Nov 8, 2023 | Neurodiversity

meltdown tips

Tips to Help When You are Experiencing a Meltdown


Over the last couple of weeks, we have spoken about overstimulation and offered some tools to help recognize and navigate triggers. While understanding your body and mind is helpful in managing overstimulation, you are still likely to find yourself in intense moments where your tools aren’t effective. So, today we want to talk more about what you can do to help when you are experiencing a meltdown. 

What is a meltdown? 

According to Ambitious about Autism, meltdowns are “often the result of situations which are highly stimulating or create high levels of anxiety which feel like they can’t be escaped. When someone is in this situation their reaction is either flight, fight, or freeze. If the person cannot escape that leaves two options: either fight or freeze. Meltdowns are similar to the fight response.”  

A meltdown will look different depending on the individual. It may be obvious, external, and loud, or it may be less obvious, internal, and quiet. It is important to remember that no matter how it presents, meltdowns are not the same as temper tantrums, and they are extremely taxing on the person both physically and mentally. 

Tips to help during a meltdown 

As we mentioned in a previous blog post, it is important to carry an emergency kit with you to help curve symptoms at the onset. However, sometimes it is inevitable, so understanding what you need, in that moment, is key. When a person is experiencing a meltdown, they can’t self-regulate and ground themselves. It is in these moments, that individuals are operating from the parts of their brains that have no logic. Rather, they are in fight or flight mode, and acting on survival.  

Here are a few ways in which we have found dealing with meltdown helpful: 

Weighted blankets 

Weighted blankets are an excellent tool to help in the moment of meltdown. The way in which they are made, and filled with poly pellets, weighted discs, or glass beads, applies pressure across a person’s body to help promote relaxation. The pressure from the blanket can assist in regulating your body and help it to return to its usual state. They are also helpful for sleep, which plays a significant role in our overall well-being.  

“Deep-pressure touch helps promote relaxed feelings via the release of dopamine and serotonin, helping with arousal and regulation,” says occupational therapist, Dina Barnes, from London, Ont

Connect with someone 

For some people, when experiencing a meltdown, calling a trusted family member or close friend can be an excellent grounding technique. A meltdown feels overwhelming, and the inner dialogue racing in your brain can be too much to handle. Hearing the voice of someone else interrupts your inner dialogue. It is also reassuring to have someone who understands what you are experiencing and is willing to support you. 

“It might mean going outside with me for a walk or telling me it’s ok to finish out the day from home. Again, it really depends on the person. Just being someone that we can flag that with, goes a very long way.”

Connecting loved ones can help during a meltdown.

In other situations, physical touch may be helpful. Safe touch such as a hand on your arm, shoulder or back can help ground people during an active meltdown. Just as a weighted blanket applies pressure to your body, a hug or having someone’s arm wrap around you, can be incredibly beneficial.  

Uncover what works for you 

Since every person’s experience will vary, it is key to understand what you need during a meltdown. This might mean a sensory blackout where you are in a dark, quiet room until you start to feel better. It might mean listening to your favourite song, podcast, or audiobook while you ground yourself. Some people might reach for a cold cloth for their face, or a sour candy to help. For others, medication might be required. There is no shame in recognizing and honouring your needs, and for advocating for yourself during these moments, and the moments after. 

There is an excellent app, Kulture City, whose slogan is “we make the nevers possible.” Their goal is to provide individuals with the information and opportunity to fully enjoy their experiences. The app includes sensory inclusive locations, such as the Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton, describes the location and resources available, symbols of what they have and what is allowed, as well as a feeling thermometer.  

Our hope is that people continue to have the conversation around overstimulation, and its impact on neurodivergent individuals. The more we keep talking, educating ourselves, and listening to the experiences of others, the more inclusive our world becomes. 

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