You’re at work, frustrated beyond a point you can process. You can feel it coming on like a volcano. Your breathing hastens, your stomach clenches, and you want to scream. You’re trying to hold it in badly, and failing. “Not now, not here,” you think. It’s a meltdown, but it could have been avoided.
When was the last time you went to the gym and went HARD? I’m talking about breathing hard, soaked in sweat and legs that feel like they’ve been turned to jello. Many people on the autism spectrum struggle with getting enough physical activity, and if you want to learn how to become physically active on your own it can be tough. Gyms may be far away, expensive, or intimidating. This was certainly my experience and I did not begin my physical fitness journey until my mid-20’s. This is why I can confidently tell you about the difference regular intense activity makes and how to combat these issues.
You have probably heard about the benefits of regular physical activity, often described in terms of “light to moderate exercise”. If you enjoy that type of exercise I certainly wouldn’t discourage it, but the truth is that autism requires a little more. We have a huge amount of energy, and it builds over time. Without intervention it can release destructively in the form of physical aggression or meltdowns. But this doesn’t have to be the case! You can find positive outlets to release this energy and cut off this destructive cycle.
While I can dump quite a lot of energy into my lab work, it’s still not enough. What I’ve found is that the only foolproof way to dump this excess energy is through tough workouts. It makes sense though, right? If you exercise at a similar intensity to a meltdown then you are effectively releasing the energy the same way, except positively. Think about the last meltdown you had: how much energy did you expend? If I can have an intense workout and feel that same sense of release afterward, I know I’ve done well and I can’t have a meltdown, even if I’m upset, because I just don’t physically have the energy to do so.
In future articles under the tagline “Energy Management” I’ll talk about some of my preferred energy management techniques, and some of the other reasons why physical fitness is mandatory for achieving more with autism.