Surviving the Holiday Season

Imagefive strategies to help your family cope

by Paula L. Novash

TOO MANY DEMANDS AND UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS can make the holidays ho-ho-hum. The holiday season can be magical, filled with festive celebrations and special times with family and friends. But for many, it’s also a time of frantic activity. Fitting in extra tasks like shopping, decorating and entertaining as well as attending many social gatherings in just a few weeks can seem overwhelming. Here are five strategies to help put the joy back in the season.

Adults who are dealing with the challenges of AD/HD can feel even more pressure at holiday time.

“I often say that living with AD/HD is like being in the height of the holiday season all year round,” says Sari Solden, MS, LMFT, author of Women with Attention Deficit Disorder. People feel embarrassed when they can’t cope well, she continues. “We tend to have high expectations during the holidays, and if we can’t meet them, we feel like failures.”

And coping strategies may not be as effective when familiar routines are disrupted, says Arthur Robin, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at the Wayne State University School of Medicine.

“The holidays tend to bring two major categories of stress for people with AD/HD: executive functioning deficits, when we have twenty-five things to do when we usually have ten, and interpersonal challenges, when we have to deal with people we may have limited contact with the rest of the year,” says Robin.

To cope with the stresses of the holidays, our experts suggest five strategies to get organized, relieve stress, and enjoy the holidays more.

1. Decide what works for you.

“One mistake we make is comparing ourselves to other people,” says psychotherapist Terry Matlen, MSW, author of Survival Tips for Women with AD/HD. “It’s important to focus on the things you do well and not feel you have to live up to some unrealistic standard.”

Matlen shares one of her own holiday stories. She once ordered a catered dinner for twelve and then left it in the trunk of her car on a balmy day. By that evening it was inedible.

“In the past I would have panicked,” she says. “But I called everyone and told them we were having a potluck smorgasbord of what we all had on hand. It turned out to be a great evening.”

Image2. Simplify.

Child psychiatrist James Van Haren and Beth Ann Hill, co-authors of The AD/HD Book, think you should consider relaxing your standards a little—or a lot. Instead of striving for elaborate decorations and gourmet meals, display one or two cherished ornaments. If you bake Grandma’s famous pecan pie, don’t worry if it’s a little lopsided.

“One of the most important things to remember is that you are helping your family form their own memories of the holidays with you,” Hill points out. “Do you really want them to remember how stressed you are?”

3. Have a plan.

To minimize holiday stress, Arthur Robin, MD, suggests that you “plan, plan and plan some more.” He says shopping early, making copious lists, scheduling time for tasks on paper or in a personal digital assistant (PDA), and deciding on a budget in advance makes tasks more manageable.

And try breaking chores down into manageable bites: Buy three presents a day online, visit a bookstore for multiple gifts, mail two packages.

4. Give yourself a break.

At holiday time it’s especially important to build in time for de-stressing activities: sufficient sleep; exercise; and calming rituals such as a yoga class, meditation, or taking a walk.

Our experts also recommend trying to anticipate situations that may be difficult and seeking support. Tell a coworker that you’d appreciate being able to circulate along with her at the company party, for instance, or volunteer to supervise the little cousins if joining in the group dinner preparation makes you feel overloaded.

5. Delegate tasks.

Delegate tasks when you can. Besides enlisting the help of family members, those in service industries consider it a gift to have your holiday business. You can have groceries delivered, presents wrapped, food prepared, and your home cleaned.

“I think of the holidays as an opportunity to reframe our expectations of ourselves,” says Matlen. “We may even help our neighbor with the perfectly decorated house to relax a little.”

Paula L. Novash is a freelance writer.

An earlier version of this article appeared in the December 2006 issue of Attention magazine. Copyright © 2006 by Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from CHADD is prohibited.

Posted in: Holidays