When you’re on the verge of physical burnout, people tell you to rest your body. To listen to it, to help it relax.
Autistic burnout is different in that I find I must listen to my brain as much as my body, maybe even more so.
Autistic burnout is when your brain becomes so exhausted, so tired of navigating this overly neurotypical world that it essentially shuts down. It becomes impossible to complete even the simplest of tasks like doing the laundry or having a shower. Until your brain has had a chance to recharge, everyday life can be overwhelming to the point that lying in bed is your only option.
When i can see the warning signs of an epic burnout period approaching (I’m talking weeks of exhaustion and the inability to complete even the simplest of tasks) my brain begs for rest. For me though, physical rest isn’t always the answer. Sure there are times where I sleep for days on end to help get myself back on my feet, but being physically still really doesn’t help my brain because of my adhd. My brain only shuts off when I’m asleep, and half the time I don’t even feel it does that to be honest. People tell me to rest and put my feet up, but that is the final nail in the coffin for me. That will completely tip me over the edge into chronic burnout. What I have to do is listen to my brain.
My brain needs a specific type of rest. It needs to be happily occupied and stimulated in a calming way. Long time followers will know that pretty much the only time I can lie down and rest while I’m awake is when I’m watching the MCU. I dont ask why, I just know it works.
So what does “actively resting” look like for me? It means switching off from my emails but going for a walk. It means giving in when my brain simply cannot work out how to do housework, and going to look at plants at the garden centre. It means putting your to do list to one side and giving yourself permission to just leave it, but paint your nails or go shopping instead. No guilt, no self loathing, just acceptance of what you can and can’t do right at that moment.
The rest many of us need in order to stop a burnout which lasts months on end is achieved by acknowledging which activities make us feel good. Really good. If that’s going to look at plants then do it. Don’t force yourself to relax in ways that people think will help you.
Physical rest won’t necessarily help you, neurodivergent brains aren’t built that way. Trust your brain and you will recover so much quicker.