5 Reasons Why Vacations Are So Difficult with ADHD and What You Can Do About It

July 4th weekend is just around the corner.  Everyone seems to look forward to it; time off work, family gatherings, good food. To me, it’s truly the kickoff to summer and typically, I enjoy having long quiet days to enjoy being with my family and friends.

This year, the holiday will be longer than usual, as it lands on a Monday, making for a shorter work week. (Do I hear a yay yay yay?)

Historically, instead of enjoying my free time, I generally find myself feeling irritable and well…unsettled.

It got me to thinking about past summers and why I think I have a tough time with holidays, vacations, and the unstructured days that go with them. Bingo! Unstructured being the operative word.

Those of us with ADHD or with family members who have ADHD, know that what we need most is pretty much the opposite: structure!

In analyzing why long holiday weekends – and vacations- are almost as stressful as a regular work week, I came up with the following reasons:

  1. My sleep habits shifted– staying up too late and sleeping in too late.
  2. Eating and exercise habits changed. Sleeping- in meant eating a later breakfast, which then interfered with the entire day’s meal schedule and my exercise routine. Meaning, I often let my jogging go. Dinner was often late at night, thus disturbing my sleep. 
  3. Without a work schedule to keep me on task all day, my free time was disorienting. For most people, this time off would be considered a true vacation. For me and others with ADHD, it can become confusing and upsetting.
  4. Family, who I love beyond words, were in from out of town. Having house guests, even if they are family, are triggers for me, as it pushes me out of my regular routine. Whereas I’m often using the computer late at night, working or researching, my office was used as a temporary guest room. Again, a change in my normal schedule threw me off.

    Add in the fact that I am a serial introvert who needs a *lot* of quiet downtime, well…being around people, even those I love, takes it all out of me.
  5. I don’t exactly hide the fact that I don’t do much cooking or entertaining. It’s beyond the scope of coping with my brand of ADHD. To me, even ordering in Chinese food is a major accomplishment when entertaining friends or house guests. A few years back, I bit the bullet and hosted a BBQ for 7. Even with the help of my family, I was still stressed.

    There was food to purchase, the house to clean/declutter, prepping, cooking, serving, and of course, the dreaded cleanup. This is fun? Not for me. It took me two days to recuperate and get my energy back!

What should have been a free, relaxing holiday week was anything but that. Why? Because my routine was interrupted.

I’ve heard from countless adults with ADHD who have shared the same exasperations. The family vacation they look forward to ends up being a disaster. Children are dysregulated, over-tired, unhappy, and worse. Adults become irritable, angry, and bored.


What to DO to Make It Work

It’s important to “see it coming.” If you have a change in your routine coming up, whether it’s a family vacation, children being home from school with too much free time; family reunions, or any other disruptions, note to yourself how you’ve felt in the past under these kinds of conditions.

Do you get overwhelmed? Bored? Short fused? Do your children with ADHD exhibit more behavioral problems? Are they more demanding and irritable?

Take your summer “temperature” and become aware of how free time can affect you and yours and determine what steps you can take in order to make this a positive experience instead of a stressful one.

Make a list of things to do so you can create structure into your day.

This may sound weird, but if you really have a tough time with these kinds of transitions, remind yourself that it is a temporary change. Soon, you’ll be back to work, in your own space, in a quieter setting, etc.

Remind yourself of how lucky you are to have this time to unwind and get a fresh perspective on things. It’s a great time to re-visit what exactly you want in life. And most of all, cherish the time you’ll be spending with friends and loved ones. Meaning: re-frame the negative into a positive.

Don’t accept that free time or vacation time always translates into fun time. Take your family’s ADHD into consideration well before that long holiday weekend or vacation time comes up and use strategies to make things work for you and your ADHD.

How do you manage your summers when the days are long and schedules change?
Please share in the comment section below.


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