Create the Holidays You Really Want
Many of us approach the holiday season with with feelings of both anticipation and dread. On one hand, we have those fuzzy, warm feelings that come from pleasant memories of holidays past and also the desire to enjoy the upcoming festivities and create new beautiful memories. On the other hand, holiday planning and preparations are a genuine challenge for ADHD executive functions. In addition, offset routines, hectic schedules, and overstimulation contribute to feelings of stress and overwhelm. However, with a shift in our approach and mindset we can create the holidays we really want. Here's how:
First, ask yourself what is most important to you about the holidays? By clarifying what you and your family most value, you have a compass to set your priorities. For example, you may love creating an elaborate spread of homemade delicacies to share with family in friends, selecting the perfect and unique gift for everyone on your list, or attending a wide array of celebrations hosted by family and friends. The key to enjoying the holidays and avoiding overwhelm is in your control when you have clarity what's most important, let go of what's not, and choose intentionally.
Keep the basics of ADHD self-care in mind. As I always stress with my clients, the foundation of great ADHD management begins with optimizing diet, exercise, and sleep. For yourself and/or your child, even during holiday season, ensuring a relatively balanced healthy diet, regular physical activity, and good quality sleep will have a huge impact on minimizing ADHD symptoms.
Plan ahead and create your schedule. Whether it’s family get togethers, holiday cookie making, shopping, a nature hike, or an ice skating outing, having a rough but flexible schedule allows you and your children to know what to expect and lessens difficulties with transitions. In addition, you can choose in advance how much time you will spend at events that may challenge you or your child’s capacity for emotional regulation. If Jenny gets bored at Grandma’s after an hour, either limit the visit to an hour or bring along an activity to keep her occupied. If it’s difficult to discuss politics with your brother-in-law without losing your temper, create a plan to remain calm and ground yourself before your emotions escalate.
Don’t neglect down-time. Allow unscheduled time to relax and recharge. Ensuring that you and/or your child have time for a nap, to play with a new toy, do a puzzle, or take a walk will give your family the opportunity to recharge and will help you to maintain your sanity and help your child to restore calm and avoid potential melt-down from a demanding schedule.
Simplify gift buying and avoid impulsive spending. Decide your budget in advance to avoid overspending. Make a list of who you will be buying gifts, how much you would like to spend and potential gift ideas. Consider a gift certificate to their favorite store. For you this saves the time and energy spent shopping for the perfect gift and guarantees that the recipient will genuinely enjoy the gift. Also, set boundaries for yourself around the amount of time you will spend shopping according to what your schedule allows. For example, I will spend 2 hours total at the mall and visit specifically these 3 stores.
Let go of expectations of yourself and your children. It’s hard to banish the fairy tale images of a harmonious family around the beautifully adorned holiday table. However, these scenes exist only in fictional stories or in a single moment captured and posted on social media, but do not exist in real families. Another important reminder, children with ADHD have a 30% lag in developmental maturity. That means your 12 year old child with ADHD may only be capable of behavior of a typical 8 year old. The best way to avoid frustration and disappointment is to adjust your expectations.
Let go of what your family and friends think. No one can understand you and your families unique challenges and therefore they have no right to judge. I realize that the uninvited opinions and comments are very hard to relinquish, but if we can let go, even a little, the emotional freedom is well worth it.
Wishing you a happy an calm holiday season!!