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When People with ADHD Take on the Holidays, We Always Lose

Holiday stress can overwhelm the most organized person, but for adults with ADHD it can be a catastrophe. Here’s how to deal.

The holidays are enough to turn anyone into a whimpering pile of stress. But when you have ADHD, Christmas can induce a holly jolly heart attack. The holidays hit every ADHD stress point: remembering dates, remembering presents, showing up at soirees on time, deadlines, and the pressure to keep up with everyone else. It’s a month and a half of gut-gnawing pressure. You’re not a Scrooge. You’re a stress monkey.

Those everyday rituals that make people feel warm and fuzzy fill us with a sense of despair. Forget the Elf on the (Damn) Shelf. We’re too disorganized to pose that thing every single night. Christmas carols remind us what we’ve got left to do. And that Pinterest bitch is always coming up behind us with the perfect cookies, the perfect bath-bomb-in-a-jar, and handmade presents for one and all.

Christmas Cards

This is a simple task for neurotypicals. It’s insurmountable for people with ADHD. We have to buy the perfect cards: the cards that say “us” but also “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” and that don’t glitter bomb anyone who opens the envelope.

Then we have to binge-watch Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt while signing all of the damn things (they will start out personalized, and end up in an illegible scrawl).

After that, we have to locate the master Christmas address list, which we either can’t find or which is listed under some file name we can’t recall. We have to track down all the addresses somehow, exposing our shame. Then we have to address the cards (binge-watching Kimmy Schmidt again), put stamps on them. Do we even have stamps? We don’t have stamps. A post office run reveals they’re out of Christmas stamps. Then we have to slap the stamps on the envelopes and put the cards in the mail. For a normal person, this is no problem. For someone with ADHD, it’s a bewildering series of steps that require an organization genius we don’t have. The flaming stress ensues.

[Mailing Holiday Cards On Time]


No matter what the purists say, presents are the cornerstone of Christmas-buying them, that is. We have to decide who’s worthy of presents (Does the secretary just get a card? What’s the protocol here?). Then we have to figure out the perfect gift for everyone on our list. This leads to indecision paralysis, which keeps us avoiding the mall until the week before Christmas, when we grab what we can get and get the hell out.

Then we have to wrap the presents. It is not kosher to sneak away and do it Christmas morning. You wrap everything Christmas night, which necessitates finding scissors and tape, then running out of tape, then running to CVS to buy more tape. The bows will not stick properly. You cross your fingers and give the gift, generally covered in paranoia (is it right?) and shame (it’s not enough).

Christmas Bonuses

You have to remember all service workers in your holiday munificence. This includes leaving a card for the mailman, the sanitation workers, your favorite barista, and anyone else who happens to do something for you around the holidays (even waiters). First you have to remember to do it. Then you have to stop putting it off. Once you’ve worked up your nerve, you need to decide on the correct amount or appropriate present. It’s nerve-wracking, but you don’t want your mail mysteriously “lost” in the coming year.

The Tree

If you’re smart, you gave up and bought an artificial tree years ago. You still have to remember to bring it down from the attic. If you’re still dewy-eyed with the smell of pine, you have to set aside time to go buy a tree, a time that always seems to be tomorrow. By the time you purchase one, all that’s left are the straggled Charlie Brown trees with big holes and odd shapes.

[Free Download: Your Holiday Survival Kit]

Next, the tree needs to be decorated, which takes an evening but really takes forever. Then you get distracted talking about the ornaments and break three of them, but you somehow manage to get the tree strung up, untangled lights and all. Now you just have to remember to water the damn thing. You won’t, and it will wither to a desiccated fire hazard. You’ll find needles in the strangest places for the rest of the year.

Pinterest and the Elf

The holiday season brings out the Pinterest mavens in full force. They’re spray-painting everything gold and turning out perfect vegetable platters at their perfect party where everyone but you wears the perfect tacky sweater. You feel as if you have to keep up. You may even buy some glitter. But the glitter just gets all over the house, living up to its nickname of “craft herpes,” and your chocolate cake in a jar doesn’t quite work right.

Get over it all. Realize that your talents don’t lie in the area of DIY design, take a step back, and stop comparing yourself with those holiday geniuses. And get rid of that stupid Elf. You keep forgetting to move him, anyway.

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