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How to Survive the Holidays with ADHD

Published: 05.12.2016

Whenever I attend an ADHD support group meeting during the holidays, I know with grim certainty what I'm going to hear. Even just thinking about it, my heart sinks and I wish I had a magic wand to prevent the pain I know will be occurring.

Life is difficult enough for people with ADHD, and the holiday season, while delightfully enjoyable to some, brings fresh challenges that complicate things more. Organizational, financial, and physical health problems, as well as emotional wounds reopening are just some of the things that cause us to feel, at best, overwhelmed, and at worst a deep sense of dread.

Tom Magliozzi famously said “Happiness equals reality minus expectations.” This is often true around the holidays when shining childhood memories or visions from the silver screen inflate what we expect from the season.

So how do we deal with these pitfalls? My method involves awareness and proactivity.


1. What does the season mean, to you?

My family and I utilize a strategy which encompasses both these principles. At the beginning of the holiday season, we sit down and plan the events and activities that truly “make Christmas” for us. When I was younger it was important to find out if I wanted the Christmas tree put up before or after my birthday.

I also do this privately. I examine my expectations around the holidays and take steps to fulfill my own desires. I plan time for every little thing I want to happen because I know it won't come to pass otherwise.

2. What is in our control?

Not all our desires are technically in our control to meet, however. We may expect others to provide certain things for us. This, of course, is not in our control, unless we state openly and categorically what it is we want to be given to us, for example. I've used this technique with my ADHD family before. I traded surprise for more confidence in the usefulness of my presents.

What about when requesting isn't possible? In cases like this, the only remedy for me is awareness. Only when I acknowledge what is and is not likely to happen can I let go and enjoy what will be.


Awareness can also assist with those people we see over the holidays who may not “get it” when it comes to us and our ADHD. The challenges I share with my fellow ADHD brains simply make no sense to many neurotypical people, and I need to be ok with that.

3. Awareness and preperation

And, as much as it chills me to contemplate, I may need to engage in... Small talk. Even the words make me shudder. Small talk is one of those things that people with ADHD consistently report loathing. However, awareness of this unfortunate reality allows me to gear up and prepare ahead of time, instead of unconsciously expecting something else that will inevitably be disappointed.


It's taken me 25 years to learn that my expectations can only be met by me. This seems like a very long time. However, it is half the time it has taken others, thanks to the increased awareness and education I have about ADHD. It has also enabled me to strive to empower others to take control of their happiness through their expectations. That is something I am grateful for.


What does the holiday season look like to you?

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