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Simplifying the Holidays & Shrinking Stress for Adults with ADHD

Simplifying the Holidays & Shrinking Stress for Adults with ADHD “Holidays require exquisite skills in executive functioning,” according to Terry Matlen, ACSW, a psychotherapist and coach who specializes in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). That’s why adults with ADHD can have a harder time navigating the holiday season.

ADHD impairs executive functioning, making everything from planning to prioritizing to organizing that much more challenging.

But there are many ways you can simplify the holidays, shrink your stress and enjoy yourself. Here are eight tips to try.

1. Plan ahead.

Planning ahead for people with ADHD is not easy. “But if you list all the things you need to do, then prioritize them and mark them on your calendar, you’ll be further ahead and with less stress,” Matlen said.

For instance, create a list of everyone you’re buying gifts for. Next to each person write down their gift and where you’re getting it, she said. Then use the same color to highlight the same stores.

So you’d highlight a toy truck for your nephew and blocks for your baby niece in one color. This way you “remember to purchase all of the same-colored items at the toy store.”

When you’re trying to prioritize, ask yourself this question, according to Matlen: “What task will make me feel better once it’s done? Then do that so you can remove it from your worries.”

She also suggested marking every task on your calendar (or smartphone or whatever system you use) and starting tasks ahead of time, such as making sure you have everything you need a week before your loved ones arrive.

2. Simplify the food.

Matlen suggested these strategies for simplifying food: Use shortcuts, such as bagged lettuce and frozen vegetables. When possible, prepare meals before your get-together. Ask others to bring a dish, order carryout or eat out at your favorite restaurant.

3. Simplify shopping.

“Shopping for gifts can cause tremendous overwhelm for those with ADHD who are hypersensitive to loud noises, crowds, scents,” said Matlen, author of Survival Tips for Women with AD/HD. That’s why she suggested doing most of your shopping online. You avoid the chaos and find good deals.

Another strategy is to find a good vendor that ships, said Sandy Maynard, M.S., who operates Catalytic Coaching and specializes in ADHD coaching. “One of the best gifts I get every year is a box of fresh-picked oranges from Texas.”

Instead of buying gifts for individual members of a family, get a family gift, she said. Or buy everyone the same gift. For instance, buy loved ones books in the subjects they’re passionate about, such as art, writing, creativity, politics, home repair or even a beautiful calendar. One year Maynard bought all the men in her family sweaters from Macy’s.

For next year, think about buying gifts when you’re on vacation. For instance, while in Hong Kong, where silk is very affordable, Maynard bought everything from silk pajamas to silk sheets as her holiday gifts. Another year she brought back beautiful blankets from Mexico City.

4. Practice self-care.

Make self-care a priority. As Maynard said, “No medication is going to work like it’s supposed to on four hours of sleep.” (Here’s more on practicing self-care during stressful times.)

To minimize stress, keep a notepad on your nightstand, she said. If your thoughts are keeping you awake, jot them down, and attend to them in the morning.

5. Enlist help.

Ask your loved ones to help with different tasks. “Even a young child can help with setting the table and cleaning up,” Matlen said.

6. Create new traditions.

What is easier for you? What will be more enjoyable? For instance, it might be easier to host a brunch than an entire dinner, Matlen said. Or it might be more enjoyable to have pizza and watch Christmas movies or go ice-skating together, Maynard said.

7. Adjust expectations.

“Don’t try to compete with the neighbors or relatives who have less challenges and can manage all of this with less stress,” Matlen said. “Remember to make it work for you.”

8. Be around the people you love.

Be picky about the events you attend, Maynard said. And work around the events you have to attend. For instance, while you can’t skip your office party, you can arrive later and leave earlier, she said. “Make a cameo appearance.”

According to Maynard, a good mantra to follow for the holiday season is: “Less is more, and simple is best.” Remember that the holidays aren’t about fancy dinners or pricey gifts. They’re “about giving and receiving love.”

Simplifying the Holidays & Shrinking Stress for Adults with ADHD

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Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2019). Simplifying the Holidays & Shrinking Stress for Adults with ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 24 May 2019 (Originally: 21 Nov 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 24 May 2019
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