Transitioning into Holidays and Vacations: Falling into the Black Abyss

Terry Matlen, ACSW Health Guide
  • "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."


    Dickens pretty much sums up holidays and vacations for me. It can be great and it can be, well... less than great. In an earlier post, I talked about surviving the holidays. But today, I'd like to dive into a specific area that typically we only discuss in terms of our ADHD children, and that is....making transitions and coping with changes in routines. Or I should say, not coping with these changes very well.


    Since those of us with ADHD are, for the most part, distractible and disorganized; we rely on external structure to make our days more manageable, as it can be incredibly difficult to handle our time intuitively. Thus, we rely on internalized routines, planners, Palm Pilots, checklists and the lot. So what happens when our days become unstructured, like when we're on vacation or have time off from school and work? What happens when our routines change? The truth is, many of us become miserable!

    Add This Infographic to Your Website or Blog With This Code:


    At holiday time, we are off work, rushing to parties, staying up late, and many of us are traveling. Everything goes out of whack; including our sleep and eating habits.


    I happen to be the type of person who does not "do" change well. I thrive on schedules and structure, because without them, I'm free-floating through my day. Many people whom I've talked to with ADHD seem to have similar issues. We often become more irritable because of the shifts in our daily rhythms. We get lost, not knowing what is expected of us, or what we should be doing. As parents with ADHD, it's likely that one or more of our kids also has ADHD, which means not only are we trying to manage our own challenges that come with changes in routine; we are also trying to help our kids handle theirs. Before you know it, the entire family is off kilter and chances are, the holiday or vacation no longer becomes a time of joy and connection; it becomes a black abyss where time passes and we become very very scattered.


    How to Survive Changes in Routine


    • Acknowledge that you will have your ups and downs during these times of transition. Discuss your concerns with your family. In other words, "see it coming" so that you can take steps to prevent the meltdowns and flared tempers that often come with transition difficulties.
    • Try to keep some structure and systems in place. This is a tough one for you night owls, but it's important to get to bed at a reasonable hour. Help your children to transition into bedtime routines by giving them plenty of notice that it's time to wind down. Using a visual clock like the Time Timer ( is often helpful.
    • You know the drill about using common sense in regards to eating, drinking and exercising. Try not to let it get away from you. But conversely, don't punish yourself with guilt if you over do it a bit on holidays and vacations.
    • Try easing into the transition, if possible. If you're going to be traveling for the holidays and know you'll be getting up earlier than normal, don't let yourself sleep in or stay up too late the few days before you set out. Let your body gradually get used to the time/rhythm change.
    • For younger children, make graphic diagrams of their day. Think about how much time they can/should play with video games and other toys. Build in time for being with family, playing outside, etc. Talk about what their day will be like. Kids really do thrive on structure.
    • For older children and teens, write up a list ahead of time of their schedule and responsibilities, so your requests don't come out of the blue, throwing them off. You're more likely to get their cooperation if they know what is expected of them beforehand.
    • On the other hand, do allow for flexibility during holidays and vacations. Kids - and adults - need a break from the routine, too, and staying up late a few nights won't hurt. Extra hours enjoying favorite activities can be a great stress releaser, too.
    • There's no law that says you can't continue making lists or consulting with your Palm Pilot to best utilize your free days. Set specific time aside for lounging, reading, TV, etc. if the black abyss is too anxiety provoking.


  • Remember that changing BACK into your normal routine can be equally nerve-wracking. Try to prepare you and your family by slowly getting everyone back to regular sleep/wake schedules.

    Add This Infographic to Your Website or Blog With This Code:


    Changes in routines can be stressful, but they can also be a time for learning how to go with the flow. Hopefully, these tips will give you the tools you need to make these times of transition less upsetting for you and your family.

Published On: December 13, 2007