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NOT walking in your shadow. Tips for breaking free from negativity and autistic shutdown

by | Jul 10, 2018 | News & Views | 2 comments

This blog is really about positivity. The author has been in something of an anxious, autistic ‘fug’ for a few weeks – a shutdown. Retreating, wallowing – it’s not a bad thing, it’s not something to feel too concerned about; it’s usually a necessarily evil for an autistic individual, when life has got ‘too much’. (Although long term shutdown IS concerning). For this autist, shutdown, while not pleasant, is an important period, as it always serves as a reminder, or a wake-up call.

Essentially, shutdown, for someone who’s autistic, can be described as feeling like a computer that’s not equipped with update software – it simply has too many apps or browsers or programs open. Autistic shutdown is when you need to start closing down your programs, to conserve energy.

(We covered the process in more detail on THIS BLOG, so please click to read more about autistic shutdown. We also covered the process of heading to shutdown in THIS BLOG, so we hope you find these useful.)

Anxiety tests

Incidentally, performing regular anxiety tests can be a useful indicator for an autistic person, in terms of whether they’re heading for shutdown. THIS SITE offers a good stress/depression/anxiety test, assessing elements like whether the individual is unable to relax, is ‘touchy’ and easily upset, irritable, easily startled, fidgety, intolerant of interruption etc. It’s a quick, confidential online Q&A that gives good feedback, and doing a test like this regularly is a good gauge (for anyone – autist or neurotypical!), to assess their mental state.

ANYWAY. As mentioned, this post is about positivity, and moving forward from the low times.

What gets an autistic individual out of shutdown?

(1)Removal of the stressor, of cause of the anxiety.

(Fine in theory – but for most people, autist or neurotypical, anxiety has many causative factors – it’s hard to pinpoint individual elements, let alone remove or adapt them). However sometimes, maybe working too many hours, a toxic personal or work relationship, a health issue etc, can be addressed, and the stressor can be removed or reduced.


This point is important. Relaxation, reduction of sensory or social challenges, as much sleep as is possible, indulgence in one’s interests (e.g. music), down-time / me-time, etc. Self-care (at all times, e.g. not just when in shutdown) is key to maintain emotional equilibrium for all autists, and anyone, in fact.

(3)Talking therapies, mindfulness, meditation etc

Many people, again autist or neurotypical, benefit from talking therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), to help re-set negative thought patterns. (Those on the autistic spectrum are especially prone to repetitive thought patterns.) Mindfulness, meditation and such holistic practices may also help.


Sometimes, time just helps. Our autistic PC simply has too many apps or browsers or programs open, so just working through the re-booting process is beneficial.

(5) Life cull

As mentioned, this post is about positivity, and this author saw a phrase recently which helped enormously: Let go of what does not serve you.

This ‘life cull’ applies to things, possessions, places, hobbies and people. Individuals on the autistic spectrum can get overwhelmed easily by socialisation and sensory sensitivity, and we’re often ‘people pleasers’ (especially, it seems, autistic females – something author Tania Marshall has described.) Sometimes we need to ‘let go’ of things in our lives, to maintain wellness.

This explanation is from the website Peaceful Mind, Peaceful Life

“One of the hardest yet most rewarding lessons I’ve experienced is learning to let go of what doesn’t serve me. In theory, I’ve always understood it, but in my ego mind, I’ve always thought that it is me who knows what’s best for me. So, when the Universe would send me messages to step away from certain people, situations or places, and I just wasn’t ready to, I ignored it, sending me into constant tailspin. I let go of people who brought me down, of places that made me feel low, of habits that didn’t bring forward my best self, and it was really freaking challenging.”

So, number 5 on our list is ‘life cull’. If you’re an autist (or your loved one is) struggling to recalibrate, reinvigorate or get out of a shutdown or ‘low’ period: why not make some changes?

Step away from people, situations or places that do not serve you. It can be hard, especially letting go of routines and relationships / friendships – but: are they serving you?

Don’t forget to read our AUTISTIC SHUTDOWN BLOG!

Music that moves you

Something that helps this author is finding moving music; music that changes our state. A new song by a UK songwriter really ignited the fire, recently: Barbed Wire by Tom Grennan, with the lyrics –

‘From a youthless man who’s walked a lonely road… he holds himself together with these barbed wire gates. Don’t let people hold you back; gotta stand tall and aim higher; don’t touch the barbed wire. If you walk in your shadow, led by shepherds, then you know.’

The songwriter has said Barbed Wire as a concept is the idea of a path you shouldn’t tread, and was written when he felt trapped and isolated.

Although it was written from that sad place, it is very euphoric and brilliantly produced, best turned up loud. It certainly lifted this author up!

There’s something to be said about NOT walking in your shadow, and not letting people hold you back. In a low spot, a ‘fug’ or an autistic shutdown, finding the spark that changes your thought processes is key to getting out of the shadows. Listen to the track far below, and also see our own video to accompany this blog.

NB this post was written before the author learned about polyvagal theories. If you can get your head around this wonderful theory of the autonomic nervous system, it helps explain the neurobiology of shutdown simply. There’s lots of information available (look out for Dr Porges’ and Deb Dana’s work). I mention it in this blog, that discusses social engagement and polyvagal theory).

Autistic social engagement challenges can improve – and NOT by masking

A little disclaimer – here at we don’t claim to be experts about Autism; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences.


  1. Jay

    This is a really good article, well done. I would like to add however, with regards culling people out of your life it isn’t always so easy as the memory of them stays with you and the past history of your interactions with them will stick around (particularly if they are close, like a family member). Counselling or some other form of therapy should be considered to help process and move on from any damage that their interactions with you may have caused.

    • admin

      Thanks Jay, your feedback is very much welcome. Yes that’s a brilliant point; relationships can be so tricky can’t they; especially with blood relatives. And talking therapies would definitely help (with acceptance/moving on, or whatever actions are taken). This is probably a whole article in itself isn’t it – e.g. an autist’s interactions with others, personality types, ’empath’ responses, toxic relationships, etc! Once again, thank you; SB team


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