Getting back to regular life after the holiday break is hard for everyone. But when you have ADHD, it's an even bigger challenge. Here are six tips to help make it more manageable and start the year on the right foot.
January 2023, Agave Health Team
Getting back to work after the holidays is rarely pleasant, but it’s especially challenging for those with ADHD. As the Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) points out, “the ADHD brain is wired for interest and operates in the “here and now,” so generally speaking, transitions are not an ADHDer’s forte.
Shifting focus from one routine to another takes a massive amount of effort for individuals with ADHD. Therefore, abandoning and then returning to a daily routine during the holidays can make you tired, erratic, and anxious. Understanding that can help you break away from self-blame and encourage compassion at a difficult time.
The following tips will assist you in transitioning smoothly after the holiday period.
Tip 1: Document your routine
After the holidays, one might feel overwhelmed by an abundance of unfinished tasks. To give your future self a helping hand, record any incomplete projects in as much detail as possible. Jot down the last steps and any upcoming deadlines for every project. This way, you’ll already have an action plan when it’s time to get back from vacation.
It’s also a smart idea to identify the key elements of one’s daily routine and write those down as well. Once you return to everyday life, you'll have an approximate list of tasks to complete each day. And this will help you readjust to daily living much faster.
Tip 2: Keep some habits in place while you're off
People with a tendency to be disrupted by transitions – which is most ADHDers – might consider keeping certain habits throughout the vacation.
William Curb, an ADHD coach and podcaster at Hacking Your ADHD, stresses the importance of maintaining so-called keystone habits, which are small habits that set the tone for other aspects of one’s life. Examples include daily exercise, meal prep, getting to bed on time, etc. Whatever strategy makes your daily routine easier is a keystone habit; most people have an intuitive understanding of what those are for them.
Identify a few keystone habits and follow them throughout your vacation. If you struggle to pin down yours, exercise and self-care habits are always a helpful place to start. For example, you may want to take a morning walk if you find that it helps you relax and collect your thoughts. You may need to shorten it by just 15 minutes, and that’s fine too, but the very fact of practicing self-care and maintaining an element of everyday routine will facilitate the post-holiday transition.
Involve others in your routine
Tip 3: Take a buffer day
Buffers are such an influential element of daily planning, and the same principle can be easily extended to transitions after the holidays. Schedule a transition day between the holidays and returning to work. Use this day to do minor chores, see where you left off at work, and write your weekly or daily checklist. A buffer day like that will help ease you back into your mundane life instead of being thrown into it without a plan.
Tip 4: Relaunch your routine progressively
We are all aware that procrastination is a known symptom of ADHD. In his ADHD Holiday Survival Guide, Dr. Edward Hallowell, a psychiatrist specializing in ADHD and New York Times best-selling author, underlines the importance of self-discipline whenever life gets busier and more chaotic than usual. In the article, Dr. Hallowell writes, “Prioritize. Take a deep breath. Put first things first. Then go on to the second and the third task. Don’t stop.” Practice this rule when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
After the holidays, prioritizing may look like picking two to four habits you’d like to resume first. A few days later, when you’re already making significant progress, add a few more tasks and habits, and so on, until the rest of your day is organized.
Do what you enjoy at least once a day.
Tip 5: Involve the people around you
No matter how much you plan ahead, returning to daily life can still be a bit more chaotic than usual. Prepare the people in your life for this scenario, or even ask them to temporarily help you with minor chores.
Involving others in your routine and daily life is also a helpful idea to garner accountability and maintain habits. For example, if you struggle to fall asleep on time because you tend to hyperfocus on video games, you can ask a family member to pull the plug on your console if you’re not in bed by a set time. This may seem harsh, but it may discipline you to save the game and finish on time in the future.
Tip 6: Be kind to yourself
People tend to be mean to themselves when they’re overwhelmed, but remember this – it’s not your fault that transitions are difficult for you. You’re doing your best and making constant progress in returning to your day-to-day routine, and that’s what really matters. And if you don’t eat very healthy food or struggle to fall asleep on time for a few days after the holidays, then so be it.
Being kind to yourself also means relaxing and restoring your energy from time to time. If you had to juggle a lot of tasks during the holidays, you may feel burned out. Do what you enjoy at least once a day. For some, it may involve taking a nap, and for others, it means exercising or preparing a favorite meal.
Whatever that means to you, treat yourself with care, kindness, and patience – especially during hard transitional periods.