guest blog by Terry Matlen, MSW, ACSW
with ADHD have a notoriously difficult time dealing with transitions,
even good ones. Going on vacation means switching out of work mode to
days of nonstructured, free time. At work, you typically know what’s
expected of you, and at home, you and your partner keep the whole family
on schedule and manage all the details of daily life. When you’re on
vacation, you’re still to trying to “manage”—but without the routine—and
the change can be unnerving. What time should you wake up? When do you
eat lunch? What do you do with all your free time? Read? Hike? Swim?
Your hyperactive brain is searching, but it no longer has a road map to
Transitioning from work to play can be difficult for
anybody, but for the adult with ADHD, the initial feelings of being lost
can be more intense, and the adjustment period is often longer. It’s
ironic how the one thing you crave—time off—can actually backfire and
cause you stress whether you have inattentive ADHD (body in slow
motion/brain in overdrive) or hyperactive ADHD (brain and body in
overdrive). If you struggle with hyperactivity, relaxing might not be
part of your makeup. When you’re used to full days at home and at work,
and then suddenly find that there are no demands, no places to go, no
one to answer to, and you’re suddenly “doing nothing” (such as reading
or strolling the beach), it can feel like stepping off a cliff into a
gaping void. The change is that drastic. This “free falling” can kick
off some serious anxiety and/or depression.
Your ADHD brain
needs to focus on something. It craves stimulation. If you’re an
inattentive type, you may go more inward, but you still need something
to focus on outwardly, like writing, painting or some other quiet
activity. If it doesn’t find some sort of focus, it can succumb to
negative thinking, such as ruminating, worrying, or obsessing.
just as you’ve settled into vacation bliss, it’s time to transition
back to work and home, thereby stirring up the anxiety pot again. It
seems that you just can’t win. The good news is that there are a few
things you can do to help make your transition into summer go more
Here are some suggestions to help you ease into your summer vacation.
• Be sure your vacation matches your temperament. If you are drawn to excitement, go for high-adrenaline activities. If you crave solitude and tranquility, consider peaceful surroundings with quiet activities. Try to balance your active time versus kick-back time.
• If possible, plan ahead so that you don’t have a massive heap of work waiting for you when you return to work. This might mean taking on a bit more work before heading off on vacation.
• Remember that though you’ve left your home and work behind, you’re still traveling with your ADHD brain. You need to take into account that change can be difficult. Few adults with ADHD will admit that taking vacations can sometimes cause more stress than staying at home: There’s the planning, packing, traveling, settling in... all things that may be difficult. There’s the expectation that you are going on vacation to have fun, so when you find yourself struggling to switch out of work mode into vacation mode, don’t beat yourself up. Be patient and give it some time.
• Plan ahead. Before heading out to your destination, make a list of things you’d like to do once you arrive. This added structure will prevent you from letting the days fly by without a plan and will help minimize potential anxiety and/or depression. Be sure to include downtime in your schedule!
• Acknowledge that it may take you more time than it takes others to transition. Let your body gradually get used to the time and rhythm change.
• Try to keep certain things consistent, like sleep schedules and mealtimes. These can be your constants to help keep you grounded.
• Build in other routines throughout the day, such as a walk after lunch.
• Coming home is yet another transition, so be easy on yourself. Upon returning home after vacation, ease back into it. Don’t plan any big events or important meetings as soon as you return. Allow yourself to gradually get back into your routine the first few days back home.
Following these tips should ensure an easy transition to and from vacation so that you can enjoy your time off to the fullest.
A longer version of this post appeared in the June 2014 issue of Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!
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Terry Matlen, MSW, ACSW, is a psychotherapist, consultant, and writer,
specializing in ADHD. She is the author of Survival Tips for Women with ADHD: Beyond Piles,
Palms and Post-Its and The Queen of Distraction: How
Women with ADHD Can Conquer Chaos, Find Focus, and Get More Done and the founder and president of the popular website,
ADDconsults.com. A nationally recognized speaker on ADHD, she is immediate past coordinator of the Eastern Oakland
County CHADD chapter in Michigan.