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Create Holidays That Work for You

 ADHD Weekly November 29, 2018


We’re just past Thanksgiving and you’re starting to feel the stress of the holiday season—or you’re hoping to avoid it.

It’s a busy time of year, and your ADHD can complicate planning your festive activities. So, how can you manage the holiday traditions and obligations while still managing your symptoms?

We asked some ADHD experts and writers for suggestions. Most offer a similar piece of advice: Let go of expectations (especially ones that come from family, friends, social media, or advertising) and focus on the few things you need to create a happy experience for your family.

The pressure for “perfect” holidays

“There’s a lot of cultural pressure during the holidays,” says Ken Duckworth, MD, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “We tend to compare ourselves with these idealized notions of perfect families and perfect holidays.”

Instead, he says to ask yourself if these are things that make you and your family happy. If they’re not—let them go and create new traditions.

Managing your holiday expectations

December brings with it the too-familiar stresses of trying to manage celebration, family life, work life, and the keeping of traditions. When you have ADHD, the executive function skills of organization, time management, memory, and impulsivity are already stretched. Adding the holiday responsibilities and traditions can result in frustration and disappointment rather than joy and merriment.

What can you do to manage the holidays in a way that works for you?

HealthCentral recommends starting with a master list. Include everything that needs to be done, all the holidays you celebrate, and all the events you plan to take part in. Then begin to sort the to-do items by priority and date. Then be critical. Ask yourself, for each event and action item, whether the world will come to an end if it isn’t done, or isn’t done “just so.”

“Make sure to include self-care on your list of priorities,” says HealthCentral writer Eileen Bailey. “Eat right, get enough sleep and exercise each day. Take a few minutes each day as down time—sit quietly, listen to music or take a walk. Caring for yourself will help you stay focused and give you the energy to accomplish more.”

Use your master list along with your calendar to stay on track. Need ideas on how to create your master list and calendar? Marla Cilley, known as the FlyLady, created a Holiday Control Journal that can help you get started.

Making your plan for this season

Once you have your master list and a calendar, how can you approach the task? The experts we asked shared several tips:

Accept that not everything will go as planned or as hoped, but that will be okay. We are not perfect people and our families are affected by ADHD. There will be a few bumps in the road, plans that change, and events we need to accept as “good enough.” By accepting things as they are and practicing mindfulness  in the process, we can enjoy things exactly as they are.

Be practical in your plans. Celebrations don’t need to be Pinterest-worthy events with elaborate decorations or recipes. Holiday destinations don’t need to be faraway beaches or snow-covered mountains. Simple, practical events that bring together your family and friends are more memorable than ones that cause stress and frustration.

Keep family rules simple and maintain routines as much as possible. Review with your children when necessary; you might consider posting a colorful sign that lists your family’s rules and routines to help keep them in mind. It can also help you to keep your daily routine handy, either posted at home or in your daily notebook, to help you stay on track.

Don’t compare yourself to others. Many adults with ADHD fall into this trap—comparing themselves to friends, family members, or neighbors, and judging themselves as being less than. During the holiday season, with houses brightly decorated and social media highlights, it’s easy to be drawn into the comparison trap.

“It is easy to think, ‘they have it all together, why can’t I? What is wrong with me?’” Ms. Bailey says. “No two families celebrate the holidays exactly alike. Each family has different traditions. How your friends or neighbors celebrate should not dictate how you celebrate yours. Instead of trying to live up to what you think others expect, work on creating your own traditions, ones that fit in with your lifestyle and values.”

Look forward to a merry and bright season

What will your holiday season look like? The answer is up to you. By taking a few steps now—prioritizing your list, filling out your calendar, and keeping plans practical—you can craft a holiday season that brings joy to you and your family.

Resources to help create a happy holiday:

Join the discussion: What do you suggest for easing some of the holiday season stress?