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How to Reduce Holiday Overwhelm When You Have ADHD

5 tools to lower your stress and have more fun.

Key points

  • Limit the overwhelming feeling of the holidays that can be debilitating for those with ADHD.
  • Prioritizing what matters means taking care of your well-being during these busy weeks and showing up for others.
  • Consider what factors lead to increased stress and identify what helps you stay more in the present.
  • Appreciate yourself and what's worked this year to nurture self-esteem and resilience.
iStock #664560228 estherpoon
Source: iStock #664560228 estherpoon

Are you starting to feel stressed about the holidays? I am. This weekend as I was out doing errands, the Christmas music was loudly blaring in every store while people rushed around with lists in hand and frantic expressions. I wondered quietly why we put ourselves through this holiday stress.

There has to be another way to approach the holiday season. This year, I’d personally like to advocate emphasizing experiences over material gifts, creating meaningful holiday traditions with people we love, and volunteering to help those in need. If you could change one thing about how you approach this holiday season, what would it be?

Believe it or not, when we race around less, we limit the overwhelming feeling that can be especially debilitating for those with ADHD. We all know this is true, and yet we still lose ourselves in the hustle and bustle of shopping until we drop.

While many people anticipate the excitement of the holiday season, it's common for children and adults with ADHD to be overwhelmed by party planning, socializing, and last-minute shopping. During this time, find ways to prioritize what matters most, your mental health, to fully enjoy the season, and restart the new year with a fresh and renewed mindset.

iStock #517999461 Sergey_Peterman
Source: iStock #517999461 Sergey_Peterman

Prioritizing what matters means taking care of your well-being during these busy weeks and showing up for others. You might make a list of self-care activities and schedule it into your calendar along with the endless errands. Perhaps consider the fun factor and the role that it plays.

I’m not advocating selfishness but rather healthy self-focus. Slow down when you feel activated, pause, and consider what’s happening and what would help you settle. This is showing yourself the love that lies at the heart of this season of light.

If parties aren’t your thing, how about planning a hot cocoa with whipped cream at your favorite cafe? Or maybe a walk in the park with a friend or relative. A drive around the neighborhood to look at the colorful lights might also boost your spirit and be a fun outing with your family.

Here are five tools that could help improve your enjoyment of the holiday season and lower your stress:

1. Be present and think creatively.

Forget comparisons to previous holidays and the recurring "shoulds" of the season. What do you want to see occur this year?

Reflect on what would make this time of year special to you. Consider what factors lead to increased stress and identify what helps you stay more in the present. Shift your habits of holiday overwhelm and frustration by thinking outside of the box. Name two things you could do differently to improve your capacity to enjoy the "now." Plan for some quiet time to Identify personal goals and hopes for 2023 that will bring you calm and joy.

2. Keep it simple.

It is more than OK to stop operating on an “all-systems-go” battery. Keep your days simple and keep your gift-giving simple too. The best gifts are not the ones with the expensive price tag, but ones that express caring, gratitude, and affection. So whatever you choose to give this holiday season, try to make it meaningful, creative, and full of love. Often giving experiences or homemade items mean just as much as buying something.

By this time of the year, everyone is tired and feeling drained. Create a combination of activities for the holiday season that reflect a balance of energy and recovery. In addition to family, work, and friend gatherings, brainstorm a few easy, rewarding activities that don’t make you feel worn out but bring you enjoyment. Plan for these along with times for rest and put them on your calendar. When you write them down in your schedule, they are much more likely to occur.

3. Create a vacation routine.

Often the appeal of days off from work with lots of open space can diminish when the time arrives. Given the upheaval and unpredictability of the past few years, some type of daily routine will give just enough organization to your day—and, if you’ve got kids, perhaps even keep them off screens.

Of course, it’s a vacation, so you don’t want to structure each day with a formal plan. But having a loose routine for your days helps you (and your kids) know what to expect and think about. I recommend something like wake up, breakfast, activity period one, lunch, activity period two, maybe a rest, dinner, and possibly a night-time outing if you’re up for it.

4. Practice self-compassion.

Be kind to yourself right now and always. Nobody else can do this for you, and it’s an essential practice for living fully.

There’s probably more than enough disappointment and frustration from the past eleven months (or more) to go around. Criticizing yourself adds to the dirty laundry pile instead of empowering you to toss that load into the washer. Instead, acknowledge that you, like all of us, have been doing the best you can with the available resources—today and every day.

Reflect on specific things you’ve liked about this year and pat yourself on the back for them. When you notice the positive and honor yourself for what has worked, you counteract negative messages from others and yourself. This builds your self-esteem while reducing negativity and burnout.

5. Nurture gratitude.

We all live busy, hectic lives, and often our attention is focused on problems, disappointments, and hardships. It requires deliberate effort to pause and consider what’s going right and how the people in our lives are making a positive difference.

Express gratitude for people in your life who bring you joy, are supportive, or love you for who you are. This might be a written note, an act of service, or a heartfelt conversation. Going the extra mile and showing your appreciation with a caring gesture will make both of you feel good.

iStock #1205033090 AaronAmat
Source: iStock #1205033090 AaronAmat

Appreciate yourself too. Everyone is special and unique in their own way, so avoid the compare and despair trap this holiday season (and always). Instead, focus on your resilience.

We all have wonderful qualities, talents, and strengths. How did these help you bounce back and learn from experiences in 2022? Focus more on what you really like about yourself now and in the future. Valuing yourself and your gifts goes a long way toward self-acceptance.

Take the time to acknowledge what’s working more than what isn’t so you can grow your own happiness and practice self-care during this busy time. Remember, the holiday season is about giving and receiving—and that includes to oneself.