Coronavirus (COVID-19) Health and Safety Guide
ASERT has compiled resources for those with autism and those who care for people with autism relating to the current COVID-19 outbreak.
This resource, part of the Be Well, Think Well resource collection, provides information about supporting individuals with anxiety and autism through panic attacks and various relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, and grounding techniques.
Panic attacks can be scary and overwhelming for both the person experiencing it and those around them. The information below explains how to help someone who is experiencing a panic attack.
It’s important that you appear calm and relaxed in order to avoid escalating the person further. Appearing calm can also help model behavior that you want the person to follow. Keep your voice quiet, relaxed and talk slowly. Although panic attacks are intense and can look scary, they are not life threatening. Keeping this in mind may help you remain calm and be a positive support for the individual.
People get lost in their thoughts when having a panic attack. Talking can help distract them from their thoughts. Ask them questions, but keep them brief and simple. You don’t want to overwhelm them. Ask them to describe what they see or hear around them in that moment. You can also ask what you can do to help to make sure you’re providing them with the type of support they need.
A person may have racing thoughts when experiencing a panic attack, making it difficult to remember to use their coping strategies. One way you can help support them is by reminding them of strategies that help them relax. Prompting them to take slow, deep breaths and modeling it for them may be helpful. Remind them that they are safe. Prompt them to think of a place that makes them happy and have them describe every detail.
A little comfort can go a long way in a panic attack. Remind them that what they’re experiencing is not dangerous and it will not last forever. Be sure to be positive and give positive feedback about how they’re handling the attack. Keep your statements short and clear. They can only handle so much while they’re experiencing panic symptoms.
Being alone can be frightening during a panic attack. Staying with them as they gradually come out of the panic attack will help them get through it and may also help strengthen your relationship with that person. Once the panic attack stops you’ll want to acknowledge how difficult the experience must have been and praise them for getting through it.
If you experience anxiety or stress, you may have heard someone recommend relaxation techniques. There are many types of relaxation techniques that are used to help anxiety and stress. Everyone is different and not all relaxation techniques will work for everyone.
Breathing is the only bodily function that we do both voluntarily and involuntarily, meaning that you breathe on your own without thinking, but are also able to change your breathing when you want to.
During times of stress, there may be changes in body functions – heart rate rises, sweating occurs, muscles tense, and breathing becomes rapid and shallow.
These physical changes can affect how people think and feel. If a person is anxious and their breathing becomes faster, this can make them feel even more anxious. To help get rid of those feelings, individuals can practice deep breathing, also called abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing.
Anxiety and stress can cause a person to think negatively and imagine the worst happening. Imagery can help them focus on positive and pleasant memories and experiences and help combat negative thoughts. Focusing on these types of mental images can help the person feel relaxed.
1. Be relaxed in a quiet, comfortable place with eyes closed.
2. Think of a calming place in your mind. Don’t just think of the place briefly, but imagine every detail about it. Go through each of the senses – sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell – and imagine what someone would experience in that place.
3. Here’s an example using a beach.
4. Imagine this scene for as long as possible or at least until anxiety begins to lower. If negative thoughts or imagines try to pop up, return thoughts to the calming place and try to stay focused on the relaxing image.
When people feel anxious, their muscles may get tense and make them feel stiff or sore. Progressive muscle relaxation teaches people to relax their muscles and lower tension. It also helps people learn to identify when they are experiencing stress so they can handle it better.
Panic attacks can be scary. You might feel overwhelmed, like you can’t breathe, or like you are having a heart attack. This resource will teach you strategies that you can use to help you cope with your panic symptoms. These strategies are called grounding techniques. Grounding techniques can help you calm down quickly.
1. Scan the Room
Take a look around you. Reminding yourself that you’re safe can reduce the panic and help you return to normal.
2. Relax Your Body
It’s sometimes easier to relax your body than it is to relax your mind. Relaxation techniques can help your body relax and calm your mind. Take slow, deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose. Pay attention to the feeling of your lungs getting bigger as you breathe in. Then breathe out through your mouth. Repeat this for a minute or two and feel the tension leaving your body.
3. The 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique
During a panic attack, people can get stuck in their thoughts. Try to focus on things that are going on around you. Pay attention to all five senses. To do this, concentrate really hard. Name five things you can see around you. Name four things you can feel. Name three things you can hear. Name two things you can smell. Name one thing you can taste. Repeat until you’ve calmed down.
4. Picture a Calm Place in Your Mind
Think about a place where you feel totally calm. Maybe it’s a beach, a forest, or a special place you go that makes you feel calm. Take a few moments and take some deep breaths. Close your eyes. Imagine yourself in your calm place. Think about all of the details. Imagine the sights, smells, noises, and temperature. Really try to imagine what it would be like if you were there. Imagine yourself in your calm place for a few minutes before you open your eyes.
|Be Well, Think Well: Deep Breathing Relaxation Technique||This resource provides information about one relaxation technique, Deep Breathing.||Download file: Be Well, Think Well: Deep Breathing Relaxation Technique|
|Be Well, Think Well: Imagery Relaxation Technique||This resource provides information about one relaxation technique, Imagery.||Download file: Be Well, Think Well: Imagery Relaxation Technique|
|Be Well, Think Well: Progressive Muscle Relaxation||This resource provides information about one relaxation technique, Progressive Muscle Relaxation.||Download file: Be Well, Think Well: Progressive Muscle Relaxation|
|Be Well, Think Well: Supporting Someone Through A Panic Attack||This resource provides some techniques to help others cope with panic attacks.||Download file: Be Well, Think Well: Supporting Someone Through A Panic Attack|
|Be Well, Think Well: Tips for Working with Individuals with Autism and Anxiety||This resource provides some tips and suggestions that staff can use to recognize when someone is anxious and help lower their anxiety.||Download file: Be Well, Think Well: Tips for Working with Individuals with Autism and Anxiety|
|Be Well, Think Well: Grounding Techniques for A Panic Attack||This resource will teach you strategies that you can use to help you cope with your panic symptoms. These strategies are called grounding techniques. Grounding techniques can help you calm down quickly.||Download file: Be Well, Think Well: Grounding Techniques for A Panic Attack|
This information was developed by the Autism Services, Education, Resources, and Training Collaborative (ASERT). For more information, please contact ASERT at 877-231-4244 or info@PAautism.org. ASERT is funded by the Bureau of Supports for Autism and Special Populations, PA Department of Human Services.