How to Manage ADHD At Christmas

  • Are you dreading spending time with your family this year?
  • Do you feel like you are riding a roller coaster of emotions?
  • After your family have all left, does it take you a very long time to get back to yourself?
  • Do you feel guilt and shame because you feel like this? 

You are not crazy. Your dread is real. Do not let anyone tell you that you are making up stories, or that you should just snap out of this.

ADHD is often hereditary, meaning the condition and the traits, strengths and deficits, runs in families.   If you or your child has ADHD, it is likely that other family members may have ADHD too, and worse, they may not even know that they have it. Behaviour is largely brain-based. This means that you may face difficult (compensating) behaviour from family members, largely due to unmanaged ADHD.

Many people with undiagnosed and diagnosed ADHD have high IQs, and they have learned to cover over and manage their ADHD, until they reach crisis point.

Your family members may be living with years of compensating behaviours that do not serve them well, and that have major impact on other family members, yourself included! When you get together with family, their ADHD deficits may be more pronounced. It may be more stressful to be in close proximity with these family members. Your stress is real.

SELF-CARE – ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSES

If you have ADHD, you may tend to focus more on others than on yourself. You may have difficulty attending to boundaries. This may lead to overwork, stress, overwhelm and illness.

There are two categories of self-care. The first one is “Vital and necessary.” These are the non-negotiable rules of self-care that must be done every day. The second group is the “Vital” category.  The activities in this category are just as important, and you need to focus on these every day. However initially you may feel a lot of pressure around this, so I would advise you to aim for two tasks initially from this category. Every ordinary day not just when you are under stress, focus on doing as much as you can from the “Vital and necessary” group and at least two activities from the “Vital” group.

VITAL AND NECESSARY

  • Mindfulness
  • Healthy eating
  • Exercise
  • Good sleeping patterns

VITAL

  • Walking in nature
  • Getting organised
  • Getting out of your environment
  • Positive thinking
  • Having fun/laughing
  • Trying out new experiences

It’s so easy at this time of year to drop a healthy routine you’ve been building up, such as exercise or meditation. It may be so tempting to just stop all those good habits that you were working on during the year. If you make a conscious effort to keep up your self-care routine, you will have far more emotional energy to deal with potential difficulties, and you will have a much more enjoyable time with your family. There is an added benefit, when your family have all gone home, you will bounce back to yourself far quicker.

I recently renovated part of my home. I used to go for an early morning walk every morning in my local woods. Three weeks into the renovating work, I stopped my walks. It was too difficult. The builders arrived very early every morning, around the time that I left my house, and I had to get my children up and ready for school amidst all this chaos. I didn’t have the emotional energy to flexibilise myself and work around this. Reflecting on the last few months, I now understand why I started to get so stressed and why I found it so difficult in so many areas. Yes, the builders were knocking down walls in my home, and there was a lot of noise and stress, however I can clearly see that my positive mental state started to fall by the wayside when I stopped my daily walks.

PRIORITISE!

Are you trying too hard to please your family? Do you get worn out by trying too hard and spreading yourself too thin? If you have ADHD, you may find it very difficult to focus on one idea. You may tend to focus on the many different things going on around you. This leads to overachieving and burnout.

Decide ahead of time what you define as a successful family gathering. Is it the stress in creating an elaborate menu, or is it the wonderful memories that you will make with your loved ones? Decide what is important to you and stick to it no matter what. How can you create lifelong family memories? You don’t need to spend lots of time, and effort doing this. Your family members are gathering together because they want to spend time with you. The food is an added bonus. They want YOU! Make sure you carry through with your self-care routine. You will be more energised and have more focus for your family. 

When I host my extended family for Passover or any other Jewish Festival, I do my best to provide for my family what they need and want. However my priority during this time is to look after ME! If I fall apart, no one will pick me up…only myself. There may be some grumblings from family members why the food is so plain (it really isn’t) or why I haven’t made their favourite dish (I made plenty good food.) I know that I have used that extra half hour to go for a run or do something to energise myself. In this way I will be more present for my family, and much more pleasant to be around…

My family will remember my mood more than my food.

LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS

Are you a Perfectionist? It’s a common ADHD trait! 98% of all my work with my clients (and myself) is about learning tools to manage Perfectionism. We often run ourselves ragged, trying to achieve the impossible and satisfy everyone.

If you’re cooking this festive season, try to simplify your menus. I know you might feel like you are cheating. But ask yourself, who are you trying to impress with your elaborate preparations? Running yourself ragged won’t help, and will just stress you out further!

Psychologists point out that we need to replace striving for perfection with striving for excellence or I call it being good enough. Lower your standards and make your life easier.

Decision-making and prioritising difficulties often occur together. If you find decision-making difficult it may be that you are over-complicating your life.

When I get stressed, I pause, and ask myself, the following questions, “What am I over complicating here?” How can I simplify so that I can decide quickly and easily?”

EXPECT MISHAPS TO HAPPEN

Let’s face it, you can spend so much time and effort planning for your Christmas event, and just when you have everything perfect, things start to go wrong. Flexibility is one of the most important executive function skills you can acquire. According to Dr. Russell Barkley, one strength that many people with ADHD have is flexible thinking – the ability to think differently about other, often creative outcomes to your current problems.

Remember, you don’t have to get it right all the time. Expect to make mistakes, expect problems to arise. When they do, find a way to be more flexible and come up with alternative solutions. Or adapt yourself to your current situation!

Don’t expect to achieve perfection. Rather, focus on getting things to a good enough level. When you are mentally prepared for mishaps you will be able to handle them better and overcome them, moving on swiftly.

Can you find the humour in the mishaps that are bound to happen? Can you find humour in the challenging behaviour of family members? Trough laughing about them, you create learning moments for your loved ones.  You can only laugh about them when you have filled up your emotional reserves with adequate self-care.

Remember the following quote:

“Humour is tragedy plus time.” Carol Burnett

YOU ARE CREATING LONG-LASTING MEMORIES

My children’s best memories are those where we have looked at the funny side of life’s mishaps. The mishap is not so vivid in their memory, it’s the positive attitude that we had, that stands out far more in their minds. This is a most important teaching tool for life. This takes a lot of work, I am still working daily, often hourly, on this one… Little by little with each seemingly small action, you are moving forwards towards your goal.

So go ahead and arm yourself with these tools and trust yourself that you can make the best of your situation.

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