People all around you are excited about the upcoming weeks. Many are talking about the large family gatherings and the holiday parties. They might view the social part of the holiday season as the most fun. But for adults with ADHD, holiday gatherings are often overwhelming. Some dread the idea of being in a room full of people. Their hypersensitivities are in high gear, they feel lost in a sea of conversations and distractions — lights, noise, crowds. Even the general feelings of excitement can cause those with ADHD to pull away and shut down.
Before you go
Before you head out the door to attend a family function or social event, spend some time in preparation. Make a list of your problematic ADHD symptoms and specific difficulties and then work with your partner, friends, or therapist to come up with strategies:
Focus on listening skills. Many adults with ADHD find listening a hard skill to master. Your mind might be going a mile a minute, making it hard to follow conversations, while impulsiveness might cause you to interrupt or blurt out responses at inopportune times. Some people find it helps to watch someone’s mouth move as they are listening. Ask questions to be more engaged in the conversation. Ask people you trust to help you practice.
Learn about unspoken communication. People with ADHD often have a difficult time reading and using social cues, such as tone of voice, eye contact, and body posture. Spend some time reading about unspoken communication in others to help you interrupt the meaning behind their words. Don’t forget about your own body language. Video record yourself talking with a friend and replay the recording, paying attention to your tone of voice. Do you sound friendly, angry, bored? What does your body language say? Are you facing toward the person, showing you are open to the conversation, or are you looking in other directions, signaling you can’t wait to end the conversation?
Create a list of stock phrases to use. Sometimes, being overwhelmed means you can’t remember what to say or what to do when you forget someone’s name. Make a list of short stock phrases to use, such as, “What type of work do you do?” or “How is your family?” or “I am not very good at names, could you tell me yours again?” Being prepared for different situations can help you feel more comfortable. Think about the people who will be attending and come up with phrases and questions that are tailored to this particular group.
Be selective in choosing events to attend**.** If you have a number of invitations and are feeling overwhelmed just thinking about going to all of them, it’s okay to choose a few and politely decline the others. You don’t have to go simply because you were invited. Decide which ones you consider mandatory (family, close friends) and send your regrets to the others. When you choose, you feel more in control of your life and this shows in your interactions with others.
Keep a calendar of events. You might have children’s recitals to attend, work parties, and family gatherings. Write down every event on a calendar to help keep you organized. Your overall stress level will decrease if you can envision your overall plan for the holiday season.
Make a goal for the event. Head to your event with a plan. You might want to practice listening skills and create the goal of paying attention during two conversations, or practice asking other people questions rather than talking about yourself. Make your goal achievable and measurable. When you leave, review your goal and think about what you did to help accomplish it. This helps you leave with a positive feeling about the gathering.
Practice. The more you practice what you see as your problematic areas, the better you will be able to handle them with grace. It might be easier to avoid social gatherings altogether to avoid embarrassment or feeling overwhelmed, but in the long-term this just makes social events harder to manage.
Plan for quiet time before and after the event. Plan to have an hour free before to meditate, read a book, or just sit quietly. Do the same afterward to help calm your mind.
At the event
Preparing for a successful social event doesn’t stop when you head out the door. There are ways you can make the event easier for yourself:
Make sure you eat**.** If the gathering is mostly appetizers and drinks or the meal isn’t going to be served for several hours after you arrive, eat a well-balanced meal before you go. You will feel more in control if you aren’t fighting off hunger. Avoid alcohol, as this can cause an increase in ADHD symptoms.
Survey the room to find a place to sit or stand that is relatively free of distractions. You don’t want to sit down next to a music speaker or across from blinking lights. Find a relatively quiet corner where it will be easier to converse with other people. Let them come to you.
Ask your hostess how you can help. Keeping yourself busy can keep restlessness at bay. Help by clearing plates, refilling drinks, putting appetizers on trays. Your hostess might appreciate the help; if she declines, politely let her know you are more comfortable if you keep moving.
Bring a babysitter with you. If you have children and are bringing them along, consider hiring a teen to come look after your children, or offer to pay one of the older cousins at the event to keep your children occupied. You will reduce stress and give yourself time to focus on you rather than constantly being interrupted or worrying about your children.
Remove yourself from the festivities for 10 minutes. Ask your hostess if you can sit quietly in a bedroom or den for 10 minutes. Bring along a 10-minute meditation to help calm your hypersensitivities. Or take a short walk outside. Sometimes removing yourself for a few minutes will allow you to enjoy the rest of the party.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of Idiot's Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot's Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love and Essential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.