Top 5+ Strategies for Happier Holidays–even with ADHD!

Tips for Happier Holidays!

Tips to help you actually ENJOY the Holiday Season this year!

While the Holiday season can be filled with fun and excitement, many individuals with ADD and parents of children with ADHD also find it to be a great source of stress. The added responsibilities, lack of structure, expectations of others, prolonged car rides, and disruption in sleep, diet and routine can make the Holidays a not-so-joyful time for many of us, but especially those of us with ADHD / ADD!

Here are my top 5 strategies for thriving over the ADD Holidays (and a bonus for good measure):

5. Protect your sleep:
Healthy sleep is so very important to most ADHDers. Insufficient rest can be a recipe for disaster for an ADHDer, causing increased problems with attention, self-regulation, emotional volatility, and hyperactivity. Do yourself a favor and protect your sleep habits during the Holiday season!

4. Manage your Diet:
It’s easy to throw caution to the wind with respect to food when “Holiday Rules are in Effect.” Obviously, food and drink of all wonderful and delicious variety abounds during the holiday season. While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying these special treats, poor eating habits can also wreak havoc on an ADHD child or adult. The temptation to skip meals or stretch out too much time between them in anticipation of a special meal or event is never a good idea as it can cause dips in blood sugar which effects attention, self-regulation, mood modulation, etc. Regardless of the occasion, it’s always best to make sure some quality protein is part of each meal or snack.

3. Plan your “Escape:
” Think about the rough patches of holidays past. Did you or your child say something inappropriate to a relative? Did you or your child have a melt-down at a family gathering or in public? Think about what you’d like to avoid this year and what the triggers may be for you or your child. There are usually warning signs, even subtle signs, when things are about to go awry with an ADHD child or adult. A little self-discovery goes a long way in this regard! Help yourself or your child by learning to see the signs or triggers and having a pre-made escape plan in place. A few suggestions: “Could you excuse me while we get some fresh air?” “I could really use some fresh air/to stretch my legs/to get the blood pumping after all this food/drink/sitting around.” Or simply remove yourself (or your child) to a quiet place.

2. Plan some down time:
It’s easy for anybody to feel over-stimulated and overwhelmed during the Holiday season. For adults, there are family demands, so much to do in limited time and so many, many details to be dealt with! For children, the routines and structure that are so comforting and help with self-modulation are disrupted. There are guests and social demands and lots and lots of excitement. It’s easy to become over stimulated and overwhelmed, and for those of us who are not as “tuned in” to our ADHD, we can feel like we’ve hit the proverbial wall in an instant. Building some time to refresh and recharge your internal batteries in key this time of year. Self-care and time to do whatever it is that makes you feel refreshed should definitely be part of the schedule. Whether it’s exercise (which we know is essential to the ADHD brain!), a nap, a video game, or just some unstructured play, you need to put time for yourself (or your child) on your Holiday calendar!

1. Plan, Plan, and Plan some more:
Although most of us resist it because it sounds boring and mundane, a good plan can be an ADHDer’s best friend. As an adult, take time to plan what needs to be done this Holiday season. Take time to make sure you keep your calendar and your kids’ calendars up-to-date.

Build in time for transitions so everyone knows what comes next. Make sure you prepare ADHD kids in advance for any breaks from their normal routine. (“Saturday we will go to Aunt Sue’s for a Holiday party. You will need to wear your Holiday dress and new shoes. Your cousins will be there, but there will also be lots of people you probably don’t remember. We need to use our “company” manners.” And again, “Tomorrow we will go to Aunt Sue’s. . . ” And again, “Tonight we will go to Aunt Sue’s . . . ” And again, in two hours (or when the time goes off) we will go to Aunt Sue’s . . .” You may feel like a broken record, but repeated warnings and countdowns are a must to help ADHD children deal with transitions.

For ADHD adults, take a little time to make a plan of what needs to be done and break it down! I like to keep a separate, small binder notebook with me in preparation for the Holiday season. I keep my gift lists, task lists (order cards, address cards, buy stamps, get son a tie for the Holiday concert, etc.), budget information, meal menus and grocery lists, etc. in different sections. If this sounds like too much or your preparations are simpler, a small spiral notebook can suffice. I carry it with me most everywhere because I know the way my brain works. If I’m driving and, “Oh yeah! I need a hostess gift for So-and-So’s party next week” pops into my head, jotting it down at a red light is a must because I know I will NEVER remember by the time I get home or back to my office. It sounds like extra work, but it can also be very helpful to put as much on the computer as you can. If a particular holiday event or item occurs each year for you, like greeting card lists or traditional menu items or if you buy gifts for the same people each year, it’s a great gift to yourself to have it in a “Holiday” folder on your computer and not have to re-invent the wheel each year. I even have had clients who will put in a file (virtual or otherwise) a picture of their decorations—say they like the way their mantel decorations turned out this year—so they don’t have to re-think it the following year!

It may seem like extra up front work to you, but putting as much of the Holiday minutia on autopilot as you can may reduce your stress-level significantly.

And, In the Midst of it All . . . Don’t forget to Focus on Gratitude! 

It’s so easy to let our focus be drawn to the negative this time of year–to what we lack, rather than what we have to be grateful for. Sometimes, it’s grief over the loss of a loved one, a relationship we wish were different, financial circumstances we wish we could improve, or even for that picture perfect Holiday we desire.

Sometimes, we’re just too focused on keeping on top of all the details we have to manage (the gifts, the decorations, the meals, the shopping, the social commitments, etc.).  It’s easy to let stress take over when our focus is not in the right place.

When all else fails, and stress and struggle seem to be taking over and stealing your joy, force yourself to take just a few minutes to pause and think about what you have to be grateful for.  Even if you can only think of 3 things, that momentary shift in focus (along with just a few deep breaths) can create a very significant shift in your mood and in your stress level.  Ask yourself: What’s good in all this commotion (or at least not awful)? What’s going well (or at least not a total disaster)? What bright spot can you find in your life to hold onto?  Even when we feel like life is at its darkest, we can find a glimmer of light if we look hard enough! Sometimes, that glimmer seems very faint and very far away, but if we focus really hard, we can bring it into view! If you’re worrying or feeling blue, you’re still breathing–and that’s a good thing! If your kids or your  in-laws are driving you nuts, they’re still breathing, too!

I don’t mean to minimize anyone’s pain this time of year–I’ve had enough pain and loss in my life that I know better than to do that! But I also know that we come out of even our darkest days with some sort of positivity.  Can you find it?  If you look hard enough, it’s there.  I promise.

At your worst, most stressful times, focusing on just one to three things you can be grateful for can go a long way toward shifting your perspective and lowering stress. Life doesn’t have to be sunshine & roses to find something to be grateful for.  It’s there if you just look. I promise!

With a little planning, some self-care, and a focus on gratitude, you can find more joy and peace this Holiday season.

 . . . And Couldn’t we all use a little more joy and peace?!

A Note Especially for Parents:
At times, we all let the stress and frustrations of life get the better of us. This is never truer than during the hustle and bustle of the Holiday season. One of the most effective, most important things parents can do to improve their children’s behavior is to look at their own behavior. Are you short-tempered? Are you losing your cool? This is obviously not good for you, but it can be a recipe for disaster when parenting any child, especially a child with ADHD.

Remember: your child’s ADHD brain is constantly seeking stimulation to increase that under-active brain activity. We know that attention to any behavior is a sure fire way to increase the frequency of that behavior. When we give negative attention to an unwanted behavior, we also increase the frequency of that unwanted behavior because negative attention is very stimulating to your child’s ADHD brain. Even though they generally do not want to displease us, it can be extremely difficult for them to resist the attraction to the stimulation of our negative attention. Unless safety is a concern, the most important thing you can do in reacting to unwanted behavior in a child with ADHD is literally NOTHING! I know it’s hard, (believe me, I know first-hand just how hard!), but the best thing you can do for most unwanted behavior is to ignore it.

Spend your precious attention on the positive behaviors you want to increase and do your best to give no reaction, or a very neutral reaction to the negative behaviors. Sincere, concise praise of the positive behaviors and a calm, neutral “non-reaction” to negative behaviors is a great way to get more of what you want at home—peace!

Happy Holidays!

Lynne Edris, ACG
Life & ADD Coach

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