How to cope with disrupted personal routines during COVID-19By Brigid Rankowski
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By Brigid Rankowski. Brigid is a disability advocate, educator and international speaker and author on autism spectrum disorders.
We are now dealing with widespread changes across the U.S. in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While these significant steps are meant to protect the health of Americans, they are also causing personal disruptions affecting many people in the autism community.
There are heightened emotions all around and for many autistic adults, there are added disruptions to daily living. From appointments being cancelled, to work being closed, to classes being moved online, there are many different factors that could push a person into a crisis mode. Below are some tips you can use to feel more confident with adapting to a new normal.
Try to avoid burnout
If you are continuing to report to work, perhaps in a retail or warehousing environment, you may be working longer hours and having intense interactions with customers or co-workers. If you find yourself feeling burned out with the extra effort to sustain these interactions, tell a supervisor how you are feeling and that you need a break. You should document these conversations as well.
Mindfulness means being in the present moment with the activity you are doing. This can take the form of meditation, yoga, coloring or any other activity that helps you focus on the “here and now.” There are many free online videos and apps you can use to explore different activities to see which ones work for you.
Respect your emotions
This is a stressful time and you may experience emotions such as sadness, anger, fear or frustration. Know that your emotions are valid, and many other people are also dealing with their own heightened emotions. Think of ways you have worked through emotions in the past and try to use some of those same tools now.
Many autistic adults have strategies for avoiding becoming overwhelmed by emotions. In this new and uncertain situation, remember your own strategies to avoid a meltdown and take actions to avoid it, such as finding a quiet place.
Develop or revisit a crisis plan
Having a crisis plan may mean different things to different people. At its most basic level, this is a list of important information, including who to contact if you are in a crisis situation and what a crisis situation looks like to you. This plan may include emergency contact information, when to call doctors or other vital information to have in one place. Post a copy in your living space and carry a copy with you if you leave the house.
Stick to a (new) routine
With everything changing around us, we are still able to live some semblance of normalcy by sticking to our existing routines or schedules, while adapting them to the current situation. Try to get up at the same time, still get dressed like usual, go to bed at the same time and complete any hygiene tasks as if it were a typical day. If you are working from home, or perhaps not working at all, you’ll need to adjust your routine to account for this time. . While it may be tempting to, say, not brush your hair or do chores when at home for long periods, these small details help to eliminate some of the stress of unpredictability.
Exercise your mind and body
Stress takes a physical toll on your body and also depresses the immune system. If you are already physically active, try to find ways you can continue these routines at home. Look for free fitness routines online or see if your local gym is offering virtual classes. Keeping your mind active is also important as part of overall mental health. Instead of only binging a new TV series, try to add variety by picking up a book or listening to a podcast. Most public libraries have an online system that allows you to check out electronic books and audiobooks to use on your device from home.
Take care of your health
Taking care of your health at this time is so important not just for you, but also for others who you could unknowingly expose to the COVID-19 virus. Try to eat healthy meals, get enough rest, take medications as scheduled and if you do feel sick, stay at home. If you have a medical emergency, you should call 911. If you have questions and are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, please follow CDC guidelines. Also call your doctor’s office or emergency room before going for treatment.
Continue support networks
At this time, many mental health providers, case managers and specialists are still working but using different methods, such as virtual meetings or video calls. Call your providers to see how they can work with you during this time. Phone meetings may be harder, but prioritizing support right now can help you remember you are not alone. If you are part of an in-person support group, ask the leader if they can arrange a virtual meeting for those who want to join.
Discover online or phone resources
There are a growing number of online resources to help people feel less alone during isolation. The Autism Response Team (888-AUTISM2) and 211 can help connect you with needed resources, including new ones being created. Connect with your peers regularly using email, text, video messaging or social media. Make the effort to reach out to friends if you are feeling stressed.
Take a media break
It is very easy to get overwhelmed with the constant barrage of information online about the current pandemic. If you find yourself feeling anxious while reading the news or social media, try to take a break. You can schedule a set amount of time to catch up on the news to make it less likely you’ll be overwhelmed by it. Remember to also schedule time at the beginning or end of the day to care for yourself by doing something fun or relaxing, depending on your needs that day.
Plan for the future
One of the hardest things at this time is to think about the future with all of this uncertainty. Think positively about the future and the things you want to do when things improve. Is there a new skill or hobby you want to learn? Are there courses you can take to help you at work? Are there goals you want to achieve that you can work on while you are stuck at home? Make a plan to help you work toward bigger goals – it can help you try to stay positive.