Making the Holidays… Happy
How to streamline and organize your holiday activities to maximize fun and minimize stress.
Have you ever seen a kid in a candy store — or been one yourself? That’s what the holiday season is like for adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). With so many things to do, sights to see, festivities to attend, it’s tempting to try to do everything. As one of my clients put it, “I’ve never met an idea I didn’t like.”
Of course, you can’t do everything, and trying to do so will turn what should be a joyous season into a three-month whirlwind of stress and anxiety.
This year, why not take time to solve your holiday planning problems before they crop up? It will help you and your loved ones enjoy the season — and start the new year energized, refreshed, and happy.
Here are four problems that adults with ADHD typically face during the season, and some possible solutions:
Problem: Feeling stressed out because you’re trying to do too much — in too little time.
Solution: Be realistic about what you can accomplish.
Attending parties, shopping for gifts, exchanging cards, traveling, and other holiday activities involve a lot of time and effort. Planning for and participating in these activities can be as demanding as a full-time job, recent studies show. Who wants that? Especially if you’re someone who struggles to manage your time and your “stuff” even under the best of circumstances.
So how do you decide what to do? Make choices based on what is truly important to your family. Is it vital that holiday cookies be homemade? Or can you get by with slice-and-bake? Do you really need to throw a five-course feast for your extended family — or would a potluck dinner served on paper plates do the trick? Do you really need to add a personalized note to each holiday card you send — or could you just sign your name (or skip cards altogether)?
I’m not saying that you should always take the easy route — only that you should consider doing so when you’re pressed for time. There is no need to be a martyr, especially when it comes to nonessential things.
Problem: Sending holiday cards, R.S.V.P.ing to invitations, and so on — after it’s already too late.
Solution: Devise a system for keeping track of the information related to activities and events.
For many people with ADHD, there are only two times to do things: NOW and NOT NOW. Unfortunately, many “not nows” wind up buried under piles of paper. By the time they’re excavated, it’s too late to act on them.
To avoid this problem, designate a box, basket, or some other container as your holiday file. Whenever you receive an invitation, or anything else that calls for a decision or an action, drop it inside for later review (but not too much later). If you have a brainstorm about something holiday-related, jot it down on a piece of paper and add it to the mix.
From the beginning of November through the holiday season, sit down with family members once a week to go through all the materials you’ve collected. Don’t get up until you’ve filled out the form, written the check, recorded the event in your calendar, or done whatever is required to move each matter along.
Problem: Finding the “perfect” gift for everyone.
Solution: Stop worrying about it.
How many times have you wound up shopping for gifts at the last minute, because you were so worried that your selections wouldn’t be good enough? No more! This year, give gift certificates, the one-size-fits-all option. You can pick them up from local bookstores, video stores, restaurants, and so on — or even print them out from the Web.
There’s nothing wrong with stocking up on decorative candles or bottles of wine to give out as holiday or hostess gifts. And you might set aside a morning to make a huge batch of fudge or peanut brittle that can be distributed to many of the people on your list.
While you’re at it, stash a small supply of thank-you cards, envelopes, and stamps in your car’s glove compartment — so you can knock off a few the next time you’re stuck waiting to pick up a child from soccer practice.
Problem: Running out of time to get everything done.
Solution: Streamline your life.
Let’s say you do a terrific job of cutting back on your family’s plans for the holidays. Your time is still going to be at a premium. Fortunately, you should be able to “find” a few precious hours by deferring nonessential activities until after the holidays. That goes for trips to the dentist (unless you’re having a toothache, of course), the car repair shop, and so on.
You can also make purchases online, so you’ll spend less time driving and less time waiting in line. By reducing all the running around you do, you’ll be less stressed out — and less likely to make the little mistakes that prove so frustrating (like writing down the wrong address or the wrong time for an event).
Another time-sparing strategy is to spend fewer hours in the kitchen. This is a great time to get acquainted with the take-out and prepared-food options available in your area.
If you need help implementing these ideas — or coming up with more of them — consider enlisting the help of a friend or an ADHD coach.
This holiday season, have confidence in your decision to do only those things that really matter to you and those you love. Season’s greetings!
Updated on December 5, 2019