People with ADHD can easily get overstimulated any time of the year, but during the holiday season, the chances of getting overstimulated are greatly amplified. I know this because I have ADHD myself, and I specialize in helping other people with ADHD learn ways to manage their brains. The holiday time can be really fun and special for many people, but for others, the holidays can bring up painful traumatic memories. It can be easy for people with ADHD to go overboard by having “too much fun” (to the point of burnout) or to get so withdrawn that they feel ultra-depressed, un-motivated, and their sense of self-esteem plummets. People with ADHD get overstimulated faster than neuro-typical people because emotional regulation and impulsivity are executive functions that are often impaired with people with ADHD. How can you balance your energy during the holidays so that you can make the most of your time? If you’re someone who gets overwhelmed this time of year, this post is for you!
- Pre-pave your events. Pre-paving is a way of psyching yourself up before an event occurs. You play the event through in your mind (or on paper) so that all good things happen. For example, you could say: I arrive at the event at just the right time. I see some of my favorite people right away. All my favorite snacks and drinks are easily available. I wear just the right attire for the weather. I am really happy, am laughing a lot, and am having a great time! Important note: DO NOT pre-pave negative “what ifs” like what you’ll do if someone is mean to you, or what you’ll say to someone you don’t like. Only pre-pave the positive things you want to happen. Don’t focus on preparing yourself for negative situations.
- Check with your doctor or naturopath, but consider taking some L-Theanine before the event (or just taking it every day as part of your supplement routine). L-Theanine is an amino acid that helps promote relaxation. I find it very helpful for public speaking events, as it doesn’t impair cognitive function.
- Consuming caffeine, alcohol and sugar can be overstimulating for anyone, but these things are especially overstimulating for people with ADHD. Instead of focusing on not having these items, focus on hydrating with plain water (or water with electrolytes) prior to having any caffeinated, alcoholic or sugary drinks. Instead of focusing on not having dessert or other sugary treats, focus on having some healthy foods prior to eating anything sweet. Eating a combination of protein, healthy fat, and fiber, will help you stabilize your energy and will help your blood sugar stabilize so that you can have a treat or two.
- Schedule short time frames for your events. Is 2 hours socializing your max? Drive separately if needed. Know your limits. You could also take a break from social events to go walk your dog (or someone else’s??), or just go out and get some fresh air on your own. Schedule some boundaries for yourself so you’ll have a good excuse to go home early. Or if you can’t leave for some reason, bring a portable craft project (like knitting or coloring) so that you can have some quiet down time in the midst of all the socialization.
- Stick with your meditation practice (or start one). This will help you calm your mind while you’re meditating, but you’ll feel the calming benefits throughout the day as well. There are plenty of meditation apps and YouTube videos out there, or just set a timer and sit quietly for a few minutes.
- People with ADHD can be extra sensitive to other people’s moods and emotions. Untangle your energy from other people. Keep your energy to yourself, and let other people have their own energy. Similar to meditation, combat energy entanglement by using this mindfulness practice as soon as you wake up, while you’re falling asleep, and many times throughout the day. The one I like to do is called “bubbling up”. Imagine white light coming down into the top of your head, through your body, out your hands and your feet. Then imagine a grounding energy (whatever comes to mind first… soil, water, rocks, pine needles, wood, grass… whatever you want) coming in through your feet, up through your body, out your hands, and out the top of your head. Then imagine yourself incased in a bubble of white light: 10 feet above you, behind you, below you, in front of you, and to your sides. Intend to stay in this bubble 24/7.
- Sound can be really overstimulating for people with ADHD. Use earplugs if needed. Keep your headphones charged. If you need to re-center yourself in the midst of the holiday chaos, you can turn on your favorite music, white noise, or your favorite podcast, and go for a walk or just relax by yourself for a few minutes.
- Know yourself. Are you a people-pleaser? Many people with ADHD are. It can be equally as taxing to say “no” to something you don’t want to do as it is to say “yes” to something you don’t want to do. Start to curb your habitual people-pleasing by building awareness for when you’re doing something you don’t want to do. Create a list on your phone for creative and confident ways to say no. You are well on your way to practicing self-advocacy!
- When one of my dogs gets overstimulated, she has learned to walk over to her toy bin and starts playing with a toy. It is very calming for her. What could be the equivalent for you? Do you like crafting? Using a foot massager? Rolling out with a foam roller? Playing a game on your phone? Squeezing a stress ball or fidget spinner?
- Weighted blankets are awesome for calming the nervous system. I have also heard that the Hug Sleep Pod (a blanket that hugs you when you sleep) is a great way to swaddle yourself. I love using microwavable neck wrap. You can also get microwavable booties to warm your feet. What kind of cozy things do you like snuggling up with?
- Prioritize sleep! This will help you SO MUCH!! It can be hard to curb your habit of late night Netflix, games on your phone, and late night snacks, but you can do it!! Train yourself to align your sleep schedule so you can go to bed at a reasonable hour and wake up on time. When you can do this, you will have a much easier time regulating your emotions, focusing, curbing your impulses, planning, and keeping your home organized!
- This time of year is extra important to learn to stay grounded and centered. Check out my blog post about grounding for some extra tips. By keeping your energy grounded and centered, you’ll start to notice a ripple effect on the people around you. They will have an easier time staying grounded and centered as well!
- Make time for self-care activities that calm your nervous system and improve your mood. Do you like massages? Acupuncture? Warm Epsom-salt baths? Aromatherapy? By taking time out to do these things this holiday season, the people in your life will thank you!
- Practice self-compassion. Join groups on Facebook for people with ADHD, listen to podcasts, read/listen to books, and learn to be kind with your inner dialog.
I know there are still SO MANY more things that I could add to this list. What are your favorite things to help you manage your energy during the holidays?
By Jean Prominski, Certified Professional Organizer
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