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ADHD and the Holidays: 5 Self Care Tips

By Zawn Villines
The constant stimulation and increased demands of the holidays can trigger ADHD symptoms and make you feel overwhelmed. These self-care tips help you cope.

People with ADHD, including adults, thrive on routine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A good routine reduces distractions and lends a sense of certainty that can help with ADHD symptoms. The holiday season is anything but routine, though, and can leave people with ADHD feeling dysregulated and overwhelmed. Even if you’re having fun, you might notice your ADHD symptoms steadily getting worse this season. Here are 5 self-care tips for surviving the holidays with ADHD. 

1. Make a Holiday Plan. 

“The holidays can be stressful because of all the extra demands of planning, shopping, cooking, and/or travelling (and also family stress). People with ADHD tend to be procrastinators so that makes it even more stressful,” Ari Tuckman, PsyD, CSD, author of More Attention, Less Deficit, and co-chair of CHADD, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

To avoid procrastinating until the last minute, try making a clear and specific holiday plan that includes weekly goals and daily tasks. This way you can monitor your progress toward preparing for the big feast or buying presents for your loved ones, rather than panicking the night before the big day. 

2. Keep it Simple.

Sensory processing issues are common in people with ADHD. People with ADHD may have trouble processing auditory input, for example, and this struggle can cause inattentiveness and other ADHD symptoms, according to a 2021 study published by European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Avoid feeling overwhelmed—and the meltdowns that can accompany emotional overwhelm—by keeping the holidays simple. 

“Focus on what is most important. Agree to do fewer gifts or to do a shared experience after the holidays. Feel free to take a pass on events that will put you over the top or be willing to scale them back,” Tuckman says. 

3. Talk to Your Loved Ones.

The fact that you’ve always done something during the holidays doesn’t mean that’s what everyone wants. Maybe your parents are just as overwhelmed by an all-day dinner as you are. Perhaps your siblings are also struggling with their holiday budget. 

“Talk to your family and friends about what everyone actually wants to do rather than just doing the standard. Maybe others are craving something different and/or easier,” Tuckman suggests.

You might suggest a toned-down gift exchange via a Secret Santa, rather than buying presents for everyone. Or instead of hopping from house to house, you might commit to a single event for the entire holiday season. 

When you’re overwhelmed by a jam-packed schedule, connecting with loved ones becomes difficult. A more meaningful roster of events—a special meal or concert, one-on-one time with a favorite relative—can lend purpose to the holidays and make gatherings less stressful. 

4. Talk to a Therapist. 

Therapy can help you cultivate stress management skills and deal with family baggage that may crop up during the holidays. 

“If you have a therapist, talk about how to handle likely holiday hot spots,” Tuckman says. It can be helpful to talk about these issues ahead of time, so you have a plan in place for when they pop up. 

Take some extra time before the holidays to think about the things that are most likely to challenge you—your sister’s passive-aggressive comments, for example, or your divorced parents’ insistence that you prove your love. Your therapist can offer a reality check, insight into healthy coping strategies, and exercises to help you get through stressful moments. 

5. Manage ADHD Symptoms With a Healthy Lifestyle.

Stress can make ADHD symptoms worse, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders. Try these stress management tactics to manage ADHD symptoms: 

  • Maintain as much of your ADHD routine as you can. Try to get up around the same time each day and go to bed around the same time each night. Eat meals at regular intervals, and keep your house in a comfortable, orderly state. 
  • Get some exercise each day. Regular exercise can help ease adult ADHD symptoms.
  • Use a planner to stay on top of deadlines at work, school, and for the holidays. Break down daunting and large tasks into smaller, actionable steps. 
  • Use reminders to help you remember events and financial deadlines. A whiteboard by the door can help you remember to take presents, your bag, and other necessities with you. 
  • Be mindful of distracted driving. Particularly during the holidays, as you rush from one event to the next, you may be tempted to text or fiddle with the radio. Even a moment of distraction can cost you your life.  
  • Keep taking your ADHD medication. Set up reminders so you don’t miss a dose. 

ADHD self care during the holidays is possible. 

If this is the first holiday season in which you are taking active steps to monitor and manage the unique ADHD symptoms that may arise, you’ll likely need to spend some time exploring in order to find the solutions that work best for you. It may take some trial and error to land on the most successful methods of self care this holiday, but making a conscious effort to do so can help maintain a valuable sense of control during this hectic season.