By Malcolm Wang
For me, autism and anxiety are connected together, and it is that way for a lot of other people. I’ve been working on learning about coping strategies in the past year. I would like to share examples I personally use. I think these examples will be helpful to other people in the same situation. When I was a senior in high school last year, my social worker and I figured out that writing paragraphs would be a good coping strategy. So, writing this blog is a way for me to deal with my anxiety.
The definition of the word, “cope” is “to deal effectively with something difficult” according to dictionary.com. A coping strategy helps you feel better about something that is difficult and not feel bad about it. A coping strategy doesn’t fix a problem completely, or make it go away, it just helps a person feel better. The right time to use coping strategies are when something causes anxiety or stress, such as a change in the schedule.
#1 Drink Water
When I feel anxious, the first thing I like to do is to get a drink of water or Gatorade. Sometimes, a drink of water can help reduce headaches and make me feel less hot.
#2 Change My Thoughts
Think of a happy memory or use positive self-talk. When I was a student at Michigan Career and Technical Institute (MCTI), I wrote a song about positive self-talk because I felt homesick when I was living in the dorm. I set my song to the Silent Night tune. My song was three verses long and it had ten positive thoughts about things like being a good friend, making positive life choices, and being kind. In the last line of the third verse, I put the words, “Everyone is still learning.” I think the last line is really important because everyone needs help, and people don’t do everything perfectly on the first try. All of us are still learning.
#3 Listen to Music
I’ve noticed a lot of people wear ear buds. I think this might be the most common coping strategy especially for teenagers. In my last blog, I wrote about how many of my favorite songs are examples of positive self-talk. Sometimes, I like to listen to dance music such as Rise Again by DJ Sammy, because it makes me feel happy inside. The lyrics are positive, and the strong dance beat is calming like a heartbeat. My favorite lyrics from the song are, “You will see me again” because it reminds me of seeing a good friend after an absence.
Exercise helps me to stay healthy, and scientific studies have proven that it calms the whole body, including the brain. I really like to jog and do sit-ups with a good friend on Sunday afternoons. Last Sunday, I did 106 sit-ups. I do push-ups if I am having a lot of anxiety. I can do 16 push-ups at a time.
I like to go hiking in the woods when the trails are not icy. When the trails are icy, I go mall walking. On Saturday nights, I go to the hangout at the Living and Learning Center and we have a dance party. Sometimes, I also shoot hoops with my brother and that brings back a happy memory of the Unified Basketball Team. One time, I scored 58 points in a single game with the Unified Team and everyone was cheering for me.
#5 Read a Book
I get tired easily and what really helps me is reading a book. I find a book that I want to read and then I find the CD that goes with it. That way I can listen to the book while reading at the same time. Recently, I finished reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which is year 5 out of 7 in the series. My favorite character in the book is Fawkes the Phoenix in Dumbledore’s office. I print out comprehension questions for every chapter so that I can understand the story. This is something I do on my own just for fun in my free time. I talk about the books with a good friend. It brings both me and my friend a lot of happiness.
#6 Ask for a Hug
Sometimes, I need a hug. In my bedroom, I have a baby doll that I hug sometimes. I also have a lot of people who love me a lot and I ask for a hug when I need one. It is important to ask first before a hug because not everyone wants one. That is what it means to be a gentleman. Some people who are not comfortable hugging other people like to hug their pets. For example, we have 2 guinea pigs in our house. They are friendly and quiet and soft. Sometimes, I pet them and hold them close. They like to eat from my hand. I feel calm when I hug the guinea pigs.
#7 Call a Friend
One of my favorite things to do is to call a friend and schedule time to hang out. I have something to look forward to when I put it on my calendar, and it makes me feel good. One day last summer, I scheduled a time to go hiking with my friend from Unified Basketball. I took nature photos out in the woods and I showed him a trail he had never been on. He showed me where he likes to go kayaking. Both my friend and I felt great about the day.
#8 Play a Musical Instrument
Sometimes, I play my guitar when I need some quiet time. I taught myself to read sheet music. I learn the chords by watching guitar videos on Youtube. I have learned five chords so far and I really like learning at my own pace. I also taught myself to play the keyboard and I play songs like Amazing Grace and Yellow Submarine by the Beatles. Creating my own music is different from listening to music because when I listen to a song, the beat is different. When I create the music, it comes from my own mind.
Another thing I like to do is edit photos. I take lots of nature photos when I go hiking in the woods, and I edit them on Photoshop. I enhance the colors and fix the lighting. Sometimes, I change the colors and add special effects. Mostly, I just sharpen the photo. That is a type of creating art. I also create art by painting. When I am creating something, I am feeling calm inside. I feel focused on the art.
#10 Take a Deep Breath
The hardest calming strategy for me is taking deep breaths. I find it hard to control my breathing. Sometimes, my mom and I practice breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. The words we say are, “Breathe in the love and breathe out the anxiety.” That helps me feel better and usually I have to breathe several times before I can slow down unrealistic worries. I recommend having a breathing partner so that two people can help each other.
#11 Writing or Journaling
Last year, I took a creative writing class in my senior year of high school and then after I graduated high school, I took a creative writing class at the Living and Learning Enrichment Center. I liked writing short stories and getting help editing the short stories. That is how I became interested in writing blogs. I set aside fifteen minutes every day for working on the blog and writing on other topics. My notes help me understand things like books, movies, unwritten social rules, and articles I read about on the Internet. I decided to write this blog because I was researching coping strategies and positive self-talk, and I thought this information would be helpful to other autistic people.
If you know of other coping strategies that help with anxiety and stress, please post in the comments below.
Malcolm Wang is an artist in Michigan. His next exhibit is in April 2020 at the Novi Civic Center. The exhibit will have thirty new photos from his nature hikes. Malcolm was diagnosed with autism at age three.
To see more of Malcolm’s photography visit The Art of Autism Photography Gallery.