3 Autistic Burnout Recovery Strategies [Lived Experience]

Mathew Farmakis  |  13/04/2021

Mathew Farmakis shares his lived experience and key strategies that have helped him recover from autistic burnout.

1. Transparency and Interaction

This answer will be central to each element of looking after oneself as an autistic person, but transparency, without any sense of shame, is as essential as anything. While sometimes consulting a professional is necessary to deal with the most pressing mental health issues, I must admit personally taking these measures is rare. However, being honest and open about feeling mentally below par is crucial to easing my burden, as I sense that knowing that other people know how you feel generates a sense of psychological safety. 

Another important mental health strategy is the pursuit of interaction with other people. This, particularly on a face-to-face basis, has been especially difficult during the grip of Covid19, though simply having conversations with friends, relatives and other people you trust and who provide you with the right ‘energy’ I think is essential in providing a wellbeing boost. More often than not, I come away from this feeling more positive about myself and life itself.

2. Acceptance and Acknowledgement

There are two sides to managing autistic burnout - dealing with burnout instances (cure) and mechanisms to avoid it in the first place (prevention). Where autistic burnout has occurred, and a physical location is central to the situation at hand, my first rule is to remove myself from the situation (i.e., room, building or discussion). Simply put, this is essential to enable oneself to be vulnerable without fear of judgement or feelings of embarrassment, and to be mindful of others if physical location is a factor. 

Also important as a response to autistic burnout is to accept and acknowledge its occurrence. Generally, this leads to taking a break - whether it’s a day/s off or a few hours respite - the length of a break depends, in my view, on over how long a period the autistic burnout has been generated. 

As for avoiding autistic burnout in the first place, albeit sometimes inevitable and unavoidable, I believe energy management is key. To keep it simple, this is all about doing the tasks/activities that your mindset is best suited to at the time. For example, doing ‘deep work’ when you have the mental capacity to think most thoroughly and meticulously, while doing simple ‘checklist’ items when you’re feeling inclined to remove items from the top of mind, and perhaps aren’t feeling so ‘mentally capable’. The thing I’ve learnt about burnout is that how much you do is no greater a factor than what you do. I also think that this is even more true for an autistic person than a neurotypical person.

3. Mindset, Exercise and Writing

One perhaps reluctant approach I occasionally will take is to philosophise that the best things aren’t as good as you think, and the worst things aren’t as bad. As this runs the risk of suppressing joy, it’s less than ideal, though such a mindset can help me stay ‘level’, and in turn accommodates my bid to derive a sense of perspective in times where I need it. 

Exercise is sometimes a strategy to cope with mental health challenges and apply some self-care. It might involve going for a walk, either solo or with a dog (sometimes in the past I’ve been ‘dog sitting’). Alternatively, sometimes I want to run - though this being said, I’ve found myself occasionally ‘burning out’ midway through simply because I lose mental motivation to persist, even if physically not too exhausted to run. 

Finally, I also write reflectively. Sometimes, this is actually difficult, especially when your thoughts haven’t yet formed coherently. Ultimately, this is best and most effective when embraced as an organic, unstructured process.