chalkboard sign of family activities

Structured Holiday Routines for ADHD Adults

Living with ADHD as an adult can present unique challenges, especially during the holiday season. Creating structured holiday routines can help minimize the chaos and overwhelm you might otherwise experience during this time of year.

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ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects a person's ability to focus, organize, and manage time. One of the key areas impacted by ADHD is executive function skills, which run your ability to plan, prioritize, and stay organized. These challenges can be particularly pronounced during the holidays, when the usual daily rhythms are disrupted by social gatherings, travel, and increased responsibilities.

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Challenges of the Holiday Season 

The holiday season, while joyous for most, can be overwhelming for ADHD adults. The combination of social events, gift shopping, and family obligations can create a perfect storm of stress and anxiety. 

For people with ADHD, the increased sensory input, changes in routine, and high expectations can make it difficult to stay focused and organized. The pressure to meet deadlines, remember important dates, and juggle multiple tasks can exacerbate executive dysfunction, leading to feelings of frustration and inadequacy. 

It's essential to recognize the unique challenges that ADHD adults face during the holidays and to seek out strategies that can help mitigate these difficulties.

Structure holiday routines for ADHD adults

The Importance of Structured Holiday Routines 

Structured routines are an essential tool for managing ADHD symptoms and navigating the holiday season with greater ease. I know what you’re thinking: “I hate routines! They’re so boooring!”

But for many of you, if you’ve had success with managing your executive dysfunction, it’s probably due to having structure in your life.

Establishing consistent daily schedules, setting reminders, and breaking tasks into manageable steps can provide a sense of predictability and control. Routines help to reduce cognitive overload and provide a framework for managing time and responsibilities. It's easier to stay on top of things when you know exactly what to expect.

During the holidays, when disruptions to routine are common, having a plan in place can serve as a stabilizing force, allowing ADHD adults to better cope with the increased demands and sensory stimuli. It’s important to create a plan before your current routines are thrown out of whack. Otherwise, it ends up feeling like you’re adding yet another thing to your life (instead of substituting to remain in control).

Planning and Prioritizing During the Holidays

Planning and prioritizing are fundamental skills for ADHD adults, particularly during the holiday season. Creating a comprehensive plan that includes important dates, deadlines, and commitments can help you stay organized and focused. 

Breaking down large tasks into smaller, actionable steps and using visual aids, such as calendars or to-do lists, can enhance the ability to plan and prioritize effectively. During this time of year, it seems like a lot of things get thrown out the window. Schedules get hectic, so it’s easy to throw your hands up and let it happen. We almost accept it as a matter of fact and know that we’ll just have to deal with the added stress and anxiety.

However, by identifying the most critical tasks and allocating time and resources accordingly, you can approach the holiday season with greater confidence and reduced stress.

Creating a Structured Holiday Routine 

Creating a structured holiday routine involves establishing a predictable schedule that incorporates essential self-care practices and task management strategies. Designating specific times for meals, relaxation, and social activities can provide a sense of stability and balance. Incorporating regular breaks and downtime into the routine can help prevent sensory overload and mental fatigue. 

Yes, this kind of sounds like what we do for our kids. But it works for a reason. Our brains like structure and know what to expect. Making sure you’re getting enough to eat and enough rest can make a HUGE difference. As a mom, you probably forget about these things. You don’t prioritize yourself. 

Once you have the everyday stuff handled, then you can look at tackling the holiday stuff. Breaking down holiday-related tasks into manageable chunks and setting aside dedicated time for planning and organization can enhance productivity and reduce feelings of being overwhelmed.

Tips for Managing Executive Dysfunction During the Holidays

Managing executive dysfunction during the holidays requires a proactive approach that addresses specific challenges faced by ADHD adults. Utilizing external supports, such as alarms, reminders, and organizational tools, can help compensate for difficulties in regulating attention and managing time. 

By now, you know that I believe in setting all the alarms to help you remember things. When you’re adding new items to your schedule, set alarms, notifications, and reminders. Remember to use different sounds for each task because you’ll be less likely to ignore new sounds.

There’s no way to wipe out all of the stress and chaos from the holidays (unless you’re spending time alone with no one depending on you). Creating a designated quiet space for relaxation and self-care can give you a much-needed refuge from sensory overload and emotional stress. Practicing mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, can help you ground yourself and manage overwhelming emotions. 

If you don’t take the time to care for yourself, you will spiral and everything will get much worse. Prioritizing your well-being before things get out of hand will make things run smoother.

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Strategies to Avoid Overwhelm and Stress

Proactive planning and self-care are the first strategies to help you avoid overwhelm and stress. 

Setting realistic expectations, learning to say no, and delegating tasks are additional strategies to help prevent overload and reduce stress levels. Do not set the bar for expectations too high. 

If you’re not naturally a  Martha-Stewart-type hostess, don’t expect yourself to magically transform into one for the holidays. If you hate hosting parties, don’t. Say no. If you’re in a situation where you don’t feel like you can stop doing these things, at least delegate the tasks you hate the most.

Establishing clear boundaries and communicating openly about personal needs can also contribute to a more manageable holiday experience. Your friends and family love you. If you’re honest with them about what you need, they should listen (without trying to make you feel bad). Let them know where your head is and what you need so that you can enjoy the holidays as much as they do.

photo of gel candle on board beside pillow

Tips for Maintaining Routines and Self-Care

As I mentioned above, I know that self-care is the first thing that gets neglected when we feel overwhelmed. Maintaining routines and self-care during the holidays requires commitment and adaptability. This is what makes it hard. When you already feel overcommitted, you can’t bear the thought of one. More. Thing.  (even if you know it’s good for you).

It's important to remain flexible and adjust the routine as needed while staying true to the core elements that support well-being. What does that mean? Figure out what things make you feel the best and make sure they happen, no matter what. You might need to be a little flexible on when and how they happen, but make sure they do.

Don’t feel guilty about taking this time for yourself. It’s not selfish. Prioritizing self-care activities, such as engaging in hobbies, spending time in nature, and connecting with supportive individuals, can help replenish energy and reduce stress.

And if you’re less stressed, your executive functioning will work better, you’ll be more pleasant to be around, and everyone will be able to enjoy the season more.

Mastering the holidays as an ADHD adult involves embracing (yeah, I said it – learn to love it!) structured routines, planning and prioritizing. By understanding the unique challenges you face as someone with ADHD and implementing targeted strategies to manage executive dysfunction, it is possible to navigate the holiday season with less stress and more enjoyment. 

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