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Autism and Anxiety in the Workplace

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Do you ever feel like your heart is going to burst out of your chest? Do butterflies fill your stomach until they cannot go anywhere else? Or does your mind get tricked with improbable thoughts?

As an individual on the autism spectrum, I deal with bad anxiety. Although this is a problem in most, it is especially strong for me. About a year ago I was hired by a local municipality in North Texas with a job description focused on neighborhood engagement. Moreover, I provide the necessary neighborhood resources citizens ask of and require. Lots of time, thought, attention to detail and accountability go into this position. The perfect ingredients for anxiety. Like many other individuals on the spectrum, I tend to be restorative or a problem solver. When a problem arises, I want to fix it right away so I can get back into my comfort zones. I soon found out local government always have problems occurring, whether it is fixing street signs, patching a pothole or leaving a notice on someone’s door. Issues always arise, so why do I get so anxious about them since I am a restorative person? Maybe it’s because of my social interactions with people? Or maybe it has to with my train of thought? In fact it’s neither. I am anxious for no reason.

Count how many times you have been anxious today. How many of those anxious thoughts actually came true? Probably very few or perhaps zero. During the day I think about a million reasons to be anxious, but only a few of those thoughts actually come true. “Oh my gosh, I forgot to send a follow up email!” “Dang it, I should have done it that way, ” or, ” I wonder what that person thinks of me?” In the past, I would have no hope, trust or accountability for myself. I would work through assignments hoping that was the right thing to do or if it would provide the best outcome. In all actuality, I had all the control, no matter how good or bad the outcome was.

The majority of my anxiety comes from uncontrollable situations such as potential outcomes or how others should think on a specific topic. This has caused so much anxiety that I could not think at all or even eat a meal on a given day. Anxiety comes with a lot of burden that makes it difficult for me to achieve. So what does it take to overcome anxiety while on the spectrum? If you’re someone like me, an individual on the autism spectrum who just wants to make a difference, this is what I do to help control my anxiety.

1. Find something you normally would not do or try. I believe this is the golden rule for those on the spectrum. My first college job was canvassing door to door, and that has paid great dividends with my social anxiety even though it was something I would not normally do. After doing this job for two summers, my social anxiety has decreased tremendously. By doing something outside my comfort zone I have gained a skill that will help with my jobs, social interactions and dates. Do something you would not normally do, and improve yourself in ways you may not have thought of.

2. Find ways to improve. One of my greatest weaknesses comes when trying to read books for an extended period of time. I cannot stand reading off a page for a long period of time, however, I knew I wanted to improve this aspect of my life. I remembered when I was a kid that my mom read me the Magic Tree House books. Although I never read a single page of these books, I can recall many of the stories and how they ended. Recently I subscribed to Audible books, which helps read books out loud to the reader. Ever since, I have read three books when it would normally taken me three years to read that amount. Find innovative ways to improve yourself.

3. Take time for yourself. Honestly, this one is a tough one for me. I am still trying to figure this out myself, but I realize the importance of it. Allocating time for yourself is crucial not only for enjoying hobbies but for lowering your anxiety. I do not allocate time for myself, but instead I watch YouTube or play video games, which is relaxing. Taking time for yourself is exploring the world around you, focusing on proactive activities and doing things that are enjoyable outside the house. This can be as simple as taking walks around a pond or going to your local coffee shop. Taking time for yourself should be an adventure, and currently my plan is to seek just that.

Anxiety can be a difficult thing to deal with for someone on the autism spectrum. Whether I’m trying to remember that follow-up email or fixing a problem, it always seems to creep up. Get rid of those pounding chests and butterflies by doing something new, working to improve yourself and taking time for yourself.

I have been given two As in life: autism and anxiety, both of which have improved me as a person, brother, friend and co-worker. Through these, I can always find a way to improve myself and I could not be more thankful for it. Be you, and always find ways to make a better you.

Originally published: March 21, 2018
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