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Managing Anxiety for People with Additional Needs

Everyone struggles with anxiety, feelings of being overwhelmed, or over-stimulation from time to time, for a number of reasons, so why do people with additional needs struggle more and how can we reduce this? It’s all about finding and understanding the triggers and then setting up coping mechanisms. In this blog we will explore anxiety and coping mechanisms.

What is anxiety and over-stimulate?


We all experience anxiety, in varying degrees, for different reasons.  Anxiety can occur out of frustration because people can see others doing things they think they can’t or because it takes someone longer to learn and achieve a goal. It can come from misunderstanding a situation or remembering a previous negative experience and worrying it will happen again.

We also choose who and how we want to share information about our anxiety. For people with additional needs it can be hard for them to choose who to share this information with, and even when they do know, it can be just as hard to express the anxiety they feel.


Over-stimulation is usually due to someone’s environment which on some days can be bearable but on other days intolerable. To a large degree we often create our own environments but some people with additional needs may struggle to give input and therefore an environment is created for them.  This is usually done with best intentions but does not always consider the possibility of over-stimulation, as this could vary for different people.

For example a room we love normally, e.g. a living room, it could be a nice bright space, there is a TV, stereo system and different lights as well as pictures, plants etc. You come home from a day at work with a banging headache, traffic has been a nightmare and you haven’t been to the toilet or eaten for hours. You go to your living room to unwind, only to find the lights all on, the TV blaring on full volume, all the family gathered there unexpectedly talking excitedly, and there is no place to sit down.  Each of these individually is not usually a problem but all at once it is just too much.  Or it might be that normally this isn’t a problem, but today, after an exhausting day you just can’t deal with it all.  You are experiencing over-stimulation.


The physical effects of anxiety on adults with additional needs

Anxiety can have negative physical effects on adults with additional needs. When adults with learning disabilities feel stressed, their brain's neural pathways are interrupted, leading to a breakdown in communication between different regions of the brain. This can cause difficulty in focusing and paying attention to tasks at hand.

Anxiety can also manifest itself in a number of other physical symptoms: headache, stomach ache, sweating, dizziness, hyperventilating, trouble sleeping, irritability.  Experiencing these without any other cause may also be upsetting and confusing.


Anxiety comes in different forms

For adults with additional needs who may find understanding or being able to communicate this feeling difficult they may find other ways to show how they feel. For some anxiety presents as a feeling, we may also see people cry, shout, invade personal space or become physically expressive towards themselves or others.


How do we ‘manage’ these feelings of anxiety?

It is important to discover what can trigger these feelings of anxiety or over-stimulation for each individual and then find ways that work for them to overcome these feelings. Often we find that when working with adults we are using techniques they learnt at a young age and continue to use into adulthood. However people can change and it is vital to ensure that these techniques are still the most appropriate for them and continue to work.  If not, then we need to adapt and explore other techniques that might give a better result.

Techniques that often help are a calm, quiet space, having someone around who is willing to understand and listen, mindfulness, going for a walk, putting headphones on or writing down what is making you anxious. For some praying helps, for others it can be a good cry. You could also try distraction techniques by finding something else they enjoy to focus on and then discuss later what led to them feeling anxious, when they are calmer and better able to reflect.


Other support

There are other types of support that can help people with additional needs to learn new ways of understanding and managing anxiety or over-stimulation, these can be, but aren’t limited to:

  • Specific support groups

  • Different types of therapy

  • Intensive Support Teams

  • Learning Disability Teams

  • Mental Health Teams

  • GPs

  • Friends

  • Family

  • Support Workers/PAs       


Once a person with additional needs, or their support team, knows the triggers and the strategies that work best, we can reduce the levels of anxiety that person feels and therefore support them to live more meaningful, happier and healthier lives.

To find out more about Oak Lodge and how we can support you, visit to contact us today.

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