Managing Overstimulation During the Holidays

Health Writer

It's that time of year again. The holiday season is about to begin. Six weeks from now, we will be exhausted, glad the season is about to end. But during the coming weeks there will be marathon shopping trips, holiday parties, cookies to be baked, presents to be wrapped. We will, most likely, be over-extended, stressed and over-stimulated.

Picture the young child on Christmas Day. She has been up since early morning, unwrapping gifts. The tree is lit up, there is music playing and people gathering to wish each other a happy holiday. There are treats out on the table and new toys everywhere. She is tired, cranky and over-stimulated. There have been too many temper tantrums and her parents are frustrated with her behavior. They have a choice, they can yell at her, adding to the stimulation all around her. Or they can understand the problem and either bring her into another room to unwind or put her down for a nap. Most children, once they are in quiet surroundings, can "reset" their minds. Once they slow down, close their eyes or take a nap, the over-stimulation goes away and they are once again cheerful cherubs.

But what do you do when you are an adult and it is no longer possible or appropriate to remove yourself from the situation to reset or slow down your mind. Instead, you stay at the party or the mall or even at work, when a whirlwind is going on all around you. As an adult with ADHD, you pay attention to everything, the lights, the sounds, the smells until it is all too much and you are over-stimulated and now you can't focus on anything. Your mind goes blank, you want nothing more than to run, far away from the activity.

In today's world it is easy to become over-stimulated. We live in a high-energy, fast-paced society. Everything needs to be done now. Everything is done to the extreme. Stores don't simply decorate for the holidays, they become a holiday showplace. People don't browse the stores looking for the perfect gift, they go on a mission and shop for hours. Malls are crowded beyond belief. We cram in every social event we possibly can, afraid of offending someone by saying no. We volunteer to bake cookies and cupcakes for our children's school parties. We want to experience every moment of the holidays. We don't want to miss a thing. But we end up exhausted, cranky and irritable, just like the toddler on Christmas Day.

The following are tips to help you reduce feelings of being over-stimulated during the holiday season.

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

  • Use wrapping services offered by stores or charitable organizations. Your gifts will look beautiful and you will have taken one task off your list of things to do.
  • If hosting a party or dinner, make it pot-luck, buy a deli tray and serve sandwiches or purchase pre-made foods from a local restaurant, grocery store or catering service.

  • If you feel overwhelmed in a crowded mall, shop online instead. Most stores will post a date you need to order by in order to have the gift in time for the holidays. When a gift is for someone out of town, you can have it sent directly to him or her, saving you from standing in line to have the gift shipped.

Take Care of You

  • Don't feel guilty if you must say "no" to some invitations. If you are feeling stressed or exhausted it is better to take a night off, stay home and rejuvenate yourself rather than accepting an invitation out of guilt.

  • When at a party, look around for a place you can sneak away for a few moments to calm your mind and relax. If you begin feeling overwhelmed, you will already know where you can go to be alone, at least for a few minutes.

  • Keep one night for your family. Choose one night a week that the children don't make any plans and you and your family can enjoy a relaxing evening at home.

Holiday Shopping

  • Sit down and create a budget of what you can afford to spend. If needed, break down how much you will spend on each person on your list. When headed out to the mall, choose a few gifts to shop for and bring only the money you need for those gifts to avoid overspending or impulse shopping.

  • When at the mall, set a time limit for shopping and make time to take a break, sit down and have a cup of coffee. Remember, you don't need to get everything done in one day.

Managing Overwhelm

  • No matter what you are doing, when you are feeling over-stimulated, close your eyes. Approximately 80 percent of all stimulation is visual. By closing your eyes, even for a few minutes, you will be able to limit the stimulation.
  • Take a short walk. Being outside in the fresh air helps to clear your head and increases focus.

  • Practice deep-breathing every day. When you are in a stressful situation, you can automatically start breathing deeply if you have practiced and are used to how to correctly breath.

See more helpful articles:

Handling Stress During the Holidays: 20 Tips
10 Tips for Making the Most of the Holiday Season


"ADD, Stress and Overstimulation - Living Too Close to Edge", 2010, Aug 19, Susan Meindl, Talent Development, Personal Growth

"Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast", 2002, Nov 25, Jeffrey Kluger, Time Magazine