Stress-Less This Holiday Season

 ADHD Weekly, November 21, 2019

Thanksgiving is coming and soon the holiday season will be in full swing. Are you ready?

If your answer is “not really,” then you are in good company. Most people will tell you they don’t feel ready for the next six weeks of cooking, cleaning, shopping, and ongoing festivities. ADHD symptoms of forgetfulness and inattentiveness, difficulties getting started on a task, getting and staying organized, and low frustration can compound an already stressful month into the least merry time of the year.

What can you do to make things a bit brighter for you and your family? Here are some thoughts on preparing for the holiday season.


Consider your traditions and the events that are important to you and your family. What are your favorites? The same goes for decorating your home—what cherished traditions or decorations make things feel festive to you? Use your answers as your to-do list, rather than trying to do everything or decorate every room.

“Prioritizing your goals and setting aside time for them in advance can reduce your anxiety and restore a feeling of control that may have been missing in previous holidays,” says Michael R. Lewis, a retired corporate executive and entrepreneur. “Use your time wisely by doing only those things you enjoy and eliminating or substituting tasks you dislike or find boring.”

By picking your favorites and sticking to them you create more time to enjoy what is important to you and your family.


Adult ADHD symptoms often interfere with organizing and can leave one feeling overwhelmed. This year, delegate some of your “need to dos” to other family members or hire services, if you can, to help you out. This might mean having a cleaning service come the week before your guests arrive for the holiday to clean the house for you. Many grocery stores will prepare the full holiday meal ahead of time—some even deliver—and all you need to do is to reheat it. Department stores and retailers will assemble purchases for you, rather than your staying up all night to put together that new bicycle.

You could also coordinate with friends and family members to arrange who will prepare which festive dish. Together you could decide in advance who will watch the children or take them on a local adventure while preparations are underway. If a task is difficult or overwhelming for you, pass it on to someone who is better prepared to tackle it.

Minimize gift giving

Holidays frequently seem to be all about gifts. There is wonder in a child’s eyes when she sees the presents under the tree or opens that special gift. But giving too many gifts can take us past our budgets and all the shopping and wrapping puts a strain on us.

Make your gift-giving list early and set limits. Not everyone needs to receive a gift; sometimes a card or a sweet note could be more endearing. Eliminate the stress and overstimulation of wandering through crowded stores by shopping online; you may find it helps you stay within your budget.

For children, some families have adopted a three or four gift rule: something they want, something they need, and something to read, and perhaps something to wear.

“Keep in mind that the holidays are about spending time with loved ones, not gifts,” says Jessica Maharaj, who is studying for a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. “Your friends and family will be happy to create memories with you, so don’t worry about finding an expensive gift or if they will like it; they will appreciate your efforts and affection regardless of what you give them.”

Emphasize time with family and friends

The perfect holiday season is not about what is on the table, but about the time you spend with family and friends. Center your plans on activities you can enjoy together, especially ones that are local and community-based. Tour a light display, visit botanical gardens, or have a winter picnic at the local park.

You don’t need to accept every invitation that comes your way. Pick the events and parties you’d like to attend and send a note or an email politely declining the others. You might even want to plan days or evenings “in” with good books, favorite movies, and winter snacks that you can share together. Get-togethers based on a loved one’s need for either stimulation or quiet time can help to make the experience more enjoyable.

“Families thrive on traditions, but it’s less about the event itself, which your kids may have outgrown, and more about time together,” write the staff at Women’s Day. “If your kids are complaining, drop expensive, high-stress rituals in favor of something simple and universally appealing, like a Christmas Eve chocolate-chip pancake feast.”

Looking for more holiday planning tips?

Join the discussion: What tips do you have for getting ready this holiday season?