Holiday & Travel Planning

How the Pandemic Stole Christmas (and a Wee Bit of ADHD Stress)

This year, rough 90% of ADDitude readers face a holiday season without embraces, laughter, and human connections . We must (and will) make do with FaceTime and tardy shipped gifts so that, next season, everyone can gather again — with a new sense of gratitude. Here is how you’re feeling — and making it work.

Sad Christmas tree

Is it still Christmas without pageants and carols? Without photos on Santa’s lap? Is it still Hanukkah without grandma’s hugs? Could it be New Year’s Eve without champagne and friends? Without the simple traditions and joys we took for granted?

For at least 90% of you, this holiday season will be different — scaled down, shut up at home, and broadcast over Zoom — due to the pandemic. According to a recent survey of 2,184 ADDitude readers, almost no one is celebrating this season as they normally would. New grandbabies won’t be bounced on knees, cousins won’t play touch football, far-flung adult kids won’t risk the travel home, stockings won’t be stuffed. And though nearly all of you are sad and disappointed, you also insist that it is the right and safest thing to do.

For some of you, this means a small celebration with your nuclear family — kids climbing the walls, parents scrambling to make the season feel special, and less money for gifts. (Nearly 12% of ADDitude readers have lost their jobs since March.) For others, this means being alone for the first time — and all of the feelings of isolation and desolation that come with social distance at a time normally defined by holly, jolly gatherings.

In the end, it’s the embraces and laughter and time together we will miss most. Those human connections — even for the ADHD introverts — are the heartbeat of the season. But we must (and we will) make do with FaceTime and tardy shipped gifts this year so that, next season, everyone can gather again — with a new sense of gratitude.

For now, here is a collection of your quotes about the strangest holiday season in the strangest year most of us can remember. Please share more in the Comments section below.

Holidays 2020: Feeling Sadness

“My daughter keeps asking questions like, ‘Is there COVID in the North Pole? Can Santa bring us a vaccine? Will next year be like this, too?’ I don’t know what to tell her.”

“For the first time in 65 years, I will not be with my 88-year-old mother for Christmas — or any other friend or family member, for that matter.”

“My adult children will not be joining us for the holiday. We have a new granddaughter born in October and no one in the family has met her. I see no reason to ‘do holiday stuff’ because there is no one to share the festivities with.”

“My sister’s husband just died from COVID. None of us is getting together and there is no joy in our family right now.”

“Due to my work in the medical field, we cannot visit any family members this year. As the adult with ADHD, the loss of connection and tradition has been devastating. My fiancée are I are working a lot and so we don’t have the time together we need.”

“We won’t see our family and fiends. We haven’t been to holiday parties, plays, or church events. We miss everything mentioned above and feel lonely and tired of being home.”

“No decorations, no tree with presents, no holiday foods, no music, no laughter, no job.”

Holidays 2020: Feeling Relief

“We cannot meet with extended family, which sadly is a relief due to my family’s lack of understanding of my three kids with ADHD (and ASD and LDs). They typically don’t approve of my kids’ behavior and choices, and that disapproval then extends to my parenting. I miss my family, who are all getting up there in age, but it is a bit of a relief to not have to explain why my 15-year-old does something inappropriate. In the past, if I tried to explain how developmentally he’s younger than his chronological age, they just think I’m making excuses for him. Ugh. I’m sad that COVID-19 brings this silver lining!”

“This holiday season will be a calmer and less anxious than usual. I’m happy to forego all of the social anxiety, challenging people, and relationship navigating that usually happens during the holidays. I think I’ll also feel a bit lonely and less festive than in other years, but it will likely be more restful, too.”

“We won’t be doing the family Christmas gathering this year, and didn’t go to family Thanksgiving. This was actually a relief for us, as my husband’s family can be stressful. They decided not to exchange gifts this year, either, so that provided some financial relief for us. The only regret I have about this holiday season is not being able to have friends over for mulled cider, Christmas treats, and caroling.”

“With no out-of-state travel, we won’t see extended family. It won’t feel like Christmas without our
extended family, but I am so tired that a small holiday at home sounds nice.”

“I feel relief over reduced social and work obligations, but with my kids home all the time I also feel a lot of pressure to conjure some special holiday joy. I’m grateful for the time to slow down and appreciate what we have, but it’s also difficult to know all the life that my kids are missing. We have to trust that it will pass, they will get back to their lives, and they are learning valuable skills.”

“Christmas is the least stressful it’s ever been. I don’t have to spend dozens of hours shopping, cooking, wrapping… no panic attacks or suicidal thoughts like in years past.”

“I feel lonely, and my son wants to see his cousins and his aunt, but I never enjoy spending the holidays with the rest of my family. I’m typically depressed around the holidays and then I feel bad for being depressed, and masking around so many people is exhausting. Being happy for just my son is not as depleting.”

“My father passed away in September, so this was going to be a strange and heavy Christmas. There is some relief found in how strange everything is – if we had had to go back to our old traditions without him I think it would have been harder.”

Holidays 2020: Feeling Lonely

“We’re usually together almost daily November through the New Year, but now we’re meeting over Zoom. My mom is living alone again for the first time in almost 10 years and I want to go see her, but I can’t.”

“I’m feeling lonely and isolated. It’s difficult to take PTO at work due to the work-from-home expectation that you can always be online. I am approaching burn out and unable to buy gifts for
people due to difficulty concentrating when shopping online vs. in a store.”

Holidays 2020: Feeling Resolved

“We will not see anyone. Period. It’s not worth the risk. And two family members have passed
away from COVID, so we won’t get to see them again, ever.”

“We will be without our daughter and her family. The last time they were here was last Christmas. It is disappointing, but we are committed to listening to credible experts’ recommendations to keep our family and community safe.”

“My best friend’s dad just passed away after testing positive for COVID two weeks ago. I’m angry that people aren’t taking this seriously any more because they’re bored of restrictions. I miss my friends and family like crazy — it’s really getting me down, especially that I don’t get to see anyone at
Christmas — but I couldn’t bear to risk someone else life.”

“I have not seen my 92-year-old father since last Christmas, nor will I see him until I know I can do so without worrying about spreading this disease. I also will not see my older children, whom I have not seen in over six months. With families spread out across the country and this virus easily spread, we will celebrate alone.”

“I will be alone for Christmas. I have enjoyed 70 traditional Christmas celebrations. I will skip this one so I can have several more in the future.”

Holidays 2020: Feeling Suffocated

“Normally we look forward to spending more time together during Christmastime, but this year my son (who has ADHD) is already wishing he was back at school whilst I struggle to find things to do each day to break the rut.”

“The holidays have brought on a lot of mental health issues. I already deal with anxiety, panic disorder, OCD, ADHD, and PTSD. So the only thing that kept me feeling normal was the ability to be around friends and loved ones. However with everyone isolating, the feeling of loneliness and sadness has been overwhelming. Being stuck in one place while at times feeling like I’m bouncing off the walls makes me feel like I’m suffocating and like I’m walking in circles.”

“No holiday parties, no birthday celebration for me, no date nights, no sitters, no way to get a break from the kids, stress over trying to have a festive holiday for the kids, stress over our school going back to remote after winter break. Worry and stress about older child having anxiety about socializing with friends and self isolating as a result. Worry and concern about lack of opportunity for our kids to
participate in sports — no outlet for our high-energy ADHD child. No ability to make special plans, something different, to ring in the New Year and no way to model for the kids a collective optimism.”

Holidays 2020: Feeling Grateful

“I am pastor and so it’s hard to not be with each other the same way. But this time is inspiring us to be creative about how we do things vs. just falling into old routines.”

“I have not seen my elderly grandmother since last Christmas. We won’t be gathering with our tight-knit family and that is stressful. My son and I have ADHD, and we are just trying to be grateful for all the positives and roll with the punches. I’m actually thankful I have ADHD and have managed it my whole life (to different degrees of success and failure), so that I can better relate to him and teach him. We are truly teammates.”

Holidays 2020: Feeling Stressed

“One thing that has been super difficult this year has been remembering to order people Christmas presents since we aren’t shopping at stores in person… this feels impossible to me! I feel so behind!”

“I lost my job during the first wave. I stayed home with my kids, which was good and bad as I struggle to self motivate and focus on priorities; it’s like starting at square one to figure my life out at 35. There is less money to pay for Christmas gifts this year. I am only buying for the kids and they are getting less than usual.”

Holidays 2020: Feeling Cautious But Optimistic

“We are not having Christmas as an immediate family because we live in three different states and
one family member is at high risk. However, we are planning to have Christmas in July, hoping that by then, all of us will have gotten the vaccination. It’s family, not the day of the year, that makes it Christmas.”

“Both of my parents turned 70 while in lockdown. They had a COVID scare recently and receiving the news of their negative results was unfathomable… some light at the end of the tunnel.”

Holidays 2020: Feeling Conflicted

“I thought we could just enjoy Christmas with our immediate household, but now we have family members on both my partner’s side of the family and my own who are trying to pressure or guilt us into coming to family gatherings. I don’t feel comfortable, but also don’t want to disappoint my daughter or our family. It’s too overwhelming.”

“I will be really and totally on my own. I have always valued my independence, but I see now that I risk isolation. We will do a Zoom call. It will be unsatisfying. But on the up side, I will be able to see their faces while not having to be in the same room as my Dad! There are unexpected pluses.”

“Well, I kind of wish the people in my family would just let me friggin’ hang out here with my kids in our household, and not try to gather or have us spend money this year. I’m pretty done with people having higher expectations of me than they need to at this point.”

“My husband and I have very large families and friend groups and we will not be celebrating
holiday parties or Christmas live with them. It’s sad and some family members give us a hard time, which causes me more anxiety. My ADHD brain goes back and forth on what to do to satisfy everyone else’s feelings about the holidays together vs. what I really feel is the right thing to do since my husband is in the higher-risk category and we have already seen two family members in the hospital with COVID.”

Holidays 2020: Feeling Creative

“We will be having Christmas on the deck with my adult daughter and her boyfriend instead of
inside. Patio heaters, beef stew, and hot cocoa (adult style).”

“We will look at this holiday season as a new opportunity. Everything we did this year was different — from the way we decorated to the number of presents we bought. We are creatively doing what everyone wanted and changing it up so it’s fresh and unlike anything we’ve ever done before, creating brand new traditions for our family.”

“We are doing an outdoor 30-minute gift and cookie exchange and then saying goodbye. We’re saving Christmas for next year.”

“I am focusing on giving back and volunteering, showing compassion to others to create the festive spirit within myself and to model that spirit for my son.”

If you are feeling depressed and lonely this holiday season, or just sad and angry about the state of the world, please know that the team at ADDitude cares about you. We hope that you will reach out to us at [email protected] or to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The holidays are hard for many of us, and this year that’s especially so. Please don’t suffer alone.

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