As the days become shorter in the Northern hemisphere and the holidays approach with all the social, familial and work expectations, it can be tiring, overwhelming and stressful.
For folks with ADHD, it can feel like this time of year is insurmountable.
Invitations to noisy events, family expectations, increased workloads, school exams, and the list goes on.
The reduction in sunlight can also decrease energy levels and mood.
Here’s some ideas to bolster you through the hectic holiday season.
Be willing to say no
Sometimes the best reply to all those social invitations is a polite ‘no thanks’. While the holidays are a time to connect with friends and colleagues, all those late nights and stimulating scenarios can be draining.
Protecting your energy and time by simply saying no can go a long way in supporting your mental health. As an added bonus, you’ll likely be more rested and less likely to get overwhelmed.
Also consider saying yes to smaller, intimate connections. Use the holidays as an opportunity to connect with someone you have not seen in a while who brings you joy.
Students: Celebrate your wins
For students wrapping up a busy semester in higher learning, it can be easy to hyperfocus on grades and exams and forget about your other accomplishments during the year.
Writing down some of the new books you’ve read, friends you’ve made, or reflecting on the innovative ideas of an instructor can serve as powerful reminders of how far you’ve come since the first day of school.
Make a budget
It’s easy to overspend at this time of year and for ADHD’ers it can be tempting to buy, buy, buy, especially on high interest credit cards.
Putting together a budget that aligns with your goals for the month, means you’ll be less likely to overspend.
Easier said than done, right? But studies have shown that putting the numbers into a simple spreadsheet will reduce the risk of overspending and facing down a huge credit card bill in January
Craft your own comfort and joy
All the expectations of comfort and joy that are constantly advertised to consumers can fill people’s heads with ideas of how things should be.
Remind yourself that this is not a complete picture of the world and set your own ideas on what comfort and joy means to you.
Even though there are bound to be some bloopers along the way, crafting your own holiday experiences will bring much more connection and delight than trying to meet advertisers’ unrealistic vision of celebration.
Examples of how to do this include starting a cookie exchange with friends, drawing names from a hat for family presents, or sourcing unique gifts from the thrift store.
It’s tempting to hunker down under a blanket and hide out until January. But getting outside has many benefits.
Depending on where you live in Canada, December can be a cold month but there are outdoor activities that can support your mental health and reset your perspective.
Whether it’s ice skating on the Rideau canal, snowboarding in Whistler, or taking a long walk to take in the holiday lights at your local park, the fresh air and connection to the outside world will help.
Set realistic expectations
It’s a widely known fact that ADHD’ers under/over estimate how much time it takes to complete a task. Even though it may seem like a good idea at the time, you don’t need to attend every single event, buy all the things, or learn how to make your own candles in two days.
Aim to create memories instead of striving for an unrealistic ideal.
Don’t fret social norms
There is no such thing as a normal family. Everyone comes from different backgrounds and the holidays can be especially stressful if you don’t identify with mainstream marketing messages or celebrate Christmas.
This is fine! Consider getting together with your chosen family and roasting chestnuts, or attend a ceremony that celebrates community. Reach out to folks you enjoy being with and don’t sweat the rest.
Remember: there is no one size fits all approach to the holiday season.
Do what feels right for you.
Sherri couldn’t figure out why the other moms in her son’s play group appeared to have it all together while she struggled to get her son to school on time and make it to the office without losing her cool.
During the week, she would watch in helpless frustration as her house descended into chaos every morning as she struggled to get lunches packed, bills paid, and laundry folded.
As an account manager for a popular food brand, she loved the novelty and dynamic energy of working with new people every day and offering value for her clients.
But she struggled to file her reports on time and sit through weekly planning meetings.
It was all too much and her partner was concerned she might be depressed.
When her son began struggling in school and showing signs of distress with having to sit for more than a few moments, she took him to their family doctor who asked a series of questions then recommended an ADHD assessment.
As Sherri listened to the description of how ADHD shows up, she felt a chill run down her spine.
“That’s me,” she thought. “I checked every single box.”
She started researching adult ADHD online and discovered a wealth of stories from other parents that also discovered their neurodivergence in adulthood.
Reading their accounts helped her feel less isolated and she made the decision to talk to her doctor.
After diagnosis, relief and trepidation
After a full adult ADHD assessment, Sherri was diagnosed with Predominantly Combined ADHD.
“It explained so much! All these years I thought there was something wrong with me,” she says.
“Turns out I’m just wired differently.”
But she was concerned. She had overheard colleagues making fun of the rise of ADHD related content on social media and she worried that her friends might mock her for being different.
“The TikTok videos are great, but I can see why my friends might find them silly and annoying,” she admits.
She decided to keep her diagnosis private while she worked with her doctor to find a prescription medication that would help her focus.
ADHD runs in families
ADHD is highly hereditary. When one or more members of the family have it, the odds of another family member being neurodiverse increase, up to 91%.
It’s important to remember that it is not a disease and not a curse. It's a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts brain function. There are many effective ways of managing ADHD for both adults and children and there is no one size fits all approach.
Some benefit from stimulant medication, while others learn to thrive with the right support, exercise, good sleep hygiene, and plenty of self compassion.
It’s also not anyone’s fault and despite some myths that blame sugar or video games, it’s not caused by environmental factors.
Back on track
Sherri’s doctor recommended she work with a coach and after a few sessions, she started to develop some strategies to help her cope with the mountain of laundry and dishes at home.
She was even able to help her son feel better about his diagnosis by creating more play time and exercise. He has supportive teachers and they’ve been able to find a tutor that specializes in kids with ADHD.
“As a family, we’re stronger and more connected after ADHD discovery,” Sherri says. “My son and I are closer and my partner doesn’t have to worry about me so much.”
Sherri has been talking to her manager about a hybrid work option so she can spend more time with her son and her partner has offered to take on tasks that she finds overwhelming, such as the grocery shopping and washing the dishes.
“None of it is perfect, and my life still feels messy and chaotic sometimes, but just knowing there is an explanation gives me immense peace of mind.”
Learn more about ADHD assessments.
A recent online report from ADDitude is raising the alarm about a mental health crisis for adults with ADHD.
According to their survey, 82% of adults with ADHD are in the grip of some form of trauma, at a rate much higher than the general population. These are figures gathered from U.S. statistics, Canada is long overdue for more research on this topic.
More than 50% of those surveyed placed the blame on the negative consequences of the global pandemic which in itself caused widespread loss of life, work, and social connections. Readers also indicated their mental health is worse than ever, with 74% reporting feeling overwhelmed and exhausted and more than half experiencing depression.
In the early months of 2020, physical distancing and sheltering in place were part of a strategy to keep people safe, but as time wore on, people with ADHD were especially prone to feelings of irritability, withdrawal, and apathy.
Add in the myriad ways that social media contributes to feelings of insufficiency, misinformation, and shattered attention, and it’s no wonder anxiety and stress are on the rise.
Trauma is an intense and lasting emotional response to an event over which you had no control. It can come in the form of a physical injury such as a car accident, a loss of a job you loved, bullying, or an ongoing situation that causes serious moral injury. In addition, the intense feelings can interrupt concentration and day-to-day functioning. Often physical feelings of pain, headaches, and nausea that come with trauma that can be debilitating.
Many of the symptoms of trauma and ADHD overlap and they include:
· Difficulty concentrating
· Racing thoughts
· Poor memory
· Emotional dysregulation
· Interrupted sleep and insomnia
· Impulsivity and/or restlessness
· Social withdrawal
· Substance abuse
People with ADHD often have dysregulated nervous systems that have evolved as a coping strategy so in addition to treatments that include stimulant and non-stimulant medication, finding ways to connect with your body can be a powerful method to restore some calm and safety.
Here are some measures you can take to support your mental health.
Body based or somatic therapies
Although somatic therapy is often used in treatment for people with PTSD, many people with ADHD benefit from learning how to check in with their bodies, often after years of feeling numbed out or shut down.
Somatic therapy guides you in how to feel safe in your body so that you are more present to your emotions and day to day stressors.
It’s often referred to as a road map, gently supporting you in understanding how emotions feel in your body so that you can be more aware and respond mindfully to triggers rather than feeling overwhelmed, reactive, or shut down. It also helps to distinguish between distressing external stimuli and a distraction.
It can help you build a sense of agency. For many people with ADHD, life can feel chaotic, uncertain and out of control. But tuning in with your bodily sensations can help you feel more in charge of your life.
Seek out community
It can be difficult for folks with ADHD to find a community that feels natural and safe.
One way to find like-minded people is to check out the event listings on Eventbrite or a community group listing on Facebook. With restrictions easing in Canada, many events are now being held in person with safety protocols in place. If you’re not yet comfortable meeting new people in person, there are many active mental health and social activity groups still meeting online.
It doesn’t necessarily need to be a support or mental health group to have real benefits for your confidence and sense of belonging. If you have a hobby you’re passionate about, search for groups in your area. There’s everything from kite enthusiasts to knitting groups, to pottery classes. Trying something new can bring immense rewards and help build your self-esteem.
Find a qualified therapist
Working with a therapist that understands the complexities of ADHD and has a trauma-informed approach can provide strong support and help you identify your strengths and explore and heal areas that are most troublesome.
We offer a list of therapists that specialize in adult ADHD.
It’s no secret that good therapy is expensive in Canada. But there are some ways to reduce the cost, either with a clinic that offers sliding scale options, or through a provincial benefit program that helps offset the cost.
For more information on how to choose a therapist read our post with insights from a practicing therapist.
Reduce online triggers
This is much easier said than done and there have been countless articles written about the negative impacts of too much social media or news consumption.
But for people with ADHD, it can be deeply distressing and cause lasting negative impacts on your mood and well-being.
Many smartphones now offer an option to limit social media to certain hours of the day, you can also turn off the news feeds in your settings and or consider using an app such as Freedom, to block the sites and apps that aren’t serving your overall wellness.
While there is no magic bullet to help you cope with trauma, there are incremental changes you can make that will bring some relief. You are not alone and there is help available.
If you are in crisis, don’t delay and seek help today.
Here is a list of agencies that offer real time support:
Hope for Wellness Help Line for Indigenous Peoples
(Canada-wide, provides culturally appropriate support and referrals)
Call 1-855-242-3310 (toll-free)
Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)
Crisis Centre BC
Immediate support for individuals in BC
Robbie McDonald was diagnosed with ADHD in mid-life and writes about mental health from her home in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.