Adult ADHD: Getting a Handle on the Holiday Havoc

December 8, 2011 Laurie Dupar, PMHNP, RN, PCC

I can’t help looking at my calendar during December and notice that familiar pressure as the holidays approach. A lot of the holidays are not very ADD-friendly. It seems there are more deadlines to be met, expectations to reach, and a lot more chaos to filter out. adult adhd and the holidaysEven still, there are many things I truly enjoy about the holidays and really fit with my spontaneous, live in the moment, out of the box thinking ADHD brain style. I love the sparkly holiday decorations, the different food, the festive music and the overall positive mood people are in.

Over the years I have had to learn to simplify my holidays in ways that work better for me, my family and my adult ADHD brain-style. Give myself permission to do things differently. Getting a handle on the Christmastime chaos has made everything much more enjoyable. I want to share some of these strategies with you.

Know what is most important for you

It might be giving just the right gifts, or spending time serving the needy, baking, decorating, religious traditions, time with family or hosting a holiday party. Choose three of your top “reasons for the season” and purposefully spend your time and energy focused and enjoying those. Let the others go.

While I was growing up, my mom baked dozens of holiday cookies and pastries. I remember the smells and colors and Tupperware needed to store these goodies. However, when my family was young I worked as a nurse realized after several years of failed attempts, that there was no way I could do all of that baking …nor did I really want to. Instead, we focused on making one type of cookie everyone enjoyed and could be “left for Santa”. I then looked forward to “cookie exchange holiday parties” in order to round out my cookie plate.

Continue traditions that are meaningful or create your own

Growing up, the focus of me family on Christmas Eve was going to midnight mass. I remember struggling to stay up until midnight, trying not to fall asleep during the service and everyone being a bit cranky. With my own four small children, our family settled on another Christmas Eve tradition. Instead of midnight mass, we developed a tradition driving around nearby neighborhoods enjoying the Christmas lights and decorations. The kids would get in their sleepwear, grab blankets for their laps and we would take along a thermos of hot chocolate. The added bonus? Usually before we pulled back into our own drive, everyone would be asleep in the back and easily slip into their beds.

Focus on what you do well

I enjoy the holiday festivities, but I am not sure I am the best hostess during this season. Realizing this limitation was not easy. With guests in my house I was distracted by making sure they were comfortable, having a good time and getting what they need. By New Years I was exhausted. The first year our family lived abroad I discovered that some of our best Christmases were spent traveling. During the holiday season people are usually quite friendly and everything is decorated in such beautiful fashion. And amazingly, some of the most popular vacation destinations are relatively unoccupied. One year at Christmas we went to Sea World and enjoyed the novelty as my kids literally could finish a ride and hop right back onto it over and over again!

Think “out of the box”

I know many people really enjoy sending and receiving Christmas cards. And for many years I could hardly wait to choose just the right holiday card and sit down to write my Christmas Newsletter, sharing all my family’s accomplishments. I still enjoy getting holiday cards from friends and relatives, but one year life was especially chaotic during the early part of December and I didn’t get my cards in the mail….and surprisingly we all survived. Interesting that same year a friend of mine sent “Valentines” cards rather than Christmas cards. It was such a delight to get this card during a time of the year that also honored those we love when I was really able to enjoy what she had to share. I thought this was a fabulous idea! So don’t be surprised if you get a “Valentine's Day card” from me this year instead.

Plan ahead…sometimes

This tip is from someone with ADHD to someone with ADHD that will understand when I say that “planning ahead” does not always work for us. Sometimes using our “procrastination” may actually save time, money and even frustration in the long run. For years I planned ahead and bought gifts, wrapping or decorations on sale. Putting them away for the next year thinking it would save me money, time and energy by leaving me better prepared the following year. Instead I have learned that I still shop around the holidays. I enjoy soaking in that slightly frenzied energy of the other shoppers and I am delighted at the creative store decorations stores and singing along with the holiday music playing in the stores. Inevitably I find a wrapping paper that I prefer or a gift that I know would be a much better fit for someone than those I have stashed away. I still do “plan” with regards to the “big items” of Christmas. Where we will have Christmas, who will be with us, etc., however, I also recognize that for me, a big part of this season is enjoying the spontaneity, sparkly decorations and anticipatory energy of this time of year and I wouldn’t want to miss those for the world!

What ways have you found that work with your ADHD to better enjoy the season? I would love to hear from you!

APA Reference
Dupar, L. (2011, December 8). Adult ADHD: Getting a Handle on the Holiday Havoc, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 15 from

Author: Laurie Dupar, PMHNP, RN, PCC

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