Feeling More at Home in Chaotic Environments with ADHD

February 22, 2022 Austin Harvey

I've tried making morning routines for myself to focus, following classic self-help tips: meditation, yoga, going for a run first thing in the morning, ensuring I get eight hours of sleep, etc. None of it stuck. More importantly, none of it helped. I never felt more productive or focused on my work. I never felt like it contributed to my success or happiness. Frankly, most of my success has come from moments of pure, chaotic frenzy--which might have something to do with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

See, I worked in restaurants for eight years, which, I realized shortly after leaving the industry, is a third of my life. For those who have never worked in an American restaurant: the money is inconsistent, the shifts are either long and stressful or long and absolutely boring, your coworkers are your only solace, and there are times you'll go to work only to be sent home without making a dollar because you're overstaffed.

For those who have worked in an American restaurant: I'm sorry, and I know your pain.

But for all the problems I had, and still have, with the American restaurant industry, I will say that bartending is the only job I've ever had that consistently stimulated my often scattered brain

Wishing for Chaos with ADHD

I can't just sit at a desk all day. As someone with ADHD, I get fidgety and bored when stuck in one spot for too long. Even now, working from my apartment, I regularly get up, pace about, and readjust how I'm sitting. I walk to the fridge when I'm not hungry, look inside for a minute, shut it without grabbing anything, and return to my seat. I often procrastinate on my work for so long — doing nothing valuable in its place — that I wind up driving myself into action fueled entirely by stress and anxiety about a rapidly approaching deadline. 

For what it's worth, bartending never made me feel that way. I worked throughout every stage of the pandemic, including Mother's Day 2020, a holiday that was so brutal to the restaurant industry that a Red Lobster nearby had to shut down its kitchen and send people home without food. As awful as it was, I look back on it as one of the fondest, wildest days I've ever worked.

I'd always felt a rush and sense of accomplishment after an insanely busy shift. When tickets were lined up past the edge of the line, when you couldn't stop to gather your thoughts, when wave after wave of customers came through the doors like hordes of video game monsters, I thrived. 

I've struggled to adjust to working independently, holding myself accountable, and following through on my personal goals. In many ways, life was easier — or, at least simpler — when I was a "down-on-my-luck" bartender showing up 50 hours a week without a clue as to what the job had in store for me each day. Would I go back to it? I definitely wouldn't. It wasn't sustainable. But now and then, I crave that chaos. 

How Chaos Days Can Help ADHD Burnout

Luckily, a friend of mine who also has ADHD introduced me to the idea of what she called "chaos days." She takes a day when she thinks she needs it, maybe twice a month, maybe once a week, and doesn't take her medication or make a schedule or a to-do list. If she has an impulse to do something — to paint, for example, or to play music and dance around — she follows the impulse and doesn't feel guilty about being "unproductive." (She does this to a degree. We're talking legal, non-life-ruining things here.)

Note: You should always take your medication as prescribed. If you want to try not taking it for a day, make sure you talk to your doctor first.

In their own way, chaos days are a form of productivity. They allow brains like ours to be free of the constraints we typically have to impose on them, and they let us preserve more of that energy for the days we truly need it. 

If you're someone struggling to keep up with a structured lifestyle regularly, or you feel constrained, or you feel better when things are a bit nuts, permit yourself for a day to let your brain be the way it wants to be. Let me know how it goes.

APA Reference
Harvey, A. (2022, February 22). Feeling More at Home in Chaotic Environments with ADHD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Author: Austin Harvey

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May, 16 2022 at 3:09 pm

Good read! I started doing it but kinda felt like I need the meds still. I will just let my mind go free, not putting constraints as you said.

May, 17 2022 at 12:33 pm

Glad you enjoyed it, Jude! I definitely also need my meds, but removing some of the pressure to be "productive" all the time has helped me a ton.

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