Staycation Advice for the non-neurotypical
May 16, 2018 5:42 PM   Subscribe

[ADHD/anxiety filter] I am about to be off work for ten straight days. For a number of reasons, I haven't taken more than 3-4 days off work in nearly three years. This shouldn't be complicated, but my anxious, perfectionist, ADHD brain is trying to immobilize me into doing nothing but sit on the couch for ten days. I need advice on how to avoid that.

If you asked me what my dream staycation would involve, it would be: no screens (for majority of the day), listen to jazz records while reading books, yoga, go on some local hikes, mushroom hunting, fix up my bike and take it for a ride, cook nice meals in the evening, catch up on indie films, visit the library and the park. But you'd be surprised how adept I am at finding ways to avoid doing all of these things, because of perfectionism/fear/procrastination shame-cycle.

I'll use bullet points to get some of the necessary context out there:
- 31, cishet woman, lives with partner, no kids, lives on east coast of the US not far from a major metropolitan area.
- I have been hoarding my vacation time because reasons. Please trust me that I know that isn't good and that I'm aware I've reached my breaking point- that is why I am finally taking time off even if it's to stay at home.
- I work in a field that involves a lot of emotional labor on a daily basis. Going this long without a vacation has... definitely had a negative impact on me, and I've forgotten how to enjoy my time off, let alone how to enjoy my time spent alone.
- Partner, who was just promoted into a very demanding management position, will not be off during this time. (This isn't an issue for either of us; I just bring it up since it's important to know I'll have a lot of alone time available to me).
- I'm an introvert; alone time is something I crave even if I'm not currently excelling at my ability to enjoy it wisely. So, suggestions that involve calling up friends/family to do things with me aren't what I'm seeking. Most of my friends and family will be working or not available at the last minute. And, as already stated, I'm trying to get better at enjoying my alone time in a way that is healthy and nourishing for my soul.
- Because of hefty student loan debt, I do not have much disposable income.
- I would try to do what many folks on the internet seem to recommend about staycations ("Get all of your laundry and cleaning done BEFORE! Cook up a bunch of big meals and freeze them!") but I only have two days between now and the start of this staycation. My job is not only emotional-labor intensive but also comes with a lot of legal and regulatory deadlines, so the next two days I will be working late to make sure those are done before I leave for vacation. My employer will have it no other way, nor will I (since I like being employed), so this isn't up for debate.
- Yes, I take medication for my ADHD, anxiety and depression, and have done CBT for many years. Not looking for advice about meds/therapy. I'm also part of a meditation group, which helps, but I am a work in progress. :)

My fears and concerns:
- I've been putting off some responsibilities (namely, financial ones- filing taxes late/payment plan for taxes owed; consolidating federal student loans)
- One other non-leisure thing I need to tackle in the next two or three weeks is painting my kitchen and building floating shelves for kitchen pantry storage. We've been remodeling out kitchen and these are the last two pieces in getting our kitchen to be functional and livable again. This is important to me because I love to cook, but right now I hate my kitchen because it needs shelves for organization.
- I fear that if I don't tackle the above things (money, painting/shelf-building) during my staycation, I will just spend my staycation beating myself up and feeling ashamed. The more I think about it, the more I realize that the financial stuff and painting, at least, will take up a lot less time than I'm currently catastrophizing in my head. Do I knock this stuff out the first two days, then enjoy the other eight, or do I give myself a day or two to decompress despite the fact that I will probably just spend it worrying about how I need to get this other stuff done?
- I am also carrying guilt about being so burnt out all the time that I can't enjoy my hobbies and interests. When I am not at work, lately I have just self-medicated by watching Bravo reality shows, rage-scrolling political Twitter, and just making sure basic household chores are getting done.

My question: how do I enjoy my staycation, avoid feeling ashamed about the things I have been putting off, avoid *avoiding* the things I've been putting off, and convince myself that I am worthy of love and investing time in creative projects and pleasurable pursuits that will make me feel accomplished and happy? It's really easy for me to just turn into an anxious couch potato who can't get started because perfectionism means I'm too worried and scared about screwing things up.

Some ideas I have so far:
- Go screen-free from the time I wake up until about early evening (5pm or so). I have apps and software to block access to time-wasting stuff on my phone and laptop.
- Set a very basic morning routine/ritual and a very basic evening routine/ritual. For example, shower and dress immediately upon waking, eat an easy breakfast I enjoy (toast and jam, yogurt and fruit), and leave the house to go on a brief walk.

Your ideas for how to structure my time**, and any support and encouragement you can provide, are greatly appreciated.

**It's that classic ADHD dilemma where we loathe rules and authority, but we also really need structure. I recognize this. I'm not looking for rigid structure, just a framework to guide me and keep me from giving in to my tendencies to procrastinate and beat myself for hours.
posted by nightrecordings to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Two suggestions:

Do something fun before you tackle the financial projects, so that you don't waste all your vacation time putting off the boring bits while not actually doing anything fun and relaxing. Spend at least one day having quality (you get to decide what's quality!) fun before you do anything hard. You've got ten days and you'll get the hard stuff done eventually. Ignore it for at least one day.

And make sure you leave home to do something fun. Go visit a local attraction that you haven't had a chance to see, go somewhere you can experience different things while walking around, spend a day following your whims. Preferably not in a way that involves driving an hour between each of them. More like, "hey, there's a movie that sounds good starting in fifteen minutes, and it's just across the street from where I am now. Maybe nobody else I know is interested in it, but I have no reason not to go!" Or whatever sounds like it'd work for you.

The only real way to waste this much vacation time is for you to faff about doing nothing but the same stuff you could do any weekday night, only for 16 hours a day. Avoid that.
posted by asperity at 5:58 PM on May 16, 2018

I don't know what your job is like, but I have ADHD and hate taking vacations because I know a bunch of e-mails I need to answer are going to pile up in my inbox and then become much harder for me to answer when I get back.

If you are like me, and your job is like mine, and this is the kind of thing you worry about, here's what has worked for me: Ignore the people who insist that a good vacation must involve total disconnect from work. Stay just plugged-in enough to make yourself less anxious, if that helps. I'm sure there are people who feel less anxious when they don't check Slack for four days—and you might be one of them—but it's not everyone.
posted by Polycarp at 6:05 PM on May 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, hi! You sound a lot like me! Here's what I've tried before that worked.

You said you had ten days straight off from work, and when I look at your list of "would like to dos" and "kinda need to dos," I can count, with a bit of tweaking...10 things that you say you want to do:

1. listen to jazz records while reading a book
2. do some yoga
3. go on a hike and hunt mushrooms
4. fix up your bike and take it on a ride
5. cook a nice meal
6. watch an indie film
7. visit the library
8. visit the park
9. take care of financial stuff
10. finish fixing up the kitchen

If I were you, I would make a checklist and then aim to tick one of these things off each day. Granted, this isn't quite the routine-regimen you were going for, but the nice thing about a checklist that breaks down into one thing a day is that there's room to put a few more things on a daily checklist. When I'm feeling both overwhelmed AND like I need to impose some kind of work-life balance (I often feel both things simultaneously), I've found that a checklist of five things per day really helps me focus and keeps me sane. So my checklist might actually look like:

__ get some exercise
__ turn off screens
__ deal with financial stuff
__ drink a glass of water
__ go to bed by 11pm

I would also realize that I could sub things in or out, so "get some exercise" might be "ride my bike" one day and "yoga" another day or "take a hike" another or just...I went for a walk, while "turn off screens" might be "listen to jazz while reading a book" one day, but "finish fixing up the kitchen" another -- both of which sort of automatically shut down the screens. Anyway, five seems to be the magic number for me, and I make the next day's list at the end of the evening before so that I don't get derailed by falling off some master plan wagon.

YMMV, but this kind of checklist (adapted from bullet journaling) has really worked for me in the past. Good luck, and enjoy your time off!
posted by pinkacademic at 6:12 PM on May 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

Agree so much that you can definitely do this with the power of lists, but not making TOO long a list. I also have ADHD and anxiety and one of the things I do to myself on the regular that is a total killer is making a "to do list," either leisure things, self-care things, work things, whatever, and then write on it EVERY single thing in that category that I "should" do. So it looks like, take a bath, read a book, go outside, write a letter, draw some art, ETC ETC... but what I've been trying to do lately in my free time is only put 1-2 things in each category on my to do. My categories are usually "have tos" and "self-care."

So for the weekend, then, I'd have:

2 loads of laundry
Take a LUSH bath

Reorganize the kitchen shelves
Spend time outside writing letters

So you can just pick one thing, or two things, in each of your categories and just give yourself the satisfying permission to ONLY DO ONE PER DAY. Don't beat yourself up for making a list of 20 things and then becoming overwhelmed by it and browsing Instagram for 2 hours (ask me how I know that beating yourself up while browsing Instagram for 2 hours suuuuuucks.) Make really short lists and give yourself the power to cultivate how much time/energy you spend doing the "have tos" so that you have space for the "self-care."

Hope that helps, be well! YOU CAN VACATION! You can do it!
posted by fairlynearlyready at 6:51 PM on May 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, I think some pre-planning will be a lot of help. Maybe even take day one of your time off and make that your day of planning.

Make a list of un-fun things you need to tackle (like money stuff and reno stuff, maybe grocery shopping and other chore type things) and divide them into chunks that will take you no more than three or so hours, and pick one of those un-fun things a day. Hopefully you'll have less than ten of them so there will be some days with only nice stuff, but the point of limiting it to about three hours a day is to give you a feeling of progress and accomplishment without making it exhausting.

Then make a similar list of fun things that need some effort or planning (mushroom hunting, hikes, getting stuff to fix bike) and spread those out so you do about one a day as well. Maybe on a day you're dealing with taxes, you'll not do a fun thing that takes prep but you'll still have plenty of nice things to do from the next step:

Finally make a list of things that don't require planning and write them down, maybe on index cards, so you can shuffle and pull one or two to do when you feel boredom happening. Things like going to the park, listening to a nice album, eating your favorite snack, etc. Stuff that you can do semi-spontaneously. The index card pile is to help you cut through indecision - you pull a card and you can either go "sounds good" or "meh not feeling it" and if it's the latter, you pull another card, but the card gives you an easier, binary selection of yes or no instead of choosing from a bigger pile.

I think it's okay to have "time off" instead of a "staycation" for some people. And you might be one of those people. Sometimes it's more relaxing to have things to do than to battle internal demons telling you you're relaxing wrong.
posted by Mizu at 9:29 PM on May 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: With staycations, it's easy to underestimate the amount of time it takes to do something. Not just major projects (last time I painted a room, I was surprised at how long it took and how physically exhausted I was afterward) but also generally going about your day. When you don't have to be out the door by a certain time, regular things like showering and eating breakfast stretch out to fill the extra time. You can try to impose a schedule on yourself, you can dawdle and let things roll out slowly, or you can do something in the middle. I suggest going on the dawdly side of the middle. Getting really scheduley on a staycation is triply hard: you're already burnt out on being busy, plus you're tasking yourself with enforcing the schedule instead of relying on set work hours/external deadlines/etc., and completely new routines are difficult to get used to.

Give yourself a conservative schedule for being productive - maybe four to six hours a day, with ample cushion for when you're at your most leisurely (if you like sitting around in the morning, start late; if you like midafternoon, give yourself a long lunch break, etc.) Write up a loose daily schedule for what you think you can get done each day, then cut that in half. A completely-checked-off short to-do list is much more satisfying than a 75%-checked-off long list, and carryover tasks can make your dread and anxiety snowball. If you find you're underscheduling yourself, take on the next day's tasks as a bonus.

You might not get around to doing everything you want to get done. But it's better to plan for that at the start than to realize it with two days left.

Also, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that time off must be maximized, either for productivity or relaxation. Sometimes doing absolutely nothing provides a reset. Consider scheduling one or two free days (maybe distributed evenly rather than loaded at the beginning or end) where it's okay to sit on the couch for hours on end.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:15 AM on May 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like you might really like the Unschedule, a concept from the mefi-favorite book The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play. I am, in some ways, very similar to you, and it's been really powerful to me in a way that other productivity schemes (pomodoro, etc.) definitely have NOT.
posted by mosst at 10:55 AM on May 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Wow! You could be me!

I agree with the person who said you should give yourself one day of fun before you tackle the things you don't want to do, but if it were me I would do the un-fun things immediately thereafter. If you can convince yourself so to do.

I don't know if you get stuck in morning routine shame cycles, but from some of your planning, it kind of sounds like you do. That "shower and dress immediately" thing sounds like a good plan to me. Then you'll feel as if you've started your day even if you then spend a couple of hours lazing around.

Good luck! I hope you enjoy your time off!
posted by missrachael at 11:18 AM on May 17, 2018

Best answer: As you schedule things, make sure you include all the steps and any wait times associated with them to avoid frustration/ beating yourself up. For example, if you are going to need to spackle and wait for that to dry before painting, remember to do that the day before; if the hardware you need for shelves is only sold at a store with limited hours make sure you plan that trip appropriately, etc.

And remember to factor in others’ schedules as needed. For example, if you’d like to spend much of a day in bed with your partner, make sure that’s scheduled with them; likewise if you’d like their help with some aspects of your painting project.

Consider how much time it feels good to spend on a project per day. For example, if it won’t make your life feel more disrupted, if it makes more sense for YOU to spend 90 minutes a day working on the kitchen until it’s done instead of doing it all at once, do that. (Brushes and rollers don’t need to be cleaned if you put them in a plastic bag until the next day.)
posted by metasarah at 12:09 PM on May 17, 2018

Do what makes you happy. If building shelves so your kitchen is a place you can cook again, and cooking makes you happy, that is a worthy goal.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:30 PM on May 17, 2018

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