The Autism Mom Coach with Lisa Candera | ASD Mom Big 3: Anxiety

Anxiety is often triggered by uncertainty. As a parent of a child with Autism, it’s natural to experience anxiety. Every aspect of Autism, from the diagnosis and prognosis to future prospects and the availability of support, offers very few assurances. So what can you do about anxiety as you navigate the uncertain landscape of Autism parenting?

The emotional experience is often accompanied by physical sensations like jitteriness and a pounding heart. It’s uncomfortable, but anxiety is normal, necessary, and even useful. Anxiety isn’t the problem, but how we respond to anxiety is a determining factor in how bad it gets and how long it hangs around.

Tune in this week to discover how anxiety is impacting your experience of parenting your child with Autism. I’m discussing how anxiety shows up for Autism moms, why the vicious cycle of anxiety persists, and you’ll learn how you can address your anxiety in a way that serves you and your child.

 

If you are ready to take control of your Autism parenting experience, my Resilient Autism Mom Program (RAMP) is for you. In my 1:1 coaching program, I teach you the tools and strategies you need to conquer the Autism Mom Big 3 (stress, anxiety and burnout). To learn more about my program, schedule your complimentary consultation now.

 

 

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • How sustained anxiety leads to distorted thinking patterns that don’t produce the best outcomes for you or your child.
  • What causes anxiety in the first place.
  • 7 ways anxiety commonly shows up for Autism parents.
  • How to recognize where you’re engaging with anxious thoughts in an unhelpful way.
  • What to do when you feel yourself moving toward anxiety.

 

Listen to the Full Episode:

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Featured on the Show:

  • If you’re ready to apply the principles you’re learning in these episodes, it’s time to schedule a consultation call with me. Real change comes from application and implementation, and this is exactly what we do in my one-on-one program. To schedule your consultation, click here!
  • Sign up for my email list to get notified of coaching opportunities, workshops and more! All you have to do is go to my home page and enter your email address in the pop-up.
  • Schedule a consultation to learn about my 1:1 coaching program.

 

Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to episode 105 of The Autism Mom Coach, Anxiety.

Welcome to The Autism Mom Coach podcast, I am your host, Lisa Candera. I am a lawyer, a life coach, and most importantly, I am the full-time single mother of a teenager with Autism and other comorbid diagnoses. I know what it is like to wonder if you are doing enough or the right things for your child and to live in fear of their future.

I also know that constantly fueling yourself with fear and anxiety is not sustainable for you or of any benefit to your child. That is why in this podcast I will share practical strategies and tools you can use to shift from a chronic state of fight, flight to some calm and ease. You are your child’s greatest resource, let’s take care of you.

Hello, everyone and welcome to the podcast. I hope you are doing well and I am so glad you’re here. In this week’s episode we are going to continue our conversation about the Autism Mom big three by focusing on anxiety. Let’s start with a definition. Anxiety is a mental state of apprehension about what might or might not lie ahead. It is typically accompanied by physical sensations like jitteriness and a pounding heart.

So first off, anxiety is normal and it is necessary and it is useful, like stress it alerts us to danger. Anxiety is not the problem here. The problem is more in how we deal with the anxiety and how we respond to it, and more specifically, how we keep it going, which I’ll get to in a few minutes. But first, let’s talk about what causes anxiety in the first place. Anxiety is created by uncertainty, by being unsure about what might or might not happen. And for me, when I think about anxiety in these terms, my response is, of course Autism parents are anxious.

Everything about Autism, from the diagnosis, the prognosis, future prospects and the availability of support, all of it is so uncertain. Autism is like the poster child for uncertainty. So there’s no surprise that Autism parents are riddled with anxiety as we navigate the ever uncertain landscape of Autism parenting. Like I said earlier, anxiety serves an important role in our safety and our well-being. But when the anxiety switch is constantly flipped on, this can result in distorted thinking patterns that we believe are just the truth of the universe because we’re always thinking these thoughts.

And what we don’t realize is that the thoughts that we are thinking, they’re never really true, they’re just our thoughts. But especially the thoughts that we think when we’re in a stress response, when our anxiety is in control, those thoughts are not to be relied upon. That’s because when our emotions are high, our intelligence is low and our rational thinking is pretty much out the window. And the more that we believe our anxiety creates thoughts, well, this leads to more anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle.

So here are several ways that I see anxiety showing up in Autism moms. The first category I’m just going to label, stinking thinking. There are the Debbie Downers who are overly focused on the negative. Now, our brains do this naturally. We have a negativity bias, but Debbie Downers like to double down on that with their focus on what could go wrong, what is bad, what is not working.

Then there’s the worst case scenario, so this is catastrophizing about the future and every decision you make or don’t make will ultimately result in your child being homeless and alone, and it being your fault because you didn’t do enough. And then finally, there is the all or nothing or black and white thinking. Things are either working or they’re not. You’re either doing enough or you’re not doing anything at all. Your child is progressing or they’re regressing. You get the idea.

The second way I see anxiety showing up in my clients is rigidity. When we are anxious, our focus narrows to perceived threats and we have less access to our rational thinking and our ability to evaluate and gain perspective. And this results in us being stuck and flexible and rigid.

Number three, irritability. We have a lower tolerance for everyday frustrations when we are in the grip of our anxiety.

Number four, difficulty concentrating, I hear this from my moms, all of the time, they will tell me that they have a to-do list. They have everything that they need to get things done, but they don’t know where to get started and when they do get started, they lose their focus right away and then nothing gets done. This is anxiety at work because when those stress hormones are pumping through your body, it’s going to be really hard to stay focused and to concentrate because again, you’re always feeling like something is wrong. There’s always a need to be on the lookout.

Number five, sense of dread. Just that foreboding feeling that something bad is going to happen. I have clients who actually use this, or I have to say used this because this was part of our coaching. But the idea was, if I’m always thinking that something can go wrong or something is going to turn out bad and it does then I’m not surprised. I’m not disappointed and I’m prepared. And if things turn out well, well, that’s just a happy accident.

Number six, fear of losing control. I see this a lot with parents around IEP time, where they’re afraid, say if they don’t get this particular service put in place that that failure in that IEP meeting will result in them losing control of their child’s educational future forever. And I also see it in the moms who won’t let anyone do things with their child. They always need to be there because again, they’re afraid that if they’re not there and something happens, then they’ve lost control, so they always need to be there. They always need to be hovering so they can feel ‘safer’.

And finally, indecisiveness and again, this is the difficulty making decisions due to the fear of making a right or wrong choice. Things are black and white, things are right or they’re wrong. And so when you are looking at decisions in this way, of course, it’s going to create paralysis because you don’t want to make the wrong decision. Because you’ve told yourself, if you do, then again this will have great impacts far into the future.

Alright, so that’s seven of the ways that I see anxiety showing up in my clients. And as you will notice, stress and anxiety are very similar. I like to think about stress is originating in the body and anxiety is originating in the mind. Anxiety is the thinking that fuels the fire of your stress response. And so if you’re in a fight, fight response and your brain has released the stress hormones into your body, your thinking is going to narrow and you’re going to go into your anxiety thought loops.

I like to think of this as my anxiety playlist, the thoughts that I always think when I’m under pressure or when I’m feeling stressed. And then the more you do this, the more you engage with these thoughts, the more you’re fueling the fire of your stress response. So you’re actually keeping it going with the thinking. And the powerful thing is what you’re thinking can either exacerbate your stress response or it can lower the temperature significantly.

And so what I want to teach you how to do is to recognize what your thinking looks like when you’re in your stress response and then what you can do to change how you’re thinking or at least how you’re relating to your thinking. And what I mean by that is, I have clients who tell me all the time, “Yeah, I was catastrophizing last night about whether my kid would get on the bus or I was catastrophizing about what will happen if he doesn’t like the substitute teacher.” And my first question to them is, “Well, how long were you doing this for?”

If you realized you were catastrophizing, you have a choice to stop. So when your brain offers these thoughts to you, it’s kind of like junk food, you don’t have to take it. And so part of the work here is being intentional about what thoughts you’re going to engage with.

So what to do. First, I’ve already hit on this a bit, recognize your anxiety playlist. These are the thoughts that you usually think when you are in a worried, stressful state. Things like, I’ll give you mine, this isn’t fair. This will never get better. It will always be like this. Nobody understands. For me, once I get to nobody understands, that’s my red flag. You need to stop, because I know when I get there, I’m kind of past the point of no return. I really need to pause at that point.

And so what I encourage my clients to do is get really familiar with the thoughts, conscious or unconscious, that are beneath the surface when they are feeling stressed, because those thoughts are going to fuel the fire. So next, once you’ve recognized your playlist and you’re having one of your red flag thoughts, pause and regulate. This doesn’t mean that you’re stopping your thoughts. That’s pretty much impossible to do, but rather, you’re taking a moment to ground yourself in the present.

Maybe this is engaging in a few deep inhales and exhales, or maybe it’s reminding yourself this is my fear brain talking to me. Whatever you can do to slow yourself down and bring yourself back to the present will help you reduce your anxiety. Remember, speed is an accelerant to stress, and so the more we can slow it down, the more we’re disabling the stress response.

And then finally, stop the spiral. Now that you have paused to regulate yourself and your rational thinking is coming back online, it’s time for you to decide what you want to do about these spiraling thoughts. Because this spiral does not happen by itself, we need to engage with it, and we need to add fuel to it to keep it going. So if we want to stop the spiral, we have to make the conscious decision not to engage with these thoughts. We have to decide not to fuel the fire.

Again, this doesn’t mean that you never think these thoughts. It means that you notice having the thought that this never gets better, nothing is working and you don’t engage with it. You don’t then go, “Yeah, let me find all the evidence it’s not working. My son got ejected from two schools, two hospitals. None of that. I am having the thought that nothing is working. Then your job is to refocus yourself. You can do this with your breath, with a grounding exercise. You can do this by deciding how you want to think about the circumstance.

So every time I find myself with nobody gets this, I make myself prove myself wrong. And I’ll say, “Well, what is the evidence? Well, who does get it?” Well, certainly my son’s clinician, certainly the folks that are working with him right now. His dad gets it. His grandparents get it. There are people who understand, maybe not as deeply as I think I’m experiencing it, but there are other people who understand. So I’ve given myself that job every time you go to no one gets it, you need to prove yourself wrong.

When you do this, when you take steps to stop the spiral, you are taking back control of your brain from anxiety and you are creating new neural pathways. The more you do this, the more you will dull your default reaction of indulging in worst case scenario thoughts. And that will reduce your anxiety. Alright, that is it for anxiety.

Next week we will conclude the Autism Mom big three series with burnout. In the meantime, if you are ready to get a handle of the stress and anxiety and burnout you’re experiencing as an Autism mom, I am the coach to help you with that. Schedule a consultation with me on my website or in the show notes. During the consultation, I want to get to know you, understand what your struggles are and for us to figure out whether it makes sense to work together. Again, you can schedule your consultation by going to the show notes or my website theautismmomcoach.com/workwithme. Alright, talk to you next week.

Thanks for listening to The Autism Mom Coach. If you are ready to apply the principles you are learning in these episodes to your life, it is time to schedule a consultation call with me. Podcasts are great but the ahas are fleeting. Real change comes from application and implementation and this is exactly what we do in my one-on-one coaching program. To schedule your consultation, go to my website, theAutismmomcoach.com, Work With Me and take the first step to taking better care of yourself so that you can show up as the parent you want to be for your child with Autism.

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