Self-Regulation: Tips to Calm Overstimulation
Whether it’s an exciting new situation or a hectic social space, people with autism can easily become overstimulated and feel overwhelmed. Sometimes you will have parents or caregivers around to help. At other times you’ll need to rely on yourself to push through your overstimulation. We have a few tips to calm overstimulation by focusing on self-regulation—read on to find out what to do when you feel overwhelmed!
What Is Self-Regulation?
Self-regulation is a skillset that helps you control your feelings and actions. Overstimulation and autism often come together and make things tricky for people of all ages on the spectrum. You may experience meltdowns or shutdowns when overstimulated, but self-regulation techniques will help you keep your mind and body calm.
Overstimulation typically leads to a fast heart rate, which only increases feelings of stress and anxiety. Practicing deep breathing techniques is the perfect way to bring down your heart rate and find calm.
One of the best breathing techniques is the 4-7-8 exercise. To do it, simply breathe in for 4 seconds, then hold your breath for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds. This is a form of mindful breathing that lowers your heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety.
If you find that deep breathing is helpful, consider trying our mindfulness meditation challenge! It’s a simple 30-day challenge that will help you connect your mind and body. Join us!
Isometric exercises involve tightening a certain muscle or group of muscles, then releasing them. This repetitive motion and release of tension is a great way to relax during a stressful situation.
Here are a few isometric exercise ideas:
- Squeezing your hand in a fist
- Pushing your knees together
- Shrugging your shoulders
In addition to those exercises, you can also try using a stress ball—sometimes it feels more satisfying to squeeze an object instead of your hand. Also, don’t forget how helpful exercise can be to treat anxiety on the spectrum!
Some objects and activities provide physical pressure which can help you let go of tension in your body. Deep pressure triggers your parasympathetic nervous system, which releases feel-good neurotransmitters called dopamine and serotonin. A weighted blanket is one of the best tools for providing cozy pressure, but you can also wrap yourself in a regular blanket or sheet if you don’t have a weighted blanket.
Gentle massage also works wonders for reducing stress in overstimulating situations. You can rub lotion on your arms and legs to calm down, but consider looking for unscented lotion. Some people on the spectrum are sensitive to smells, so be mindful when choosing a lotion.
A handheld massager is another great tool, since you can control the pressure and location of the massager to find the most relief.
Finally, creating a calm area where you can take a deep breath without extra stimulation is very useful. It can be difficult to calm down if you’re still in a hectic space, so don’t be afraid to excuse yourself for a few minutes.
Reading a list of tips to calm overstimulation is one thing, but putting them into practice is another. If you are a parent or caregiver who wants to teach self-regulation to an autistic child, remember how important your emotions are. When you remain calm as you teach your autistic loved one self-regulation, you are also modeling the desired behavior.
In addition, it can be very beneficial to join your child in self-regulation techniques when they’re needed. If you want your child to practice their breathing exercises, prompt them by modeling deep breathing.
Now that you have these strategies to calm overstimulation, consider sharing your own self-regulation techniques with our Facebook community. There are many other parents, caregivers, and people of all ages on the spectrum who would love to learn more about self-regulation! You may also want to pick up a few extra redirection tools to help reduce overstimulation—you can never have too many!