However, with the right coping mechanisms in place, you can effectively manage your ADHD despite the festive frenzy that this season seems to bring on. Consider this your ADHD holiday survival guide, complete with tips on everything from schedules to shopping to sleep.

Pick Your Priorities

As soon as the holidays arrive, it can feel like you’ve been hit with a barrage of requests and obligations. On top of all the party invites, you might feel compelled to uphold every holiday tradition from years past. Before you know it, you feel utterly overwhelmed and unable to focus on the task or event at hand.

Having ADHD can make it particularly difficult to manage all of these demands. Most adults with ADHD already struggle with executive function skills like time management, task completion, and organization, so adding extra responsibilities can quickly cause you to feel stretched too thin.

That’s why it’s so important to prioritize during this time of year. Resist the pressure to do everything and think about what really matters to you instead. Here are a few specific examples:

  • Traditions: If you always get distracted when trying to address dozens of holiday cards, skip it and spend the time on something you actually look forward to, like making Christmas cookies with your kids.
  • Events: When it comes to parties, not every RSVP needs to be a “yes.” Decline your invite to the holiday concert that always leaves you feeling fidgety in your chair and attend the casual family gathering where you feel more comfortable.
  • Gifts: Keeping track of everyone’s gifts is tough for you each year, and long gift-wrapping sessions are particularly draining. This season, simplify things by stocking up on gift cards, baked goods, or bottles of wine to hand out instead.

Plan in Advance

Now that you’ve narrowed down your priorities for the holiday season, it’s time to make a plan. Even though you’ve limited the tasks and events on your to-do list, it’s helpful to make sure everything can be scheduled within a reasonable time frame. That way, you know you haven’t overcommitted.

Put your prioritized holiday activities on a calendar to visualize how much time you’ve allotted for certain events or tasks. Start by writing down events scheduled at a specific time, like a family gathering or work party. Use the other available dates to set aside some time for other prioritized tasks, like decorating the tree or gift shopping. 

Zooming out to look at the big picture in this way is a great time management technique for adults with ADHD, especially during one of the busiest times of the year. This method will help you visualize how much you have on your plate. If it seems like more than you can handle, look for ways to pare back a bit. Ideally, your schedule will allow you to enjoy things at a pleasant pace throughout the season rather than having things pile up at the last minute. 

Treat Yourself to Some TLC

The holidays often bring on more stress, which can lead to some unhealthy coping mechanisms. For example, you might start snacking away on sugary sweets, especially since there are so many extra desserts around during this time of year. Late nights of gift wrapping or going to holiday parties can also throw off your sleep schedule, leaving you tired and unfocused in the following days. Family stress might lead you to consume an extra glass (or two) of wine at dinner.

It’s important to take care of yourself during this time of year. If you’re running on fumes, your ADHD symptoms can quickly worsen. You need time to recharge your batteries, especially since emotional regulation can be particularly tricky when you’re juggling various holiday demands along with family dynamics. Healthy lifestyle habits—like eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising, and avoiding excess caffeine and alcohol—can help you to manage your emotions and reduce stress more effectively.

In addition to thinking about your health, take moments here and there to relax and enjoy the holidays on your own terms. Whether you want to curl up under a blanket and watch your favorite Christmas movie or go for a wintry walk in the snow, having moments to decompress can be especially helpful if you’re feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated.

Communicate with Loved Ones

Remember that you’re not alone as you manage your ADHD during the holiday season. It’s always a good idea to reach out to loved ones during stressful times when you might need a little extra support. Talk to a partner, sibling, close friend, or other trusted confidante about your concerns. Ask them to have your back as you work to prevent the holidays from throwing your ADHD into a tailspin.

Another important way of communicating during the holidays is to set boundaries. It’s okay to be straightforward about what works for you and what doesn’t. For example, maybe your neighbor’s rowdy New Year’s Eve party is always too much for you, but you’d love to have them over for a quiet brunch on New Year’s Day.  

There can be a lot of pressure to do things a certain way during this time of year, but managing your symptoms is more important than pleasing others or creating the “perfect” holiday experience. In addition to communicating with loved ones, don’t forget that you can reach out to local or online ADHD communities, therapists, and medical professionals for added support.

Use these tips to help manage your ADHD during this busy time of the year. While it may require pulling back in some areas so you don’t become overwhelmed, these guidelines can help you have a happier, healthier, and less hectic holiday season.