For neurodivergent people, routines can bring relief and help tackle feelings of anxiety. Here, we explore five things to consider when you need to re-establish them in the face of change
I’m a Canadian dyspraxic with sensory processing issues. One of the frustrating aspects of how my brain works is the danger of absorbing too much information – sensory overload creeps in if I try to do too much at once. Last year, I moved to Marrakech, Morocco, a city with sensory sledgehammer characteristics. But routine has always been an important coping mechanism for me, and the glue to my focus and productivity.
When you move somewhere new, you must re-learn all your routine preferences, and not everything in your life will be the same. Here are a few solutions I found for that exact problem.
1. Don’t overlook the comfort of familiar things
When I first moved abroad, many of my belongings gathered dust in boxes tucked away in storage. Looking back, I wish I had brought over many of my most familiar things much sooner. I was very aware of this when I started to miss an item of immense sentimental value – a stuffed animal version of Simba from The Lion King I have had since I was five.
No matter how different your life becomes from the one you left behind, items of sentimental value could help you hold on to an element of the familiar. I know that, personally, everything seems far less overwhelming with my Simba stuffed animal in my home. Simba was a trusted companion during my first hospitalisation experience, and I’m proud to say that he still lives beside my bedroom lamp, there for hugs whenever I need him.
2. Rest when you need to
When my husband and I started the apartment-hunting process, I didn’t have a predictable routine to cling to, apart from my freelance work. I had no clear expectations of my environment and routine, which can trigger sensory overload.
I had to plan extra rest to protect myself from this. There was a lot I had to do, but I could get away with not saying ‘yes’ to every opportunity to talk to people. Not listening to my body when I am close to sensory overload is dangerous; my brain goes into full fog mode. When the overload is at its worst, I am dizzy, unfocused, and anxiety clouds my judgement. Before we decided on an apartment, I coped by sleeping, shutting doors, and not speaking to people for extended periods more than usual.
3. Give yourself time to explore
Often, your limits will surprise you. What helped me a lot when I first moved was going for walks on my own, to get to know how my body reacts to my environment. I also make time to test-drive different routines until something works. As soon as I find that something, I cannot let it go.
4. Keep doing things you have always enjoyed
I have always enjoyed reading, listening to music, and jogging. I always make time for these things when adapting to an unfamiliar environment. Continuing to do activities you enjoy will often energise you and keep you motivated. If you’re unsure what that looks like, think of this in the context of your most portable hobbies that you’re self-motivated to do on your own.
5. Be open when you’re struggling
“I’m OK,” is what those who care about you want to hear, and that can make admitting what isn’t working feel so painful. But it can also be freeing. People who have known you the longest can fill in the blanks about why you behave in a certain way. That perspective can help.
When even that doesn’t work, and you think this could be a much deeper issue than being overwhelmed by a lack of comfortable routine, consider looking into your options for professional counselling. Help is out there, and there’s no shame in seeking it.
Rosemary Richings is a freelance writer specialising in neurodiversity and disability-related issues. Her debut book, ‘Stumbling Through Space and Time: Living Life with Dyspraxia’, is out now.