10 Ways I Calm Myself Down as a Person on the Autism Spectrum


As a person on the autism spectrum, my emotions work a bit like a light switch. I feel things intensely and quickly. It is important that I am able to calm myself down and take a break as soon as I notice I am getting too stimulated (which is another topic).

To calm myself down, I use my metaphorical toolbox. Inside my toolbox are strategies,
tips and tricks I can use when I need to settle down. I have a difficult time knowing which strategy to use, especially in the heat of the moment. As a result, I decided to make a graphic that fits on my phone, iPad and computer so I always have my list with me and it is easily accessible.

Here is what is on my list:

The author's "When I Need a Break, I Can" list
Graphic source: Erin McKinney

1. Listen to my music.

I have a playlist I made several years ago that has instrumental music on it. It helps me calm down. I especially use this playlist at night when I am trying to go to sleep. This is also one I can use in combination with other things on my list.

2. Go for a walk.

This is a good one because you can take a short walk, a long walk or however long you need to calm down. Often I do this while I listen to my music or use imagery.

3. Play a game or do a puzzle.

This makes my brain work and concentrate on something constructive instead of what got me upset or what is stuck in my head.

4. Use imagery.

This is something I worked on making several years ago, and I still use it. I chose my favorite place on earth and recreated it in my head. I used each of my five senses to remember every detail about this place. Now, when I get overwhelmed, I can go to this place in my head. It is pictured on my graphic so I have a visual reminder.

5. Eat a crunchy snack.

Honestly, I don’t remember why the crunchy part is important. But I try to do that. Things I often choose to eat include grapes, graham crackers, pretzels or apple slices.

6. Take a nap.

I love taking naps and have for many years now. Even if I don’t end up falling asleep, lying down for 15 to 20 minutes and trying to fall asleep is better than doing something destructive. Most of the time, I do fall asleep and wake up feeling much better. This allows me to have a fresh start on the rest of my day.

7. Go to a quiet place.

This is obvious, but if you are out and about at a restaurant or somewhere social, it is a good reminder to go find a quiet place. Examples of quiet places could be the restroom, your car or outside. I included a picture of Mt. Rainier to remind me of this one because it is the view from one of my favorite quiet places.

8. Use belly breathing.

I learned this one recently at a conference. “Sesame Street” (hence the appearance of Frazzelmo on my graphic) has a great video on it. This is a good one because you can do it anywhere and in any position, sitting or standing.

9. Spin, rock or flap safely.

These are all stims I find enjoyable and typically do when I am happy. Sometimes, I can rock too hard, especially when I am upset, and that is why I had to include the word “safely.”

10. Talk to a safe person.

Don’t talk to just any person. A lot of people wouldn’t care or wouldn’t know how to help if I told them I was having a hard time and needed a break. I am fortunate to have several people I trust and can talk to. All of my safe people know at least part of the things in my toolbox or know that I have a toolbox with things in it I can try.

Of course, there are many other things, even things on my list I didn’t include. The reason I did not include them is because some of them can’t be done everywhere. I tried to pick things I can do in more than one place. (I pride myself on being able to find a place to nap just about anywhere.)

If you are autistic or if you have a loved one who is, I hope this list gives you an idea of some different techniques and that the graphic gives you an idea of something you could create to always have with you. My toolbox helps me function in a world that is not designed for or run by individuals with autism. I hope you find things that work for you and that you find a way to remember and apply them in daily life.

Follow this journey on Erinmmckinney.com.

Illustration via Thinkstock Images

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