Using a CRUTCH to help me through extreme anxiety

The desire to use somewhat convoluted acronyms in any conceivable situation is a bit of an occupational hazard.

But this one kind of works for me. Because when I’m extremely anxious, I need some support – and after all, that’s what a crutch is for.

The time to use this is when I can’t speak for myself; when I can’t process what people are saying; when my stims cross the line from helpful and self-soothing to something that could potentially hurt me.

So here is my own personal CRUTCH.

Calm – it’s important that you remain calm, and speak calmly and in a level tone to me. I am already in a heightened emotional state and my reactions may be unpredictable if I can sense any emotion from you.

Reassure – when this happens, I am not only anxious, I am scared as well. I’m normally quite self-controlled, so to completely lose control of my emotions in front of someone else is extremely frightening, even ignoring what has triggered the reaction. So it’s helpful to reassure me – even if I don’t understand what you are saying, I’ll pick up reassurance through your tone of voice and the cadence of your speech.

Unhurried – it will take me a significant amount of time to process what you are saying, if that’s even possible. If I don’t respond immediately, give me time and if necessary try again in a few minutes. This is not the time to put any pressure on me.

Touch – even if I can’t process aural or visual inputs, I find touch (a hand on my arm, back or shoulder) both reassuring and grounding. It gives me something external to focus on when my mind is spinning out of control. If I am not expecting it, I may flinch in the first instance – if that happens, it’s fine to try again.

Confidence – this is possibly the second most important component after remaining calm. Whatever you do or say to me, do or say it with confidence. Because if you have confidence, I can have confidence in you and know that there is someone who is there to help.

Harmless – a bit of a strange one, but it’s a good idea to try and make yourself appear as non-threatening as possible. Don’t force me to make eye contact or loom over me – try to be on the same level as me if you can. This is because I’m in ‘fight or flight’ mode. My instinct is for flight, but if I think I’m under attack my reactions can become unpredictable. I won’t hurt you, but it might provoke me into a full-blown meltdown – which is something to be avoided if at all possible.

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