How to Prevent Meltdowns

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Meltdowns are no fun, but it is possible to avoid them. Here's a framework for how.

Preventing meltdowns is possible??

Meltdowns are (and this is the understatement of the century) no fun. They happen when our ability to cope with a situation, or stress, or whatever, is overtaxed, and we have absolutely no resources left to filter our raw emotions, thoughts, and experiences. And what comes out of us can wreak havoc on the people, relationships, and objects around us.

When it’s happening, I don’t think there’s much you can do about it besides ride it out, minimize any additional inputs, and wait for it to pass. But is possible to avoid meltdowns.

Yes, it is possible. Here’s a framework for how.

Caveat: What I’m about to describe is a learning process. It is not easy, or quick, and is not something that will work in the moment when a meltdown is imminent or in process. It’s a long-term framework.

One

Give yourself some compassion around the meltdowns that you have had and how you struggle. You are not “bad” when this happens, it is not a choice and you’re not insufficiently trying. It is a signal that you are struggling and in distress. When you’re hurting that much, you deserve compassion and help. Is there a way you can give that to yourself?

It is a signal that you are struggling and in distress. When you’re hurting that much, you deserve compassion and help.

Two

Identify the various things that sap your energy, cause you to stress, or trigger you. These can be physical sensory things, certain interpersonal dynamics, situations, emotional stuff, and more.

Figuring out what is happening is necessary to be able to create any kind of plan or strategy for dealing with it. 

Three

Start picking apart what it is about each of those things that you’re struggling with. It is often a combination that leads to the meltdown stage, but reducing the individual stressors reduces the overload that leads to a meltdown.

Four

Physical stressors usually need practical solutions, like eating if you are hungry, blocking noise with earplugs or walking away in an argument.

Emotional stressors tend to need solutions that are more along the lines of exploring deeply held beliefs about yourself and others that may be causing painful thoughts.

Relationship stressors tend to need a lot of the same stuff as emotional stressors, with an added component of learning healthier communication skills.

Expectation stressors come from a disconnect between what we expect something to be like and the reality of the situation. Can we change our expectations to more closely match reality? Can we change reality to more closely match our expectations?

Five

Alongside all of this, gradually becoming more aware of what is going on inside you, both physically and emotionally, is invaluable. I would say necessary.

For many people, that includes reconnecting physical sensations with conscious awareness in ways that feel gentle and safe.

When you don’t know how something affects you, it’s very difficult to make it any better. So noticing when things affect you, and how, involves noticing what is going on inside.

Six

As you figure out more and more of the above questions, you’ll start noticing when you’re getting overwhelmed before it’s at a meltdown point. And you’ll have more skills to respond to it when it’s in that earlier stage, when you have some choice in the matter.

What to expect

That’s not always going to work, and it’s not going to be consistent for quite a long time. This is a very slow growth process, but it is possible.

As you get better at tuning in to the signals inside you, and connecting them to meaning in real time, over time you will start recognizing when things are negatively affecting you earlier and earlier in the process. And the earlier it is, the more brain power you’ll have left to do something about it.

That doesn’t mean you will never have any meltdowns again, even after you get good at this, but they will be much fewer and farther between.

That doesn’t mean you will never have any meltdowns again, even after you get good at this, but they will be much fewer and farther between.

You can do this

Everyone has moments in life when really intense things happen that overwhelm their ability to cope with it, no matter what kind of skills they have. And that’s okay. That’s part of being human in a world that is often quite challenging. It’s not your personal failing, and it’s not your fault.

And I’m guessing that if you have meltdowns frequently, the adults in your childhood didn’t understand what you needed and/or didn’t teach you how to effectively express your needs on a regular basis. Maybe they didn’t know how to themselves.

And no, it’s not fair that you have to work through those old wounds and learn new skills at your age (when it’s a lot harder), but you’ve been doing hard things your whole life. And you can do this too.

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Heather Cook

Heather Cook

Hi, I’m Heather. I’m an Autistic writer, advocate, and life coach, and I'm building a life I love. I help other Autistics to build their own autism-positive life. I love reading, jigsaw puzzles, just about every -ology, and Star Trek!

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