Mental Model Speculations Part 2

ADHD vs. Allistic Relaxation

What does a relaxing, refreshing day look like to you? A whole day where you do whatever you like as it comes to mind? A day where you’re free from a strict schedule and can just chill? How about sitting down and watching NetFlix until you’re bored? Those all sound like hell to me.

Counterintuitive, right? What’s so stressful about having the freedom to do whatever you want? One challenge of ADHD, at least my variety, is a constant uncertainty about what one should be doing. For me, an unscheduled day feels less like riding a roller coaster and more like driving up and down mountain roads with no guard rails. While that can make for a fun drive if you know what you’re doing, it can also run your transmission or cause a horrendous crash. With the executive function challenges of ADHD, an unscheduled day carries the stress and exhaustion of said precarious trip.

That said, limited blocks of unstructured time can prove fun. Knowing that one has 90 minutes in which to watch NetFlix makes a huge difference: longer movies are off the table, only so many consecutive TV episodes are allowed, and every extra minute spent dithering over those choices burns precious watching time. The time constraint removes much of the stress from an otherwise overwhelming array of options. A fixed end-time make it much easier relax into the current event without the constant background fear of unintended, overextend hyperfocus. Schedules give someone with ADHD the guard rails that other people have built in, freeing them to enjoy the trip.

Keep the above in mind the next time someone you know wants to plan a mutual holiday, trip, or day off in excruciating detail. Sure, their itinerary may need some additional flexibility (aka more “buffer time”), but that same structure makes it possible for them to be present with you in the moment. Without it, the subconscious din of faulty internal calendars reminders and alarm clocks can prove too distracting. Find the right balance and you can both relax as intended. Perhaps you’ll find such a structured day more relaxing than you had expected, too.