Autistic Sensory Overload – How to Manage with Too Much Pressure and Stress

Pressure is caused when I need to complete a large amount of tasks in a short space of time. It is also when the tasks are important and cannot be delayed. Or when the tasks are stressful so that I want to get them done there and then, instead of having to delay them until another time, as my anxiety will build up because the tasks will stay on my mind until they are completed. If I get to the point where I feel I cannot do all the jobs, even though they all need to be done, I will have a meltdown. This usually means throwing something across an empty room or crying. These days I can usually feel the build up and know other triggers that can make it worse such as hunger (so I will have a quick sugary snack for an energy boost) or heat (so I will open a door, take my jumper off or leave the hot room such as a kitchen to cool down).

An example of this was yesterday. My wife was out for a few hours so I was looking after my two sons. My youngest woke up after his afternoon nap so I changed his nappy and made him a drink. Then I needed to cook his tea, as it was his tea time, and unload the dishwasher to make room for the dirty pots. Along with this I had to start cooking our tea which was roast dinner as it was getting late and my eldest son was getting hungry. The jobs were starting to add up. I was hoping my wife would return so she could cook the tea whilst I fed my youngest but she did not.

I could feel the tension building up and thinking how can I cook my son’s tea, empty the dishwasher, feed him, look after my other son and cook our tea at the same time. It all needed to be done but could not be done. I could not just put our tea on and leave it to cook as it was too complicated because I needed to cook mash, roast potatoes, yorkshire puddings, cabbage, peas, cauliflower grill (for my vegetarian wife), grill some lamb chops and make the gravy. Luckily I realised it would be too much to try and do all together so I took a step back and thought about what I could do instead.

I gave my eldest a snack to keep him going and made sure he was had something to do that would keep him entertained. Then cooked my son’s tea, fed him, gave him his pudding and a drink. Then I went back to the kitchen and started cooking the dinner whilst emptying the dishwasher of clean pots and loaded the dirty ones in. At this point my wife came home but I was on top of things so I carried on cooking the tea. Although tea was quite late I managed to do it all.

This is just one recent example (that happens quite often) but there have been many times when there were many more jobs, with higher priorities and higher pressure to get them done. There have also been times when I have had stressful jobs where I had no choice but to work in the evenings and weekends so the pressure built up from being overworked over a number of weeks. In these situations I cannot possibly do it all at once no matter how hard I work as I can only do the best one person can do. I have to prioritise to make sure the absolute essential jobs are done and leave the none essential jobs until later, another day or think of a way to not do them at all (such as ordering a take away instead of cooking a meal). I just have to make sure I recognise these times, and do something about it, or I will just keep working and working until the pressure builds up and I snap. I believe that we all have to deal with pressure, we all have a breaking point but by having high functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome it means that things get on top of me easier as I (like many other people with high functioning autism or AS) find it difficult to make decisions, deal with a number of things at the same time and will also keep emotions locked inside until the pressure gets too much and I have no choice but to let my emotions out. So in a way I appear totally calm and in control most of the time (even though inside things are getting out of control and building up) and then it just takes one little thing to be the thing that makes me lose control.

It is hard, but if I spot the signs I can usually deal with this trigger. Another thing that helps is to think about when there might be these high pressure times in the future and then try to get jobs done the day or morning before so this can help to reduce the workload. I do this all the time. If I can prepare a meal for the evening in the morning then I will. For example I made two lasagnes for tonight’s dinner this morning so I can put them in the oven at tea time to warm them up later. Another example is: the day before I go to work I will always make my sandwiches, get my bag ready and usually go to the extent of getting ready for my breakfast by putting out my mug, flask, spoons, bowls, cereal box, packed lunch snacks etc on the counter at night time to help me to get ready easier and quicker the following morning (it also helps to reduce unexpected delays such as the times when I forget to wash my flask, as I leave it in my bag, or to deal with things such as all the fruit being eaten without me knowing or it going bad. If this happens I can sort out an alternative snack without panicking about it.

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