the opportunity to read more of your posts! Thank you for your insight. What I have learned I will share with folks I know on the spectrum that have difficulty dealing with anxiety. An added plus is that you have some good suggestions for those who deal with anxiety who are not on the spectrum.

    Reply

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