ADHD and coping through the holidays

The end of year seasonal holidays can be really exciting. Personally I love Christmas, I love decorating and the creativity with that. I love buying gifts. I love all the foods and smells. But one thing I struggle with is the ongoing people time that comes with it. That pressured obligation to perform or mask and watching what triggers me or upsets me. Throw my monthly cycle on top, which is always terribly timed for me, that means my meds don’t work well and I end up struggling and not having much fun or dreading something that I should enjoy. Then there is the recovery time. It’s like needing a holiday from a holiday. Financial strain and pressure to work through. Thinking of lost loved ones. It’s actually a lot. It’s so much at once! No wonder it’s overwhelming for so many people. And why some people actually have a strong dislike for the holiday season.

So what to do about it? Especially if you feel you have no choice but to participate?

Lets start with the past…

In the past I know from observation and reflection, how my ADHD presented and what set off struggles that I had. I have loosely covered these already. But my personal struggles are as follows:

  • Feeling overwhelmed with everything that is expected
  • Dealing with a change in weather and wardrobe
  • Ruminating and planning ahead in excitement
  • Feeling overloaded by all the people whether shopping or seeing family
  • Getting upset at certain topics bought up when spending time with family
  • Not feeling understood or seen in my struggles and being allowed grace
  • Not having sufficient down time between interactions and feeling pressured to participate in all the things happening
  • Struggling to come up with enough money to actually visit friends and family
  • Not having enough recovery time before I go back into my routine
  • Total disruption of my routine and daily autonomy
  • Having to use a lot of executive function in order to be creative and becoming stressed or overwhelmed by buying gifts
  • Having ear worms on loop from Christmas music
  • Accommodating others wants while having to put mine off even when it comes at a cost of recovering
  • Pressure to participate when I am just not up to it
  • Feelings of loss and nostalgia when things aren’t how they used to be and setting myself up for disappointment when compared to my childhood
  • Not feeling included in family decisions has previously made me feel rejected
  • Not being able to exercise or eat what I usually would
  • Feeling bad about outbursts or fixating on points which might upset others
  • Feeling of guilt afterwards about my behaviour
  • Feeling of resentment for others not understanding which conflicts with my guilt
  • Friend and Family relationship dynamics that require navigating and how exhausting that can be

I think it is useful to make a list like this based on your previous experiences. Whether these are individual or relate directly to ADHD that’s for you to decide for yourself but some of these I would just correlate to my neurodivergency in general and my need for self agency and autonomy in my every day life. As when these things are impacted I feel very out of control. Sometimes I can roll with it, sometimes I cannot. Some days are better than others.

So the next step is how to navigate all these things. We have an idea of what might come up and what to expect. Having tools to help yourself through is really useful even if you cannot use them at the times you want, but having them available if you should need them is definitely key. But it also shouldn’t all be on you. We don’t control what others think or feel, but we do have some control on what we do with how we feel about it. And there are times where advocating for yourself with loved ones or similar is important. Here’s some ideas and resources around that which you can try. And maybe it might inspire some tools of your own.

What has worked well in the past?

This is always my first go to, I have often compensated with game time. And by that I mean games on my phone, taking my laptop playing casual games like Minecraft. It’s my easy dopamine fix. Sometimes just finding something we enjoy even if it’s small and not for long, it allows us to have that mental space to cope in ways we would normally use. Just because you might not be at home doesn’t mean it’s not possible to take some of those creature comforts with you, especially if they fit neatly in your pocket.

With that being said I don’t know if scrolling on FB and seeing your other friends and families curated lives is healthy per say especially if you aren’t having a good time. But if you have a more curated space online, like support groups, meme groups or similar, they might be more useful to get that social media scrolling fix than your news feed. And this can be implemented on all social media platforms you use.

What has also worked well for me is walking. And going for a walk by yourself is a pretty understandable excuse for many. Lots of people cope this way and feels easier to give as a reason to have time out. And exercise is always going to be good for you especially at a time of year where our food intake and activity levels are very disrupted from what we would usually do. At least for me, this has been really useful. And often my partner comes with me and that’s also fine as personally I do not need to mask around him so much and he enjoys the time out too.

Other things you can keep in mind regarding this is what other self regulating activities or objects do you have that you use to cope in every day life too. Some of mine look like:

  • noise cancelling headphones
  • having looser fitting clothing to go with the holiday weight gain
  • bring my dumbbells so I can get in some muscle exercise
  • having a scheduled ‘day off’
  • making sure I have whatever I need to make things convenient
  • researching ahead for food to buy or bring with me
  • buying presents well in advance
  • keeping Christmas decorations or similar minimal so less tidy up
  • stim toys!
  • having a playlist ready that brings me up when I need it
  • saying NO and setting boundaries, they apply year round, stand by them
  • practicing tried CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) techniques
  • enjoying the small things
  • making sure I have enough meds to see me through
  • keeping a good water bottle on me to stay hydrated
  • reach out to those who get you, you are not alone!

Making it easy to return to real life

One of the harder things I found in the past is coming home to unfinished tasks or housework. I personally deep clean just before Christmas/Holidays to make it so much easier to deal with when all is done and I am back in my own bed again (or if you have had other people in your environment). It makes it SO much easier to clean and slide back into your routine if you leave things as easy as you can. It may take a bit from you to do this before you go.

So what I do is I don’t focus on any type of deep clean about a month before that, so November is a lil bit of fumbling or just living with things as they are and give them a solid clean before I go away. A reflection on what works best for you around this is useful, whatever you can to make it easy when all is done can take so much of your mental load.
Future you will be grateful for it.

And remember it’s not just environment fixing that needs doing. If you can tie up any loose ends in advance or schedule them to be dealt with after holiday and recover time. It will be setting you up to jump back in to life as soon as you’re ready.


Another way to safe guard ourselves ultimately is to opt out. If it’s not for you, say no. State your boundaries. This isn’t always the easiest space to navigate but you deserve wellness and respecting your boundaries also means you are respecting others. It should be a normalized part of self-care and it may be a learning on what relationship dynamics need discussing. Seek out support for these boundaries too. Holidays shouldn’t be about making others happy at your expense. Life in general shouldn’t be like that either. Maybe now is the time to make that step for yourself?

I hope these articulations of mine help you think about how to help yourself. I have also included a list of reading for more ideas and approaches that may be useful below.

Happy Holidays, may they be easier and joyful!

11 ADHD holiday tips:

Dealing With Loneliness During the Holiday Season:

Stress, depression and the holidays, Tips for coping:

Coping with Christmas:

Beating Christmas stress and anxiety:

6 Things You Can Say “No” to This Christmas:

Why saying ‘no’ is the best gift you can give yourself this Christmas:

Top ten tips to avoid getting into debt this Christmas:

6 Reasons Why ADHDers Don’t Like The Holidays:

Holidays for People with ADHD:

29 Brilliant Ideas for a Memorable ADHD Holiday:


Published by Jenn has ADHD

Jenn Parker, New Zealand. ADHD Advocate and Peer.

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