Autistic Chronic Fatigue: Coping Strategies

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Many autistics, including myself, have felt constant lethargy and low motivation in our daily life. In this article, I would like to share how I have solved this problem by committing to some simple changes in my life.

Psychological Fatigue

Much of the time, the fatigue we experience is psychological. Many people experience life as a burden for us to carry such as working in a job we dislike, interacting with unsupportive people and dealing with family problems. After living this lifestyle for many years, we feel tired, burned-out and grumpy. A common strategy is to take a vacation - but it may merely buy a week of reprieve before the torture continues.

Most people with autism have an equally hard time struggling internally with uncertainty, anxiety, fear and anger. This internal struggle follows them like a shadow throughout their waking lives, and often into their dreams. There is only one cure for this type of fatigue: to re-experience the world as good, beautiful and meaningful. The changes in perspective comes to me in a series of massive inner transformations.

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Sleep Problems

Repetitive thoughts and worries prevent me from falling asleep for a few hours everyday, causing unintended sleep deprivation. For instance, due to my lack of the sense of probability, I worried about aliens invading Planet Earth, a time traveler wanting to kill me, meeting a lion that has escaped from the zoo and other hypothetical problems that I might face. Here is how to deal with them:

Relaxation techniques are the first line of defense:

  • Taking deep, regular breaths
  • Focusing on and counting each breath
  • Visualizing oneself in a calm and safe place
  • Relaxing one's body using guided meditation

If relaxation techniques do not help, we can use mental techniques and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Below are the techniques I have used:

  • Write down all my worries and stuff I need to remember, then insist that my brain think about them only after I wake up the next day
  • Remind myself that time spent worrying before sleep will not solve the problem

 

I also had a disturbed circadian cycle (sleep-wake cycle). My family likes to keep the television switched on at high volume, forcing me to stay up late at night to avoid the daytime noise and distractions. I napped in the afternoon and evening to catch up on lost sleep, resulted in difficulty sleeping at night. In order to resolve this problem:

  • Sleep and wake up at a fixed time everyday, including holidays and weekends. You may, however, sleep earlier if you need more sleep.
  • Use the bed only for sleep; do not do any thinking or work on your bed.
  • Avoid heavy mental work 1-2 hours before sleeping.
  • Upon waking up in the morning, briefly expose your eyes to a minute of bright light to reset the body clock. I used a 11W light bulb placed an inch away from my (closed) eyes and forehead.
  • Avoid naps. If you must nap, do so around noon to take advantage of the natural dip in our circadian cycle.
  • Find the minimum amount of sleep you need to stay alert, and add an hour more. This will be the amount of sleep you should get.

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Overly hectic lifestyle

Rushing from one emergency to another, most of us forgot to pause and breathe. Our breathing is often rushed, incoherent and shallow - depleting our brain of vital oxygen. We will feel more refreshed if we learn to breathe properly again. I recommend yoga as it strengthens the human body and is works for hyperactive people. Yoga harmonises the mind by bringing both the breath and the body together.

With proper breath regulation, we can calm down and enter a state of contemplation. In the Western religions, we pray. In the Eastern religions, we meditate. Both are excellent. When done skillfully, one feels more alert and alive rather than tired and deadened.

I do 5 minutes of yoga every weekday morning and a full hour every weekend morning. Fortunately, meditation does not require us to set aside a "special" time or assume a "special" posture: Although I usually read a book when idle, if I feel too tired or am in a social situation that forbids me from reading, I meditate without drawing attention to myself. If I am alone, I also do breathing exercises. This also resolves another autistic problem: impatience.

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Lack of Exercise

Insufficient exercise can deprive us of natural sunlight, which can help to keep our body clock properly tuned. A sedentary lifestyle can also lead to weak blood circulation and shallow breathing, thus inducing a sense of poor health and fatigue.

I personally believe in "productive exercising" to save time. In other words, I believe that exercise should lead to a practical goal. For instance, instead of jogging for 20 minutes in the park, we might jog to work or to a departmental store where we can do our shopping. I do brisk walking twice a day for about 20 minutes to and from work, which gives me much needed exercise and saves me a good amount in transport costs.

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Nutritional Problems

Most of our nutritional problems fall into these categories:

Eating the Wrong Food: Treat your body with respect. Avoid foods, drinks and habits that are bad for the body. Start with the habits that cause the most damage. If you smoke, stop. If you drink alcohol, cola or any artificial drink, stop. If you know that there is MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) in your food, stop. If you have artifical sweeteners in your drinks, stop. Then get rid of the less harmful things like coffee, tea, junk food and polluted air. Take more fresh fruits and vegetables.

Insufficient Nutrients in Daily Diet: We may have certain nutritional deficiencies that affect the body's metabolism. I use a good multi-vitamin to avoid this problem. An additional 250mcg of Vitamin B12 daily perks me up. However, taking the cyanocobalamin form of Vitamin B12 orally caused terrible insomnia if I overdosed. If you encounter this problem too, try reducing the dosage or using other types of vitamin B12 (e.g. methylcobalamin).

Insufficient Salt: I had a sodium deficiency, which caused my abnormally low blood pressure and constant tiredness. My frequent allergy induced colds leaked a lot of sodium via nasal fluids. After these colds stopped in 2007, my profuse sweating continued to deplete sodium reserves. After taking 1 gram of salt a day (containing 400mg of sodium), I felt much more energized. I stopped taking salt after 3 weeks and my blood pressure has remained in the normal range ever since. Do not try salt supplementation without professional medical advice - it can damage your body irreversibly.

Insufficient DHA Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids: This can cause tiredness and difficulty concentrating. The amount of time I spent sleeping naturally went down by 15% after I started taking a dosage of 550mg of DHA daily for about a week.

Insufficient Iron: This can lead to low blood pressure, which can make us faint-headed. Loss of blood, menstrual periods and pregnancy creates a great drain on iron within our bodies. However, over consumption of iron supplements is poisonous.

Poor Digestive Ability: If our digestive tract does not work, the nutrients we consume will not benefit our body. Probiotics and enzymes combined with digestion friendly food may help.

Parasitic Infection: Parasites in the digestive tract, ranging from tapeworm to fungus, can drain vitality from a person. Read up on the syndromes of infection and see if you have any.

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For those who prefer a natural solution instead of supplements, I have compiled a list of juices, with help from a nutritionist friend. Like fruits, these should preferably be eaten on an empty stomach for maximum benefit. Our digestive system is optimized for fruits; mixing other kinds of food can reduce nutritional absorption. In addition, it is very important to blend the juice to make it easy for the digestive system to absorb all the nutrients and vitamins.

Basic Blend (as the foundational part of all the other blends)

  1. Base Juice
    1. Fresh Coconut
    2. Fresh Soy Bean
    3. Fresh Almond Milk
  2. Flavoring
    1. Black Molasses
    2. Honey
    3. Baked Sesame
    4. Raw Ginger

Brain Restoring Blend

  1. Fatty Acids
    1. Avocado
    2. Flaxseed Oil
    3. Wheat Germ Oil
    4. Pumpkin Seed Oil
  2. Fiber / Other Nutrients
    1. Green Apple
    2. Pear
    3. Raw Carrot
    4. Fresh Mango

Blood Replenishment Blend

  1. Iron
    1. Beetroot
    2. Black Grapes
    3. Black Berries
    4. Black Bean (raw & sprouted overnight)
    5. Black / Red Dates (raw & sprouted overnight)
    6. Seaweed
    7. Raw Spinach

Digestive Aiding Blend

  1. Vitamin C
    1. Lemon (skinned)
    2. Lime (skinned)
    3. Oranges (skinned)
  2. Acid
    1. Green Apple
    2. Pineapple (including the core)

Refer to my parent's guide to autism and this supplement reference for more nutritional information

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