Lifehacks for Neurospicy Folks, Step One: Learn Your Cycles
A Note about “Life Hacks”
A lot of what you read here will be advice you have seen elsewhere. I’m doing that on purpose. Almost all of what you need to be happier and function better in your life is stuff you already know. What you don’t know is how to put it all together. I’m trying to use this series (and the book I’ll be writing from this series) to fill that gap.
Step One: Learn Your Cycles
The FIRST and most basic life hack principle for neurospicy (neurodiverse) folks is that our ability to do things (just like other folks) is cyclical, BUT that our cycles do not usually match societal expectations. So step one is to pay attention to your natural cycles. Your sleep cycle, your food and elimination cycles, your energy cycles, and your social cycles. Once you KNOW your cycles you can start working with them.
(this includes knowing that your cycles are likely variable based on lots of different things, some of which are within your control some of which are not.)
Autistics, people with ADHD, and people with mood and anxiety disorders often have a sleep cycle that doesn’t match the patterns of neurotypical people. Some neurospicy people have chronic insomnia, while others need, and get, much more sleep than neurotypical folk. Some people go back and forth between short, unsatisfying sleep cycles, short satisfying sleep cycles, long, unsatisfying sleep cycles, and long satisfying sleep cycles.
Your sleep cycle may or may not be a problem for you, and it may or not be an issue for the people who are a part of your life. These days all sorts of tools can tell you both how much you sleep and how well you sleep. If you can afford one, use it. If not, try to remember, for a week or two, to take note of these things, as best you can:
- When you go to bed
- When you go to sleep
- When you wake up
- How sleepy or alert you felt after the sleep you got.
Pay attention to what amount of sleep is “enough” for you. Are there things that you have noticed that make that change? Are those things partially or completely in your control? Remember there is no one right way to sleep, and no one right way to fix issues with sleep.
Some people are very ritualistic and rigid about what they eat, and others eat what they feel like eating when they feel like eating. Neither one is inherently the wrong way to do things. Find out the following things about yourself by observing (and possibly writing down) your habits over a couple of weeks (or longer if your cycle is longer):
- Do you eat in distinct meals, or do you graze through the day?
- Do you eat the same few foods consistently, or do you seek out different foods as often as possible?
- Is cooking something you avoid, tolerate, or love?
- Do you have dietary and/or availability issues that affect how you eat?
- What foods will you avoid if at all possible? What foods are irresistible to you?
- Do you eat enough foods to maintain your current weight, more than you need, or less?
- Do you choose foods by nutritional value, taste, texture, cost, convenience, some combination of these, or something else?
- Do you prefer to eat with people, or alone? At a table, or somewhere else?
- Also, pay attention to how food affects your energy level and feeling of well-being. Note foods that make you feel particularly good or cause issues for you.
For neurospicy folks, energy cycles can be very different from the average cycle a neurotypical person has. The issues that can lead to the executive function issues that I call “neurospicy-ness” range from mood disorders to anxiety to autism to attention deficit to chronic pain to autoimmune disorders. Here are some questions to ask yourself to get a “baseline” idea of what your energy cycle is like:
- When you are high energy are you usually also productive, or not, or something in-between?
- Do you have different energy cycles for mental energy and physical energy, or do they run together?
- How variable are your cycles? And have you ever noticed anything that you can do to shift from one part of your cycle to another?
- What things inside or outside your control can change the duration or intensity of your energy cycle?
Remember, all I’m asking you to do right now is observe your cycles, not change them. Don’t get caught up in thinking of your patterns as “wrong” and feeling like you have to put a stop to them. First, get to know them.
These are often parallel to, but not identical to, your energy cycles. And here I’m asking you to notice your desire for (non-romantic, non-sexual) physical and emotional connection to other people:
- Do you prefer virtual social exchanges or physical social exchanges with other people?
- What sorts of physical contact do you like and dislike, and from whom or what (sensations from inanimate objects, interactions with animals and humans?
- Do you have a very high need for human interaction and struggle when you are alone, even for short periods? (Either physical or virtual).
- Is it sometimes hard to bring yourself to socialize with other humans, even when you want to?
- What ways have you found to change social interaction patterns which cause problems for you that are partially or fully in your control?
- Are there things that are completely outside your control that affect your social interactions? List them too.
Seeing the Cycles:
Again, the goal right now is simply to observe. While just observing things often changes them, I’m not asking you to change them until you’ve paid attention to them for a few weeks.
People often find that they notice things well after the first week or two that they hadn’t considered in the first pass, so before you come back to work on your neurospicy stuff, go through all the numbered questions in this post one more time two or three weeks after you start. And add this question to your second run: How much of your sleep, food, energy, and social cycling was completely subconscious before you started this process, and has the process of making a conscious effort to pay attention changed it?
Remember, there are no wrong answers. What you’re doing right now is gathering useful questions that can help you find ways to deal with things that bother you or disrupt your life in ways that work for you.
Allow yourself to make mistakes, and I’ll see you in a little bit with the next set of hints.
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