Why ADHD and the Holidays Don't Always Mix

Health Writer

If you have ADHD, you know the importance of structure and routine. They are often what keep you grounded and help you manage your everyday life. The holiday season can be anything but routine and structured. It can send your attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms into overdrive and when your symptoms are not managed properly, your life seems to fall apart. You might notice your performance at work goes down, you become more forgetful, you lose track of what you are doing. You might feel like you are spinning your wheels and accomplishing little.

The following are five reasons ADHD and the holidays don’t mix and what you can do to keep your life on track.

  1. There is an increase in clutter around your house. Clutter is an ongoing battle for many people with ADHD. Disorganization and distraction lead to piles of papers and items around your house. When the holidays come around, the clutter intensifies. There are decorations, trees, boxes, and wrapping paper scattered around. Your normally chaotic household becomes even more chaotic and you can feel boxed in and overwhelmed.

What you can do:

Reduce the clutter. Physical clutter overloads your senses, causes inattention by increasing distractions, can impair performance, and can make you feel stressed according to a study completed at Princeton University. It’s okay to skip the decorations or forego having a large tree in the middle of your living room. You control the flow of “stuff” that is in your house and if the minimalistic version of the holidays helps you stay on track, then stop the flow of stuff before it begins.

  1. You might overindulge in rich foods, sugar, and alcohol which can exasperate ADHD symptoms in some people.

What you can do:

While there is limited evidence linking diet to ADHD symptoms; a healthy diet may reduce symptoms of ADHD according to Harvard Health. Make a list of the three or four foods you look forward to eating during the holiday season. Indulge on those and let the rest pass you by. Just because the food is there doesn’t mean you have to eat it if you are going to pay for it later. Indulge enough so you don’t feel deprived but focus on eating healthy the rest of the time.

  1. Daily structure and routine disappear. You already have a full life and can hardly keep track of your responsibilities. Now, you have to add in shopping, cooking, baking, get-togethers, and extra school events for your children. You might feel like you are in freefall. Your routine helps keep you on track and focused on what needs to be done and without it, you feel like you are in a fog and that nothing is accomplished.

What you can do:

Create a new routine. If the holidays throw your routine way off, instead of trying to “go with the flow” sit down and create a holiday routine. During your children’s time off from school, schedule those fun extra events and shopping trips, but also plan for down time and self-care. Your routine might change but you’ll feel better knowing there is still a plan in place.

Routine is especially important for children with ADHD. Keeping a routine in place can lower impulsive behavior according to a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. And making sure you and your child get enough sleep is extremely important. Children with ADHD who received a behavioral sleep intervention had reduced ADHD symptoms and improved quality of life and daily functioning according to a study published in 2015.

  1. Regular exercise goes away. Exercise is extremely important for people with ADHD. It helps to minimize symptoms, keeps hyperactivity down to a manageable level, and helps regulate your mood. When you don’t have the time to exercise, it is harder to manage your symptoms.

What you can do:

Set aside time each day for exercising. Make it a priority even if you have to cut out other activities. You might have to be creative or change your regular exercise regimen, but you can still get your daily exercise. If your gym is closed, take a walk. Use online videos to exercise at home or go for a family bike ride. Numerous studies, including one published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, have shown that exercise can improve cognitive performance and brain function and reduce symptoms of ADHD.

  1. Anxiety levels increase. Whether it is the extra hustle and bustle of the holidays, the worry about finances, the dread of family get-togethers, or missing family who aren’t around, anxiety levels are often higher during the holiday season.

What you can do:

Make sure to plan for down time. Meditate, read a book, plan one thing you enjoy doing each day. Plan for family visits emotionally and physically; set boundaries. Be prepared. If your anxiety levels are interfering with your daily functioning, talk to your doctor. Anxiety can be a result of living with ADHD or it can be a separate condition; your doctor can help you decide whether treating anxiety with medication or cognitive behavioral therapyis right for you according to Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

See more helpful articles:

Tips for Managing the Holidays With Adult ADHD

Holiday Depression in Adults with ADHD

Managing Overstimulation During the Holidays

Surviving the Holiday Season With Children With ADHD

Managing Social Gatherings With Adult ADHD