Home Mental Health & Well-Being Psychologist Shares What It’s Like to Experience Burnout as an Autistic Person

Psychologist Shares What It’s Like to Experience Burnout as an Autistic Person

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In a recent study, 1 in 5 workers said they’d taken time off work in the past year due to poor mental health caused by pressure or stress. Meanwhile, accountants reported an even higher rate of burnout, with over half (50%) saying they’re struggling.

Learning how to spot the signs of burnout and understanding your personal triggers is an important part of preventing it and maintaining your mental well-being.

For autistic people, a social group that makes up more than 1% of the UK population, the causes of burnout can be vastly different from those for neurotypical people, despite the symptoms often presenting the same. This can make prevention and ongoing management more challenging.

How an autistic person experiences burnout is also distinct from the experiences of those without autism. For example, autistic people experiencing burnout may be more susceptible to depression and anxiety, as well as problems with their executive functioning (e.g., trouble managing their emotions and an inability to multi-task).

Here, we explore what it feels like to experience burnout as an autistic person and the best prevention and management strategies.

What causes autistic burnout?

Unlike burnout in neurotypical people, which often stems from competing stressors such as workplace pressure and relationship issues, autistic burnout arises from the stresses that come with having to live in a neurotypical society.

Examples of this include feeling like you have to mask autistic traits, dealing with sensory triggers such as a noisy office environment, and a lack of understanding from neurotypical people. Without the necessary adjustments, this can be difficult to handle and make autistic people more susceptible to burnout.

What are the main signs to look for?

Many autistic people experiencing burnout indicate that their health, particularly their mental health, suffers excessively. Depression and anxiety are both common symptoms among autistic people with burnout. Autistic burnout can also impact a person’s ability to live independently. They, or those around them, may notice a loss of functioning, including problems managing thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Other early warning signs of autistic burnout can also include changes in behaviour such as struggling with self-regulation, increased sensory sensitivity, and changes to sleep patterns. An increased need for stimming, such as flapping hands, biting nails, or rocking, can also show a change in mental well-being.

What are the best ways to manage autistic burnout?

If you’re autistic, the best way to prevent and manage burnout is to educate yourself on what the different symptoms might look like for you. Having a clear idea of warning signs or situations that can trigger burnout and knowing a plan for how to manage burnout is key to stopping it from spiralling out of control.

It can be easy to neglect both our physical and mental health when we’re feeling burnt out, but it’s important that autistic people prioritise measures that’ll positively improve their well-being. Whether it’s going out for a walk every day or simply adjusting your sleep pattern, by having the right amount of rest and activity in your life, you can remain emotionally balanced and improve your well-being.

Attending to autistic-specific needs, such as unmasking and spending time on highly focused interests, is also important, as this can be a source of enjoyment for autistic people and a way of coping with everyday life. This helps to manage stress and prevent burnout, as autistic people take time to recharge their cognitive functions.

Reaching out for tailored support can also help autistic people remember they aren’t alone in their experience. Finding trusted allies and supportive people to share your difficulties with can ward off feelings of burnout and help improve your mental well-being. Working out an action plan with the support of others can help you deal with burnout and validate your autistic experience.

As more of us increasingly report feelings of burnout, it’s important to be aware of how this experience might be different for those who are autistic. By being aware of the signs of autistic burnout and the best prevention and management strategies, you can take proactive steps to improve your mental well-being and prevent long-term burnout.

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