Home BE WISE Understanding Stress and Meltdowns: How to Manage it All

Understanding Stress and Meltdowns: How to Manage it All

written by Terri Matthews October 26, 2018
Terri Matthews

By Terri Matthews

Motivational Influencer and a Life Advocate with unshakable Faith. My commitment to see you thrive ignites my purpose to illuminate your journey beyond past or present obstacles in life. You are meant to succeed.

What is Stress?

We have all met, encountered and have had a one on one with stress.

By definition, stress is:

A state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work etc.

Something that causes strong feelings of worry or anxiety (sense of feeling overwhelmed).

Physical force or pressure.

Stress is the “S-Word,” no one truly likes or want more of; however, stress is a naturally occurring sensor that alerts us of imbalance to draw us to a place of sensibility.

When we are in a state of stress, we feel at a loss of control to our feelings and our environment.

What is a Meltdown?

An intense trigger of some sort (usually high sensory triggers) can cause an intense reaction in what one may call, “a meltdown.”

Meltdowns are very common in the autistic community and tend to be deemed (especially in children) as a tantrum or frankly stated, going off the wall. However, this is not the case.

A meltdown is a reaction to feeling overwhelmed.

For people who are on the spectrum, this transpires as a result of too much information for them to think through at once. For example, the typical and expected commotion of an amusement park could set an autistic individual into a complete meltdown.

Likewise, it can be a response to having too many things to think about at once such as a trip to the store with the large lists of things get.

The best analogy of a meltdown is considered a water pouring a pitcher.  When the pitcher is full (one’s brain); yet water continues to flow in causing an overflow (of processing in the brain) comes to the trigger of a meltdown.

Experiencing Stress and Meltdowns

As for myself, I have experienced high-stress moments.

In business, there tend to be major changes that occur causing large shifts and unexpected immediate attention.  In life managing a multitude of hats, juggling them all can seem to feel overwhelming at times searching for balance and stability in it all.

As an autistic mom, I have dealt with my son Jaden experiencing meltdowns due to an environment of over stimulating sensories causing him to feel overwhelmed with high anxiety.

Here are my helpful tips in managing stress and the steps to de-escalate a meltdown:

Top Tips to Managing Stress
  1. Identify your triggers.

Understand what makes you tick and be okay with what can cause stress in your life.

Is it from eating late or not having enough to eat lunch?

It is not being able to communicate your feelings to your loved ones in a safe space or possibly, last minute deadlines at work?

Knowing who you are and the space you are in is key to uncovering stress triggers so you can address them successfully.

  1. Breathing Deeply.

Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body as it sends messages to the brain to calm down and relax, which sends this message to your body.

Stress increases increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure and these all decrease when you breathe deeply to relax.

  1. Find healthy outlets to relieve stress such as (but not limited to):

Support group (to talk out issues, gain comradery and accountability partners)





  1. Practice Mindfulness and Support Self-care.

Mindfulness is about being in tuned and aware with your inner self. Self-care is the activities that promote the state of awareness and mindfulness. For some self-care is taking a relaxing walk.  For others, it may be doing a personal vacation ever so often. Whatever you do to build up your selfhood and the ability to articulate a balanced person to the world is important to be able to handle what life may bring your way.

To learn more about mindfulness visit my latest episode on mindfulness here.

To find out how you can put mindfulness into action with my D.I.Y. Spa Day (one of my favorites self-care activities) visit my latest episode on self-care here.

Proactive Steps to Handling a Meltdown Occurrence
  1. Assist the person in finding a safe, quiet place to de-escalate.
  2. Be calm to avoid escalating the situation.
  3. Speak in a calm voice and validate the situation ex: I understand that you are upset.
  4. Ask the person if they can practice taking deep breaths with you: ex: Can you do this with me, Take a deep breath and breathe out, Can you try to do that 2 more times for me.

If they say, “no” ask them to take a break with you and get a drink or water or go to the restroom with you to grab napkins to clean his or her face. If the child says “no,” ask them to sit quietly and inform them that you are setting a timer to give them time to calm down and then would like to speak to them about the situation. Other tactics: counting to 10, singing their favorite song, playing some relaxation music, or asking them to stretch with you.

  1. Once the person is calm, validate the situation and then ask what happen.

Ex: I saw that you were very upset and I know that your anger and frustration is affecting you today. Do you want to talk about what happened? If they say “no” ask them to write it or draw a picture of how they feel or repeat steps in 3. Once they speak out about their behaviors, listen attentively, give eye contact, and allow the child to speak with no interruptions.

  1. Validate the maladaptive behaviors: ex: So you are angry because a student pushed you, therefore you pushed the student back correct?
  2. Discuss triggers.
  3. Remember to validate the person, situation, and ways to manage the situation.
  4. Praise the person for taking the time to show some effort in understanding his behaviors and ways to improve upon future situations to avoid the behavior from consistently occurring and being a trigger that leads to acting out that leads to consequences.

For more information on understanding meltdowns and how to handle them, you watch my latest episode on how to identify and handle meltdowns here.

Stress Happens

The facts are stress arises and happens.  Again, stress is a naturally occurring sensor to all living beings which has helped us identify areas for adjustment in order to survive and most all, thrive.

Knowing however what triggers stress for you and your loved ones is important in managing stressful situations.

You can take control over your life and you have the ability to support others to do the same. Do not let stress rob you of your beautiful life: your present and future one!

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