Holiday Disruption & ADHD: Broken Routines

Something I don’t see discussed often enough is how much we ADHDers can get thrown off by a disruption to our routines, even when the disruption is fun or positive. Since the USA has Thanksgiving later this month (Canada had Thanksgiving in October) and Christmas will be a month after that, I thought this would be a great time to talk about strategies to deal with the many ways in which the holidays can screw us over.

Let’s start with routines.

Pinnable image for this post. A picture of a checklist on a clipboard with a cracked egg on it.

yes, you have routines!

Routines seem like the impossible dream a lot of the time, but I’m here to tell you that you have some, even if you think you don’t.

Do you always brush your teeth after you shower in the morning? That’s a really simple routine.

Do you always have spaghetti for supper on Wednesdays? Also a basic routine.

What typically happens is that we fall into routines almost by accident. Most people talk about routines as being these intentional things, but for us they’re more like magic, and they can poof really easily.

The easiest way I know to find out what your routines are is to actually write down what you do, in order, every day for a while. You don’t need to keep track of the time or anything, just the stuff you do. When you have at least three weekdays, you can compare the days and see what things you do in the same order every day.

Those are your routines.

Because a real routine is a collection of habits that are chained together, it’s not something we think about when we do it. It’s just what we do. The thing is, routines give us structure, which is something we struggle with. (See last month’s posts for why that’s hard. Executive dysfunction sucks.)

So when holidays come–or anything that disrupts our usual lives–those routines get disrupted, and it can be really hard to recover from that disruption. And the resulting lack of structure is stressful, which can make our ADHD symptoms harder to manage.

routine disruption

Routines can be disrupted in a lot of different ways during the holidays. Work and school are often cancelled, or if you work in retail you have extra hours. You might have houseguests. You may travel to visit family or friends. In some instances, your routines can continue as usual. In others, things are so out of the ordinary that you can’t maintain them at all.

So how do you mitigate this disruption?

figure out a minimal version

Try looking at your established routine and pull out the activities that feel most important to complete. That’s your minimal version of your routine. It can function as your alternate routine when time is short.

pick a different time

Maybe you can’t do your routine at its usual time, but maybe you can do it at a different time of day. Figure out whether that routine needs to be done when you currently complete it or if it can be moved.

do something else to get the same result

What is the point of the routine in question? Is there another way you can get that result? For example, if your morning routine isn’t going to work in full when you’re visiting your family because you can’t shower due to how many people are competing for the bathroom at that time, maybe you can break up the routine and move showering to a different time of day (see previous heading), or maybe you can clean yourself using wipes or a washcloth instead.

Do you have any other suggestions for ways to manage when your routines are disrupted? Please share in the comments!

This week’s printable is meant to help you figure out what your routines are, get an idea of what kinds of things might disrupt those routines, and come up with contingency plans for said disruption. As a bonus, I’ve included a worksheet to help you add new habits to your established routines.

Next week we’ll start looking at planning for the holidays. Disruption is easier to handle if you know what to expect, and that’s what planning is good for.


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