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Sometimes we experience difficult emotions that lead to meltdown other times we are so overwhelmed that it leads to SHUTDOWN. Shutdown may have the same triggers as meltdown but it looks and feels different and can cause different types of problems. Both shutdown and meltdown are commonly seen in people with autism. 

Signs of shutdown include:

➢ Being completely silent, not being able to communicate in any way.

➢ Forgetting how to do simple tasks. 

➢ Withdrawing to a quiet, dark space to get away from the cause of the shutdown and minimise stimulation.

➢ Not being able to move and thinking too much about the cause of the shutdown.

➢ Lying down on a flat surface, being completely still.

Shutdown is an involuntary physiological process caused by stress instability, an inability to regulate the body’s overwhelming response to stressors (Miller & Loos). The nervous system is overloaded to the point of collapse so it shuts off. 

Reasons for shutdown include:

1. Extreme overload, burnout or stress can trigger a self-protective response of shutting down before it’s too late and the nervous system overloads.

2. Expression of distress.

3. To reverse effects of stress and calm down back to normal.

It’s so important to understand what factors influence the onset of shutdowns and then we can take steps to reduce the likelihood of them occurring and their severity. These steps may include organising your life in ways others may find extreme, lazy, selfish, but regardless of what others think, we have to do what works for us. This includes:

Taking time out (even from important events.)

Implementing self soothing strategies.

Creating AND maintaining low-stress environments that nurture rather than damage your neurology. 

Try not to be swayed by other peoples expectations and opinions of what you need and what you ‘should be’ doing.

Remember shutdown is a real physiological situation and be compassionate toward yourself and non judgemental. 

Turn off bright lights and loud noises, find quiet spaces to re-regulate your nervous system. 

Shutdowns can be short or long term; hours or days. Longer term shutdown can lead to not being able to speak or take care of ourselves. It can take 3weeks to properly recover.

The team at Melbourne Centre for Women’s Mental Health understand that meltdowns and shutdowns are manageable and will work with you to develop the right structure and strategies to minimise disruption to your nervous system. Book online for your initial consultation. 

Skocic, S. 2019