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  • Writer's picturemahlia-amatina

Autistic workplace burnout - 2

The first part of this blog explores how autistic burnout can be conceptualised as chronic life stress from a mismatch of expectations and abilities, without having the adequate and regular support necessary. The previous blog considers symptoms that may be experienced from burnout (and along the way), for instance chronic health issues, depression, anxiety and difficulties in completing tasks, while in this blog I focus on what to do to prevent autistic burnout from occurring in the first place.

I also want to stress that it can be the case that we’re often not believed (or we’re dismissed) in terms of how we’re feeling.

I get that, and have been there many times myself. A manager may feel that you should be able to cope with your workload, given that you receive support and have had adjustments made. Or you may feel that you yourself should be able to manage, particularly if you perceive that others are doing just fine. Firstly, you don’t know that they are, but most importantly; it's about how you are feeling and what your needs are.

Fortunately, there are options to consider, and I will explore these:

1. Self-knowledge in understanding oneself is crucial. And I appreciate this won’t be a new concept to you; as autistic people, we’re always having to pre-empt and find ways to nurture and take care of ourselves. It’s simply a part of our existence. But in relation to burnout, this couldn’t be more important, because as we know, the signs of burnout won’t just disappear if we ignore them: they’ll become exacerbated and persist.

So if you notice the signs (e.g., irritability, tiredness, low mood), do slow down and take care of yourself.

Take more breaks, go for walks, reduce or cancel social activities – whatever it is that you need to do to take the load off. I know you know this, but it’s worth making a super conscious effort of this early on. I would also strongly suggest reducing sensory input, as our nervous systems are more likely to respond to stress; so if you’re able to curtail sensory stimulus (working from home could be a potential option), then this too could help you.

2. As well as taking care of yourself outside of work and tending to what could nourish you, for instance good sleep, nutrition, exercise, meditation, time in nature - it’s also worth tending to your autistic needs. Be it stimming, spending time with any hobbies you have, unmasking more often, or taking time to focus on and utilise your strengths. As well as this being enjoyable, it can also be a real confidence booster and a nice reminder of what unique facets and assets you have available to you.

3. Asking for help in the workplace, typically from your line manager, is always a good idea if you are having these early-warning signs.

It’s always worth the conversation and you can explore together what may work

And often it’s the sharing of how you are feeling that can make all the difference. Things that may help in the meanwhile could be more frequent check-ins with your manager, taking periodic screen breaks, not partaking in as many work socials, or engaging in new projects. It’s in your manager’s best interest to help and support you, so do make the best of this resource, and evaluate how the changes are helping you. If things don’t improve, perhaps reducing your workload more generally, or working part time could be helpful – all with the aim of getting back up to your usual workload and hours. These are all ideas of what could temporarily help you.

4. Reaching out to those you know; at work or in your circles more generally can be really helpful. Those on a peer level or other autistic people can generally offer you support in a way that someone who may not get it, simply can’t, especially as this can help validate your experience and how you are feeling.

I know when I’ve spoken with other autistic people I know, there’s this wonderful sense of acceptance and I don’t have to stand there with a smile and a nod at the ready

I can just be, and I know that they get it – or at the very least won’t judge me. I’m not saying that neurotypicals will judge me, but there’s a level of ease that I feel from being around other autistic people, and I think it’s the same with any shared identity. Utilise this resource if you have it available to you.

5. Professional support from those that understand autism, in the form of a therapist, coach or otherwise, could also be important as a part of helping you during this time. Also in terms of helping you gain regular support more generally. You can work on building your resilience and other coping skills that you’d like to develop and will crucially help support you. I’d stress that this is continued work, but something well worth investing into, as that introspective journey can unveil so many gems and insights along the way.

6. The sad likelihood is that you have probably experienced burnout before, so you may have an inclination already as to what helps and what doesn’t; sometimes it is the case that there just isn’t anything that can be done. That nothing really helps, no matter what you try. It just is what it is, and you need a long stretch of time to recover from the mental and physical exhaustion. You need to switch off and disengage from everything around you, and just rest and be. I appreciate not everyone has the luxury of doing this; sometimes this comes at a high price, especially during a cost-of-living crisis. You may have to move in with family or friends, let out your own place to pay the mortgage, or make other adjustments to make things work. And sometimes none of this is even a choice for you. I can appreciate that. But with this given rest, it will enable you to get back to point one in this blog, where you can restart the journey, and make those changes.

Autistic burnout is exceptionally debilitating, and there are certainly barriers to support; this includes not having your experiences believed or validated, the inability to take time off due to the current economic climate (and personal circumstances), as well as perhaps not having an external support or network readily available. But at the same time, there are still options and choices that you will have in any given moment, and it’s very much about identifying what these are and nurturing them.

They are what will help get you through and enable you to build the resilience for a better, more informed and new you

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