Illustration of a discontented character with pink hair and reindeer antlers, surrounded by the words "HOLIDAYS & MENTAL HEALTH" in large, playful lettering. The artist's credit "@the_mini_adhd_coach" is included at the bottom.

Mental Health and The Holidays: Navigating the Season with ADHD

For those with ADHD, managing mental health during the holidays can be challenging due to the increased social expectations, disrupted routines, and sensory overload. It's important to prioritize self-care, set realistic expectations, and seek support when needed. By acknowledging your needs and planning ahead, you can navigate the holiday season more comfortably and enjoyably. Remember, it's okay to take breaks and celebrate in a way that feels right for you.

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A word form our expert

ADHD and the Holidays: It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

Do you find the festive season often brings overwhelming stress and expectations? I do. 

That’s why we’re exploring all the unique challenges that those of us with ADHD face during this hectic time of year, with practical insights and empathetic support to help you not just survive, but actually find some enjoyment in the festivities.

These insights include:

  • Embracing your unique holiday experience and accepting that it’s perfectly acceptable (and encouraged) to do things your way, rather than struggle.

  • How to reduce gift-giving stress and setting expectations, both for you and your loved ones.

  • Why alone time is a valid choice for your mental well-being.

  • How you can honor loved ones during this time. Whilst taking care of yourself.

  • How ADHD and Major Depressive Disorder with a Seasonal Pattern (SAD) are connected and could be why you’re feeling extra low this holiday season.

We’ll discuss how to manage your ADHD during the holidays with a focus on embracing what feels healthy for you. 

Let’s get into it! 🥳

The Holiday Season is Difficult for a Lot of People (And That’s OK!)

For some, the festive season is a source of happiness, a time for family gatherings or an opportunity to spend more time with loved ones. 

However, not everyone enjoys social events and everything that comes with it, no matter how long it’s been or how fun the festivities are. If there are expectations for you to take part and ‘have a good time’,, your holiday plans may become a time of dread, not fun. 

Our difficulties in planning and organizing may trip us up, especially if we forget important activities or to-dos (like buying cranberry sauce!). The last thing we ever want is to forget to get one person a gift and make them feel singled out. 😰 

We might feel overwhelmed when there are too many tasks to do, and we might procrastinate when the festive season is near, leading to last-minute shopping trips that are so much more hectic than if we’d been prepared. 

We also might not get enough sleep due to overthinking and ruminating over what gifts we have left to buy, or even dreading spending time with certain people that trigger us. 😠

With ADHD, you may find it particularly difficult to manage your emotions. So, spread some love and extend kindness to everyone, especially your neurodivergent friends and anyone who doesn’t feel like celebrating with you. 💕

You Don’t Have to Celebrate, Even with Family

During the holiday season, always go at your own pace. 

If a social event or family gathering will negatively impact your mental health, it’s okay to find an excuse to get out of it. If it leads to self-criticism or drains all your energy as you try to pretend to be happy, it's often not worthwhile.  Where possible, maintaining mental health during the festive season should be your top priority.

Personally, I hate missing out on seeing my relatives during the holidays. Even though I typically struggle at this time of year, I still want to spend time with them. 👪 But even if I’m physically present, my ADHD brain is probably somewhere else. 

I remember a few years back, I just couldn’t control my emotions anymore and cried my eyes out in front of everyone. It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, but it was also a relief. 

I talked to my family about how I felt, and they were understanding. After that, they now know to allow me to have some space, even when we’re together during the holiday season. 🤗

Remember, you’re not obliged to celebrate ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. You don't have to force yourself to be happy when you're not. If you feel stressed because of social expectations, it is perfectly fine to stay at home and relax. 🧘 

"It's OK if you don't feel festive this year" - A minimalistic drawing of a character with pink hair, expressive eyes, and a slight frown, accompanied by comforting words about not feeling festive, with the artist's credit "@the_mini_adhd_coach" at the bottom.

The Pressure and Struggle of Gift-Giving

I don’t know about you, but I find giving gifts is a struggle. 🫣

Even if I know the person just as well as I know myself, I’m still going to second-guess every decision I make and worry right up until I see their reaction on the day. 

Will they like what I will give them? What if I can't find the right gift for them? 😨 

Ultimately, I think it’s my fear of rejection, which people with ADHD already experience more than most.

The family gift exchange is supposed to be a nice, wholesome moment where everyone gathers and shows their love.

And sure, it is nice to see everyone smile together. But the lead-up can make it hard to enjoy if the pressure of giving gifts is too much to handle.

Not only is there the struggle to stay organized and the financial stress of January, but the actual act of planning ahead and buying presents during the holiday season can be just as overwhelming. 

Grocery stores are chaotic, with long lines and disorganized shelves. Shopping centers and popular high streets are crowded, loud, and can be seriously overwhelming. I’ve experienced my fair share of panic in these situations.

Environments like these can trigger sensory overload in neurodivergent people, causing our nervous systems to shut down. Noises can become louder, lights become brighter and soon it’s too much to bear. 

To avoid all of this, I highly recommend you shop online. You can shop at your own pace, plan ahead, and take your time to research. This will help you avoid impulse buying. And, if you suddenly have an unexpected guest joining you for Christmas day, there’s always next-day delivery. 😉

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Feel Like Spending the Festive Season Alone?

Prioritizing your mental health is crucial throughout the entire year.

The holidays are not a reason to start masking and putting on a front to ‘protect’ others from your reality or saving your emotions for a more ‘appropriate’ time. 💕

Your feelings of sadness or loneliness are valid and you don’t need to talk to everyone and be forced into feeling ecstatic because the calendar says so. 📅 If you feel like spending time alone to avoid feeling stressed and getting anxious, give yourself that break. 

We must take care of our mental health first before anything else.

The holiday blues can make our ADHD symptoms and any mental illness conditions worse, and it can be hard to deal with everything that's happening. The right thing to do is find more peace in spending time alone for our mental health during the holidays. 🕊️ We need to practice healthy habits, relaxation and prioritize self-care.

If putting on cozy pajamas and watching a movie with hot chocolate is your idea of the perfect Christmas, that’s exactly what you should do. Maybe you schedule a time to video chat, or maybe you don’t.

After the embarrassing story I told you before, I decided to start carving out alone time rather than spend the entirety of the season with my favorite people. At the time, I was experiencing a lot of anxiety and a busy work period, so making this decision took a lot off my plate and unburdened me. 

Now every Christmas my gift to myself is to take breaks and spend a few days of the holiday season away from everyone.

"It's OK if you want to be alone" - Illustration of a contented character with pink hair enveloped in a cozy blue blanket, emphasizing the acceptability of wanting solitude, with the artist's credit "@the_mini_adhd_coach" included.

Grief, Mental Illness & Honoring the Departed 

Everyone has a different way of dealing with feelings of grief and loss, and this season can be challenging for those still in pain. 

The happy atmosphere can be too much for some people who are still processing the loss of a family member or a close friend. Seeing everyone else celebrating while you’re still hurting is painful. That’s why you should always take a moment to pause and remember those who are no longer with you, whenever you need to. It’s okay to feel immense sadness, even during times of happiness. 

ADHD makes regulating our emotions extra challenging, and we’ll likely need more than deep breathing to calm down if we’re feeling overwhelmed by grief. Plus, ADHD often exists alongside other mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety, worsening this pain. 

If you can, use the festive season as an opportunity to remember the good memories you have with your loved ones. This can help ease the pain and make the holiday season a little more bearable. 🕯️

Winter Months Are Tougher with SAD

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, some mental health problems and disorders are worse during late fall and winter (just in time for the holidays). 🙄

This is known as Major Depressive Disorder with a Seasonal Pattern (formerly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD). 

Currently, experts are exploring three possible causes of this: the disruption of our internal clock due to a decrease in sunlight, lower serotonin levels, and changes in melatonin levels. 

This is yet another reason neurodivergent people may experience heightened stress, low mood, or even depression during the festive season. 🎄

If you find yourself feeling down or depressed in a particular season, it’s best to talk to a mental health professional, primary care physician or to find a support group. 🧑‍⚕️ 

Quick Tips For The Festive Season

No matter if your plans include resting all day or juggling a packed schedule, it's vital to weave healthy habits into your routine during this busy month, in whatever form that suits you best.

Here’s a few of my favorite go-to strategies. 👇

  • Practice Relaxation and Joy: Amidst the holiday stress, make time for relaxation and joy without feeling pressured to meet everyone else's expectations. Whether you prefer to spend the holidays in solitude, with a close-knit group of friends, or family, what matters most is creating enjoyable and memorable experiences for yourself.

  • Find Balance: Strive for a balance between fulfilling holiday obligations and maintaining your personal well-being. This balance is crucial for enjoying the holiday season to its fullest and ensuring you emerge from it feeling refreshed and positive.

  • Adapt Routines: Understand that a daily routine holds great importance, especially for neurodiverse individuals. Disruptions, such as traveling or hosting guests, can be challenging. Plan ahead by crafting a ‘holiday’ routine or slightly modifying your usual one. For instance, if a Sunday 'reset' - cleaning, a thorough shower, meal prep, and planning - is part of your weekly ritual, identify an alternate day during the holiday week for this reset. Once your guests depart, performing this reset can rejuvenate and ground you.

  • Prioritize Special Interests: If certain activities, like drawing, serve as emotional regulators, ensure you schedule time for them. There are plenty of opportunities to engage in your interests. For example, while the family gathers to watch Christmas movies, you might join them but also doodle on your iPad. This practice helps maintain emotional balance.

  • Make Space For Your Own Needs in Social Settings: Find strategies to accommodate your neurodivergent needs during gatherings. This could mean keeping a fidget toy handy or taking quick breaks to stretch and release pent-up energy. Such measures can significantly aid in self-regulation.

By adopting these tips, you can navigate the holiday season with greater ease and enjoyment, ensuring that your mental and physical health remains a top priority. 💕

"Give yourself some kindness for Christmas" - A serene, pink-haired character with eyes closed and a gentle smile, surrounded by the phrase encouraging self-kindness for Christmas, also featuring the artist's credit "@the_mini_adhd_coach.

Key Takeaways

  • Embrace Your Unique Approach: Understand that it's perfectly fine to celebrate the holidays in a way that minimizes stress and feels right for you. Doing things your own way can significantly reduce feelings of overwhelm.

  • Set Realistic Expectations: To prevent stress, it's crucial to set achievable expectations for yourself, friends, and family. Clear communication about your holiday plans and limits can help manage everyone's expectations.

  • Opt for Online Shopping: Avoid the stress of crowded stores and impulsive purchases by shopping online. This approach can help you stay within your budget and avoid overwhelming situations.

  • Prioritize Mental Well-being: It's essential to put your mental health first, even if it means spending the holidays alone or in a quieter, more comfortable setting.

  • Maintain Healthy Habits: Continuing to care for yourself by practicing healthy habits is key to managing ADHD symptoms and maintaining mental health during the festive season.

  • Seek Support When Needed: If you find yourself struggling, don't hesitate to reach out to a healthcare professional for guidance and support.

  • Practice Kindness Towards Yourself: The essence of the holiday season is kindness, which includes being kind to yourself. Focus on what brings you joy and peace, without succumbing to the pressure of unrealistic expectations.

Remember, the holiday season is about kindness, including being kind to yourself. Don't feel obligated to always feel happy or meet unrealistic expectations - just focus on creating meaningful moments that bring you joy and peace. 🥰

An infographic with a series of comforting messages and illustrations for the holidays addressing various emotional states and situations, complete with the artist's logo, "ADHD & Cute," and the title "Holidays & Mental Health" in stylized text, ending with a website address "" for further resources.

What’s Next?

If you’re looking for more ways to make the holiday season more manageable, we recommend reading these:

Mastering Spontaneous Shopping: Control Your Impulse Purchases & Save Money

Understanding the Link Between ADHD and Anxiety Disorders

Overcoming Indecisiveness in ADHD Adults

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Holiday & Mental Health: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Do adults with ADHD find it hard to celebrate the holidays?

Not all adults with ADHD find it hard to celebrate the holidays, but some do. It’s possible that the hustle and bustle of the festivities can worsen some ADHD symptoms. For instance, parties and gift giving may be too much for us to handle considering our possible problems in planning. Likewise, loud music and colorful decorations can trigger our sensory overload. 

Can the festive season trigger anxiety?

Some aspects of the season may trigger anxiety, like thinking if the gifts we bought will be liked by the people we’re giving them to. ‍

Does ADHD happen with Major Depressive Disorder with a Seasonal Pattern? 

Not all the time, but it can be a comorbidity. If you experience depression during a particular time of the year, consult your doctor. 

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