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My Self-Care Emergency Toolkit for Burnout

I have shared this list with close friends, family and colleagues a few times and folks are always so grateful.  I'm sharing here today in the hopes that it will help someone out there. Maybe you'll find something helpful to help you with depression, anxiety, burnout and just general self care.

I didn't know I was Autistic when I started the list.  I have been collecting these strategies for around 30 years, starting with the first few suggestions from well-meaning people who didn't know the difference between depression and Autistic burnout, and adding strategies from my more recent C-PTSD therapy.  We are all different and this isn't medical advice but we learn from each other when that's the only option left and we have been dismissed and invalidated over and over again in the past.  To learn more, see my previous post Autistic Burnout - What Helped Me

  • Depression:  physical activity and being with friends helps me.
  • Autistic burnout or shut down: only sleep, rest and removing all obligations helps me.  

With no further ado, here's my list of strategies for self-care when in burnout:

My Self Care Emergency Toolkit for Burnout

Coping and self-soothing self-care Strategies:

From least to most spoons:

  1. Isolate: Just be away from the chaos.  Go to my “space” and close the door. Fleece blanket, snuggle pets, nap at home
  2. Rest: nap/sleep at work In car in parkade / set a timer if on lunch hour.
  3. Breathe:  inhale 4 - hold 7 - exhale 8 / mindfulness
  4. Fidget / stim: (squish, pop, stretch, roll, twirl fidgets to stim). Autism stims = circumvent/rewire/distract, ADHD stims = release energy.
  5. TIPP (CBT)
    • Temperature - splash cold water on face and hold breath for 30 seconds & hold cold water on eyes.   The divers reflex and slow heart rate resets the body
    • Intense exercise - go up and down stairs, houseclean, 
    • Paced breathing - throughout the day (pair with EFT)
    • Paired muscle relaxation - tense & relax (progressive relaxation)
  6. EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique Tapping) - 13 spots signals to the brain that I’m OK and not in danger - find a YouTube video or app
  7. Hydrate: drink water: to flush out cortisol
  8. Dream: Self-care cards
  9. Technology break - Take off watch. Leave phone in another room.  Shut down computer. Turn off TV.  If at work, put it in sleep/airplane mode (still needed for 2FA). Mute triggering keywords on Facebook/Twitter.
  10. Manage pain: CBD oil / TENS machine / heating pad / medication
  11. Warm up: in a hot bath with candles and nature sounds, drink tea, hot shower, heating pad, hot water bottle
  12. Escape: House / pet sit for friends while they are away. Go to a hotel or spa for a day and sit in quiet ($$$).   Go (window) shop at the thrift store, book store, crystals - whatever you love.
  13. Make a “Do NOT do” list:  Clear your schedule / stress leave
  14. Seek support: (online groups, talk to someone in real life, over video chat/phone, crisis lines)
  15. Healing touch: massage / chiropractor / osteopath
  16. Be outside: walk dogs, go for a walk or sit in a forest, by a lake, garden 
  17. Exercise: walk dogs, Tai Chi, swim, get the blood flowing. Meditation is hard for me but moving meditation with repetitive motion helps keep me in the present moment. (I took up running, marathons and finished a full Ironman triathlon but the 'depression' remained because it was Autistic sensory overload leading to burnout).
  18. Enjoy: Go out for lunch, dinner, coffee (bring loops earplugs) $$$
  19. Be creative: paint, jewelry making, sew curtains/cushions, crochet/knit, change home decor - cushion covers & candles to seasonal colours. 
  20. Catharsis: write, blog, FB support groups, brain dump, talk to a trusted safe person, draw/sketch it out
  21. Laugh: Watch a comedy show on TV or in person
  22. Dance: to favourite music
  23. Sing: (badly and tone deaf in the car only for safety of others LOL)
  24. Organize: (file papers, put things away, wardrobe, toiletries, purge/donate, minor redecoration)
  25. Thrift: (Value Village, Goodwill, Dollar store, Walmart, Superstore)
  26. Housework: Vacuum, wash floors, clean bathroom, change sheets
  27. Binaural beats music
  28. EMDR videos
  29. Colouring books / reverse colouring book (draw lines over watercolour)
  30. Vergence” is a technique that uses multiple levels of brain science to interrupt the process of a panic attack. The technique is as follows: 1) Hold your pointer finger in front of you about 6 inches away from your nose and look at the tip of your finger. 2) After anywhere from 3 to 30 seconds, extend your arm to the farthest point possible and keep your eyes on the tip of your pointer finger. 3) Wait 3 to 30 seconds and then move it back in towards your face. 4) Do this process multiple times at whatever pace feels natural or helpful and your brain will eventually reset.

When calm / not in emergency:

  • Prepare: Write out a daily routine.  Create a routine for your day. The mind thrives with structure. Create clarity and order by setting in place clear habits and routines. Just ensure that you are flexible and allow these structures to shift and evolve through time as need be. Schedule daily or weekly:
    • Breathe / EFT
    • TaiChi
    • Swim
    • Walk dogs
    • Be outside
  • read/learn/watch/google about emotional regulation, nervous system regulation, Boundaries (Boundary Boss and Disease to Please), Shame (Brené Brown), Trauma (The Body Keeps Score), Connecting (Gottman Institute). somatic experiencing (Irene Lyon), IFS, EMDR, EFT (tapping)

Using DBT Distress Tolerance Skills during a crisis:

Deep Breathing:

  • Another tool to try to practice during the day so that you will have it readily available when you are in distress. Practice deep breathing throughout the day. You can check if you are deep breathing if your hand on your stomach moves. 
  • Deep breathing helps with slowing down the heart rate. Our brain cannot problem-solve during a crisis when our heart rates go up. 
  • Deep breathing method: 4-7-8 breathing method. Close your mouth and quietly inhale through your nose to a mental count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound for a count of eight. Repeat the process three more times for a total of four breath cycles.

Using TIPP: 

  • Temperature - splash cold water on face and hold breath for 30 sec & hold cold water on eyes.   The divers reflex and slow heart rate resets the body
  • Intense exercise - stairs, houseclean, 
  • Paced breathing - throughout the day (pair with EFT)
  • Using cold water engages the "dive response," which enables the slowing of the heart rate. While holding your breath for up to 30 seconds, cover your eyes with cupped hands with the cold water. Repeat as necessary. 
  • When our heart rates slow down, the stress hormone production, Cortisol, stops, which then blocks the "fight, flight, freeze" response from continuing. 

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT):

  • Tapping (AKA Emotional Freedom Techniques): tapping points. Try to practice tapping during emotional distress (either before or during) and reflect on the results. 
  • More info on Tapping: 
How do YOU cope with burnout?  What helps you?