A look at Aspergers Syndrome and Anxiety
Anxiety poses one of the core challenges for people with Asperger’s Syndrome and other types of autism. There is a great deal of anxiety already inherent in the condition itself, which is then further intensified by social pressure and hypersensitivity to outside stimuli, another common symptom of autism.
According to conservative estimates, 65% of adults with Asperger’s Syndrome suffer from anxiety and depression compared to 18% of the general population
Everyone experiences the effects of Anxiety slightly differently can come in many forms including:
People suffering from panic disorder can experience sudden and repeated attacks of fear. The person senses that impending disaster is close by and that they will lose control of the situation. It can result in shortness of breath, hear palpitations, chest pain, hot flushes or light headidness.
Social phobia is a fear of being judged by others. It often represents itself by excessive self consciousness and anxiety in every day sitatuations. Its also possible that it triggers off panic attacks that are associated with panic disorder. Often this fear makes us withdraw from society, being afraid to go out.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
GAD represents itself in the form of worrying excessively. It may be combined with symptoms such as headaches or insomnia.
Obsessive Compulsive disorder (OCD)
This form of anxiety represents in the need to check things repeatedly and unnecessarily, such as checking the door is locked or one has washed their hands.
Often the presence of anxiety in people with Asperger’s is overlooked because one’s internal state or mental setting is hard to communicate and explain to non-autists. But living with anxiety can affect body image, motivation, behavior, and even the ability to think correctly.
Anxiety has long been known as the main cause of so called brain fog, a condition where one feels as if thoughts are obscured by cotton wool. A heavily crowded classroom for example, might result in worse grades on an exam due to social anxiety alone. While certain autistic individuals may be very high functioning, if they have anxiety it can go as far as to make them feel or act as if they are not.
A common approach to this problem is withdrawal from whatever causes said anxiety. Yet obviously this is not a solution. It’s irresponsible to isolate oneself as a response to the outside world, and it may ultimately prove counterproductive since it leads to more severe anxiety in the long run. If the anxiety is moderate to severe, it should be the primary focus for treatment.
While many search for a cure all pill, it is important that this issue is dealt with in more ways than at a purely pharmaceutical level. While medication makes up a significant part of a successful treatment plan, the mindset itself has to be remedied before lasting improvement can be noted. Do not just see medication as an easy way out, it is merely a tool to assist you in self improvement.
Autism related anxiety is typically characterized by depression, overwhelming discomfort around people, heart palpitations, profuse sweating, mutism or pressured speech, obsessive and repetitive thoughts, and an overwhelming desire to escape the current surroundings. Firstly paying attention to, and becoming aware of these symptoms already leads to a noticeable improvement. If it is appropriate to the given situation, listening to downtempo (chill) music greatly alleviates anxiety.
If you are experiencing intrusive thoughts, imagine them floating away beyond the top of your head. After a while, they will slow down or cease. Try to inhale slowly through your nose, and exhale slowly through your mouth. In severe cases of anxiety: breathe in, hold for 8-10 seconds, breathe out. Repeat this until you feel better. Eventually your body and your unconscious mind will get used to doing this, and automatically adapt your breathing pattern.
If you are looking for more techniques in dealing with day to day anxiety, we cover the issue in more depth the issues surrounding Anxiety in our book emotional mastery for adults with Aspergers.
Please tell us what your experience with anxiety is by leaving us a comment below.