The holidays can be a hard time for anyone. The added stress of finding the right gift or finishing touch for holiday baking, the crowded stores. Sometimes just being home with your family can be difficult. Needless to say, we’re all experiencing a little more stress than usual this year. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with it all. This is especially true if you have neurodiversity like ADHD or Autism. Personally, I find that sensory overload can be the starting point of many of the issues I have when I get overwhelmed. Because of this, I’ve spent some time being mindful to try to work out ways to survive the holidays with a neurodivergent brain.
Of course, these tips aren’t going to be one-size-fits-all. Unfortunately as with most things concerning the brain we’re all just a little bit different. So what works for me may be a terrible idea for some people. On the other hand, their treatment or coping options may be absolutely abhorrent for me! My hope, however, is that you will be able to find a tip or two that will help you make the holidays a little more manageable!
Give Yourself Grace
Know that you likely aren’t going to get everything right and that’s ok. Personally, I’ve found that trying to push myself outside of my ability level is usually one of the fastest ways to become overwhelmed. It took me a very long time to realize that it was possible to allow the world to work around me a bit rather than forcing myself to contort into a form that worked ( sometimes ) with the world.
What I mean by that is that I didn’t know that it was ok to not do everything perfectly. To not be the perfect wife or mom. I had to accept that I was going to forget things and get distracted. There was a sense of shame for needing to accept this that I had to get over too. For having to expect those around me to just accept that it was something that, to a great extent, I just couldn’t help no matter how hard I tried. It was terrifying to ask this much of anyone. Much of this comes from my childhood but even as part of the “over 30” crowd it’s still something that I deal with regularly and try to find ways to counteract.
When you are in a position like I am, however. One that forces you to acknowledge and accept that you do need a little help here and there. It is imperative to give yourself grace. Sure, I’m probably not your girl if you need someone to remember an important number or keep track of a paper you really need for something. I’m great if you want some cookies baked though. I can talk your ear off about the paranormal. Sometimes, I’m kind of funny.
There isn’t a person in the world who is good at everything. We all have things we’re good at or not so good at. The way I look at it, my autism and ADHD have made it so that there are definitely things that I’m not good at and will likely never be good at. But just like everyone else I have a few things up my sleeve to make up for that.
Be Honest About your Limitations
Part of having grace with yourself is being completely honest, both with yourself and with those around you. Your friends and family aren’t mindreaders and likely won’t know if there is something you are struggling with until it’s too late. Do you and them a favor and just say “Hey, the noise in the mall really stresses me out sometimes. I’m sorry if I get a little irritable but I don’t mean it.” or something like “Can I have a minute to calm down please?” when you feel yourself getting on edge. Take the minute to go to the bathroom and do a breathing exercise or watch a TikTok or two to calm down, whatever works for you. We’ll talk more about that a little later.
Being honest with yourself can be difficult. Sometimes you think that you’re being honest with yourself but really you’re only scratching the surface and hiding deeper truths from yourself to avoid being hurt. This is definitely something I dealt with for quite a while. It wasn’t until I started breaking through trauma blocks that I started to realize just how much I was lying to myself or that I had expectations of myself that just weren’t realistic.
In the end, all of this self-deception just ends up being hurtful because you are setting yourself up for failure. You do no one any favors when you know your limitations but insist on trying to ignore or overcome them. Generally, it’s a better idea to be honest and let others ( or yourself ) know that something is an area you struggle with before setting up any expectations.
This could be a million different things. It’s really a matter of personal preference. Maybe music is calming to you. Perhaps you have a fidget toy like a pop bracelet. No matter what it may be that helps you when you’re feeling stressed out and overwhelmed make sure to have it within easy reach. This is especially important if you know you are going somewhere that will be triggering for you such as a crowded mall or a bustling, noisy restaurant.
There are more covert objects that can be used such as stones or something like a worry doll that you can fit in your pocket. For larger items, there are all kinds of awesome pop its or even necklaces. You can pick a few to take with you in a purse or pocket or you can set up a bag or basket in your car with a few items that are helpful for you. Luckily, most of these items are cheap enough that you can buy a few different ones and decide which ones work for you and which ones don’t.
Music can be a great way to calm your nerves in just about any situation. Take the time to build yourself a playlist of your favorite songs or those that you know are helpful in grounding yourself. I’ve been listening to a lot of Norse music lately and bands like Heilung or Danheim. I’ve found them to be a great option for bringing my mind back to a resting point when my anxiety gets out of hand.
Schedule You Time
Maybe it’s just me but it can sometimes feel selfish to focus on yourself during a time like the holidays. There’s just too much to do for any “me time”. Unfortunately, all of that thinking about everyone else may just cause you to be the kind of person they’d rather not be around anyway.
Not taking time to care for yourself can cause things like a short temper, irritability, and even meltdowns. To counter this from happening it is imperative to schedule time for yourself into your day or week. For me, this includes gaming, music, and even meditation. It can be anything that makes you happy such as your favorite TV show, an art project, or even a nice relaxing bath.
Over the years, I’ve found that I have to literally add these things into my schedule to keep up with them. It’s a lot easier to brush off me time if it’s more of a suggestion. Once I started treating it like it was my job to take care of myself I found it a lot more difficult to ignore. It was on my calendar, after all, I had to do it. Try adding a weekly ritual bath to your schedule to clear negative energy you might have picked up or schedule some meditation time into the beginning of each day.
Bringing other people into your me time makes it a lot easier to keep with the schedule too. I know, ew, but hear me out! Designate a movie night with your family or set up an online gaming night with your friends. You can make it a temporary thing like a short D&D campaign on Roll20 or go all out and make your home the local poker spot ( probably not a good idea right now lol ).
Another great way to add me time to your schedule is to join a local club, class, or volunteer group. Not only will you have a schedule handed to you but you will also be getting fulfillment out of your time from doing something that you love or that you are interested in learning more about.
Just Say No
I know it can feel impossible but if something just isn’t working out for you it’s perfectly acceptable ( and likely in your best interest) to just say no. If there’s an event that’s just causing you way too much stress then perhaps try to schedule a quieter event with a smaller group. If there is a relative that will be there this Christmas that you just don’t want to see for one reason or another it’s perfectly ok to make other plans.
Now, I’m not suggesting you be a jerk about it. On the contrary, it’s better to try to make arrangements to avoid stressors rather than purposefully expose yourself to those stressors and end up not being the best version of yourself. Some of us end up paying for this added stress with pain from conditions like Fibromyalgia. Others may have anxiety or depression symptoms after being exposed to these triggers.
Everyone reacts a little differently, but if you know it’s going to be unpleasant either during or after then why put yourself ( and others ) through that? The time we spend keeping others happy is often time wasted. Instead of trying to bend your capabilities to the world ( sometimes at great expense ), it’s time to start thinking of ways that you can make the world you live in a little more kind and accessible to you.
I know that nothing is a quick fix and that these methods may not work for everyone. However, these are all things that I’ve personally found helpful when feeling overwhelmed by the holidays ( or any other time of the year lol ). I’d love to hear ways that you have to center yourself when you’re feeling sensory overload! Or maybe products that you have found helpful!
Happy Holidays to all those who celebrate!