Stress, dyspraxia and neurodiversity – a coaches perspective

Sue Murphy is a highly accomplished coach and has supported Creased Puddle clients for over 12 months now.

Sue Murphy

Sue shares her experiences both as a coach and being dyspraxic herself to enable others to gain a little more insight into stress and neurodiversity.

Stress is universal in our complex world and we all experience it at some point. Often, the experience of stress for someone who is neurodiverse (ND) will be similar to the way a neurotypical person experiences the same situation, yet there are also important differences.

I would like to share with you my experiences both as a dyspraxic woman and an experienced coach working largely with other neurodiverse adults to develop good strategies for themselves in the workplace.

The first thing I’d want neurotypical friends and colleagues to understand is that there are some forms of stress which ND individuals experience day in, day out because they arise specifically from being ND in a largely neurotypical world which isn’t designed for the way we think, experience to world or relate to people.  Examples from my own experiences and that of other ND adults would include:

Sensory overload – environments with excessive noise, light, smells, badly laid out etc. These factors can result in serious stress and anxiety for ND colleagues and by the way, they’re not doing the rest of the workforce any good either.

IT and communications systems – Fast-changing IT systems and processes which challenge our working memory and ability to write text into online systems .The distraction of trying to use multiple platforms at once at home and in work.  This is a growing area of stress whether you’re ND or not. So many of us are trying to keep up with communication through multiple channels all day every day and well into the evening.   It’s often stressful to try to remember which channels you’re using for what and the knock on effect on working memory and concentration which is a particular issue for people with ND conditions, is noticeable

Lack of understanding  – from others and ourselves about how our neurodiversity  shows up for  us individually can produce stress and a sense of not being able to do things others find easy. For example, someone with dyslexia may know their sense of time or ability to concentrate in a busy, noisy environment lets them down and causes stress but not be aware that their dyslexia impacts on their executive functions.

Secondly, stress has additional effects on ND coping strategies that neurotypical folk are often completely unaware of.

So, every ND adult and child is running strategies to cope with being neurodifferent in a neurotypical world. These strategies and coping mechanisms take up cognitive emotional and physical capacity causing a degree of permanent stress. Our strategies are developed to be specific to our situation and circumstances, so when additional stress occurs, we have less spare capacity to deal with it and our existing strategies may not cover it. Our strategies can be impaired or even fail.  

This can result in an ND person appearing to be more stressed that a neuro typical person in the same situation might be.

Stress, neurodiversity and coaching

Over the last few years I’ve realised that my own experience of the world as a dyspraxic, neurodivergent  woman has enabled me to be a more empathetic and effective coach with my ND clients precisely because we have shared experience of trying to live and work well in a world largely designed and run by the neurotypical majority.  My ND clients regularly feedback to me that the thing they most appreciate about working with me as a coach who is also ND is that I “get” them and the way they experience the world because whatever our distinct ND characteristics, we have common experiences in many areas, such as our sense of time, planning and prioritising and other executive functions.  This enables me to work powerfully with clients to identify what the issues are for them and what strategies and solutions might work best for them from an understanding that a neurotypical coach won’t share from a lived perspective. It allows me sometimes to bring into their attention a challenging issue which they have not realised has its roots in their neurodiversity. 

Three top tips for coping with stress

Do what works for you.    This sounds so simple yet can be so hard! Do what works for you, not what others think you should do.    If you find yourself saying “I should do x or y ”, or “I ought to” stop and check whether its something that actually works for you, or someone else’s expectations.  Instead, ask yourself “what would work for me here? “  then  do that regardless of whether its what others might do.

Just breathe. Simply allow yourself to be aware of your breathing. Paying attention to each in breath and each out breath, making the out breath slightly longer than the in breath is one of the most effective tools we have for calming ourselves when we’re stressed. Long, deep breaths work in   managing our stress responses to help decrease anxiety, fear and racing thoughts.  When we focus on paying attention to our breath we take our attention away from the thoughts that are distressing us.

Self care and self compassion

Most of all treat yourself as you would your best friend, be compassionate and understanding with yourself.  You are absolutely good enough just as you are.

Sue Murphy