Find Gifts from the Heart This Season

 ADHD Weekly, December 16, 2021

The holiday season seems to have one message: buy, buy, BUY!

And the end result is often that you feel tired, financially stressed, and dismayed that those gifts are often received with lackluster appreciation. For adults who have ADHD, the spending season can lead to poor budgeting and overspending because of their ADHD symptoms.

ADHD symptoms and gift giving

The desire for novelty—the new, different, and exciting that the brain with ADHD often seeks out—may be partly the reason during the holiday season. A study comparing compulsive shoppers and non-compulsive shoppers linked compulsive buying with ADHD symptoms. It found the greatest difference between compulsive shoppers and non-compulsive shoppers was associated with inattentiveness (shifting activity, not sustaining attention), impulsivity (difficulty waiting, acting before thinking), and hyperactivity (fidgeting), in descending order. While executive function skills were not measured in this study, other research has included poor planning tendencies as part of the struggle.

What does this mean for the adult who has ADHD? Your impulsivity may encourage you to buy before thinking through the implications for your budget, as well as for your gift recipient. Inattention may prevent you from focusing, distracting you instead to seek new and more novel things (a random walk through a mall or online clickbait-prompted impulse buying). You may have challenges in social skills that drive you to want to please others yet make it difficult to understand what will actually please people. Due to ADHD your executive functioning skills may be impaired, which makes it difficult for you to organize and execute a measured plan for gift giving.

Rein in impulse shopping

There are tips and suggestions online from many sources. Most focus on making and sticking to a plan, or on restricting how you spend (such as sticking to cash, staying away from online sites). Although those are great suggestions if you can carry them out, many are challenging when you experience ADHD symptoms. Instead, you might try some of the following ideas for alternative gift-giving, which leverage the strengths of your ADHD “mirror traits:”

  • Use your creativity. A gift of “you” is more valuable to your loved ones than anything you can buy!
    • Write a poem or verse for your friend, family member, or partner. Decorate it with hand-drawn or cut-out images that reflect the idea or mood of your writing. Find a whimsical or meaningful frame to display your poem.
    • Do you take a lot of photos on your phone? Find a picture that may be meaningful to one of your loved ones. Online photo centers and in-person ones at local store can often print out the picture and even set it in a frame for a nice gift.
    • Does your hobby include sewing or crafting? A small handmade gift is often more appreciated than something commercially produced.
  • Connect with people. The memory will last longer than a purchased gift.
    • Write an attractive invitation to do something specific with a friend or loved one. Lunch at a favorite spot, a walk in a favorite park, an outing to a flower show, etc.
    • Write a certificate to do something (like an IOU) for a loved one. Wash the family car, style your friend’s hair, babysit for a friend so she can have some “down time.”
  • Help your child with ADHD. Positive parenting helps him and you!
    • Write an attractive “gift certificate” to take your child for an outing all by himself. The zoo, children’s museum, camping, or another activity. The gift of time to just have fun with a parent means so much to children who are struggling in school or socially.
    • Write a “gift certificate” to play a game with your child.
  • Use your thoughtful imagination.
    • Picture your friend or loved one in their environment, in their home, in their life. This can help you develop an understanding of what they really love and what they might really need or want. Gifts that support a hobby or craft are often more appreciated.

More ideas on finding meaningful gifts this season:

Join the discussion: What holiday gift suggestions do you have?