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When Relaxing Is Stressful

One of the questions sometimes used in diagnosing ADHD is whether a person has trouble “unwinding” or “relaxing.”

… or else!

On a related theme, I’ve heard multiple people with ADHD say they have trouble with vacations. First, there’s all the planning and the logistical details just to get to your destination. And then, once you get there, you’re supposed to just … relax?

I think part of this comes from the hyperactive side of ADHD, which can make us always want to be doing something.

People with ADHD, especially the hyperactive kind, are always looking for some kind of stimulation. And doing nothing in particular maybe is supposed to be relaxing, but it sure isn’t stimulating. That’s why people with ADHD might find that hanging out, chilling, unwinding is more stressful and tedious than soothing and uplifting.

Which isn’t to say, of course, that people with ADHD are simply incapable of relaxation. But I think we have to keep a broad image of what “relaxation” is in mind.

Relaxing doesn’t have to mean sitting on a beach for hours. It could mean going for a run, writing a blog, exploring an unfamiliar city, or even engaging in extreme sports. Basically, for all practical purposes, relaxation includes any activity that you enjoy and that energizes you, or “recharges your batteries.”

I know that’s not the dictionary definition of relaxation. According to Google, relaxation is “recreation or rest, especially after a period of work.” But for people with ADHD, rest isn’t necessarily relaxing.

For us, trying to force ourselves to be still, calm and restful in situations where we’d like to get up, move around and do something is work. So if truly relaxing in our free time means intentionally being unrestful, that’s what we’re going to do!

What do you find relaxing? Please share in the comments below!

Image: Flickr/amanda tipton

When Relaxing Is Stressful

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2018). When Relaxing Is Stressful. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 16, 2019, from


Last updated: 27 Apr 2018
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