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How Beth Got Her Joy Back (Or Why I Downsized Christmas)

How one ADHD adult reduced her holiday anxiety and stress by doing less at Christmas

My childhood Christmas memories include cookie baking, tree decorating, and carol singing. Yes, really — it was perfect.

I remember all seven of us signing the dozens of cards sent to friends and family, and taking turns opening each day on the advent calendar. The presents were always highly anticipated — and usually perfect. My godmother hummed Christmas songs, and always had a hug or a kind word to share. She never once lost her temper.

Maybe the pace was slower then – one wage earner, one car, us kids entertained ourselves all day – or maybe I’m just remembering it wrong. Either way, for many years I invested too much time and anxiety in reproducing that holiday magic for my own family.

I kept shopping-list spreadsheets (with more than 100 gifts). I fretted over paying the credit card bills. I baked cookies after work, trying hard not to throw anything when they came out burnt. I scribbled our names onto Christmas cards for people I didn’t make time to talk to during the year. I woke up in a panic some nights, worrying about what I’d forgotten.

I grew to dread the entire month of December. The holidays were way too much for my already-overloaded ADHD brain. I considered prescription medicine for seasonal anxiety related to my ADHD, and self-medicated with eggnog.

[Free Guide: How to Prioritize This Holiday Season]

Then one year, something magical happened. A co-worker sheepishly asked if we could stop exchanging gifts. I was elated! It got me thinking: How many other people would be relieved to lessen their holiday burden? The following year, I broached the idea with several enlightened relatives. Yes, they said, they too found gift giving to be stressful. “Thank you for asking!”

Today, I’m a minimalist when it comes to celebrating the yule. I do only the holiday things that truly bring me joy.

I don’t decorate for the neighbors, I don’t send cards, and I don’t mind that I don’t get many either. I don’t bake (it sabotages my efforts to stick to an ADHD-friendly meal plans high in protein, vegetables and whole grains anyway). Not even a Christmas tree (ick, those needles!), although I do have a lovely pink poinsettia on the dining room table. My gift exchange list is manageable: one person. He’s fun to shop for, so I’ll keep him on the list.

The point of all of this? We all have ideas of how the holidays should be celebrated, based on our childhoods, what we see on TV, and what our friends and neighbors do. But how much of it do we really enjoy? How much of it do our families enjoy? They probably do NOT enjoy being the recipients of our increased frustration level, that’s for sure. It’s hard enough to deal with the stress of daily living with ADHD. Do you know anyone who feels less stress during the holidays? I didn’t think so.

So If we aren’t enjoying it, why the heck are we doing it?

I invite you to consider your own traditions next year. What seems obligatory? What seems like madness? What would you rather do without? What can you reasonably do and still feel good about? That’s what you should do. Give yourself permission to drop the rest. Then, you’ll know the feeling of joy during the holiday season. And that, I believe, is the whole idea.

[Beating the Holiday Blues]

More on how to tackle the holidays when you have ADHD