Lotus Head, Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa
Source: Lotus Head, Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa

The push and pull of the holiday season can be a challenge for all of us. In the 35 or so days compressed between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day there is a lot going on!

Maybe it’s hosting a party for family and friends, cooking a big meal for the gang or baking cakes and dozens of cookies, volunteering at a house of worship, sending out Christmas cards, and of course, plenty of shopping!

Given all the work needed to be done in such a short amount of time, it’s no wonder many of us feel so exhausted by the second week in January!

Now consider dealing with adult ADHD added on top of all that. Many adults have residual symptoms of ADHD, often involving the inattentive form of the disorder, and these symptoms can really interfere with holiday demands.

There’s lots of stress around the holiday crunch of course. And with ADHD, there may also be problems with multi-tasking, keeping organized, staying focused on details, and ignoring distractions. That’s a tough combo to face!

One common challenge for the adult ADHD brain is the amount of continuous stimulation that happens from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. It's everywhere: in messages, songs, plans, tasks, shopping lists, children, family, and friends. It’s reinforced by music, television, movies, stores, work environments, and parties.

The holiday season also disrupts the structure and predictable routines that are often helpful for folks with ADHD. So it’s easy to feel out of your element.

Here are a few strategies to use during this time of year:

Acceptance. Accept that not everything is going to be flawless. Try your best but accept that some things will just not get done or will not be as perfect as you would have hoped. Accept that you might eat more than you wanted to at a holiday dinner, or that some days you might feel exhausted and need a break.

Planning. Use your planning skills up front to make the road a little smoother for yourself. Plan early on what you need to do and regularly use a daily to-do list or phone apps like 30/30, Evernote, Priority Matrix, or Remember the Milk, to help organize yourself. When you use apps or lists you’re actually helping to take the pressure off by staying organized and not trying to remember it all yourself.

Prioritize. Decide what you can and can’t do. Decide what you want and don’t want to do. You are a scarce resource and can’t do it all, so choose the best uses of your time, and reduce or eliminate the rest. Maybe that means that baking pies is cut down to make time for caroling. Or that holiday cards aren't sent out this year. Don’t try to force it all to get done. Make some clear choices on what’s most important and what’s less vital.

Practical. It’s helpful to stay grounded in reality this time of year. The holidays are fun, enjoyable, and exciting, but they aren’t going to be perfect. And they don’t need to be. They are chances to be with loved ones and to celebrate. Unattainable ideals shown in television movies and Christmas specials are a form of marketing, not a reflection of reality.

Nurturance. Self-care is a must. Be sure your medications are taken as directed, and don’t cancel therapy or life coach appointments for holiday tasks. Also, be mindful of your diet, exercise regimen, and need for downtime. Caring and investing in yourself helps you manage multiple challenges while honoring your own needs. 

About the Author

Larry Maucieri, Ph.D

Larry Maucieri, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and an assistant professor at Governors State University. He has published on adult ADHD as well as traumatic brain injury and dementia.

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