I love everything about every winter holiday, even if I don’t celebrate all of them.
I love lights, glitter everything (obviously), all-velvet party outfits, sweet treats, hot liquids, being kind to each other, cheerfulness, and general frivolity. All of these are things I associate with the winter holiday season – which to me includes Thanksgiving!
But at this time of year, life can be tricky as well.
I am easily overwhelmed by the number of events and activities I want to attend. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) kicks in and it can last weeks until I realize I’m depressed. It’s expensive to buy gifts for the people I love. I want to do ALL THE THINGS and still maintain a sense of peaceful calm in my day-to-day experience.
On top of all that, it’s cold as anything outside. Often my body just wants to curl up in bed with a book and do nothing all day.
Having ADHD at this time of year also isn’t really convenient. But, I have picked up a few tricks over the years that may help you survive the season with your emotional state intact!
Quit Whatever Stresses You Out
Sending holiday cards has always felt like a really neurotypical activity to me. There is so much planning and organizing and attention to detail involved.
You have to set a date for the photoshoot and organize the family for it. Then you have to upload the photo to a card-making website, pick a design, and place an order.
When the cards arrive, you have to address each envelope to the list of friends and family that you’ve already put together. Then you have to stamp everything and get the entire stack to the post office.
I’m exhausted by having made that list. It’s far too many steps. I would probably get stuck at the card ordering stage. I wouldn’t be able to pick one, and I’d say “I’ll come back to this later”. Of course, I would then forget about it until next year.
I would feel bad about myself because I had set out to do something that I really wanted to do and failed at it.
Instead of going through all that, I just don’t send holiday cards to anyone. I love the idea of it! But the stress far outweighs the dopamine hit of putting the letters in the mail.
This time of year, there’s so much going on, and we should be doing everything we can to lighten our load. This might mean letting go of some traditions that just aren’t worth it anymore.
Maybe you’re hanging on to something that’s meaningful because you did it as a child. I understand the urge to want to continue it. But don’t do it at the sake of your own mental health. You can still hold on to memories of traditions past, and create new ones that are easy to do and don’t burn you out.
This is a critical time to slough off anything that doesn’t serve us anymore, and to only do what we know we can handle.
If you’re not sure what to scratch and what to keep, make a written list of all the holiday goings-on that you can think of and be honest when you consider how much work goes into each of them.
Set Gift Limits and Expectations
If you just LOVE to give and receive gifts, and it’s not draining your accounts, feel free to skip over this section entirely. If it’s a constant source of struggle and frustration, continue on!
Gift giving has been a historical problem for me for a variety of reasons.
I’m not particularly good at it. I rack my brain starting in October and November. But I just can’t think of many thoughtful things to give my friends and family. My gift ideas usually miss the mark.
It’s also extremely expensive. I have a large family (there’s 10 of us!) and a fair amount of close friends. I do want to give all of them something nice to show that I love them. Yet my wallet doesn’t agree.
Plus, there’s always that one-side inequity of giving or receiving a gift that isn’t reciprocated. Whether you’re the giver or the receiver, it’s awkward.
But it doesn’t have to be this way, and it’s perfectly reasonable for you to set an expectation with everyone.
Talk to the People in Your Life
Start with your family. Do you have a family member who goes all-out with giving? Take them aside, quietly, and tell them you love and appreciate their gifts, but you’re not going to be able to totally reciprocate. It’s okay to be honest, whether it’s because you can’t afford it or you are having a very difficult time with ideas, or whatever your own very legitimate reason is.
Preferably, don’t do this at the holiday you’re celebrating because emotions are running high. Do it at a completely random time of year, or right now before all of the shopping is done!
With friends, it’s okay to just stop exchanging gifts altogether, but make sure you are telling them about your intention. You’d be surprised to find how many people buy gifts because they think they will receive them.
If you still want to participate in gift giving, whether with family or friends, set a monetary limit. Ensure that it’s fair to everyone and promise to stick to it. It will relieve a load of stress on all involved!
If you think you’re the friend who goes wild with the gifts, don’t beat yourself up. Just try to be conscientious, and maybe ask some of your friends and family how they really feel about it.
It’s Not Always About the Presents
Gifts are a wonderful way to show we care, but they are not the only way.
Spend time with the people you love right now, and invite them along to all the activities you want to do. Plan a holiday brunch, have a friend over for a cup of hot chocolate and some chit-chat, take your parents to see a movie, shop at a holiday market with your spouse. Just show up to show you care.
Offer to help a friend or family member who needs it, especially this time of year. Have a friend who just had a baby? Cook them some dinners! Did your sibling just have surgery? Run their errands for them! Think about the people in your life who need any kind of help that you can give readily.
Alternatively, a beautiful card with a handwritten note about how much you appreciate a person is something they can cherish forever. Stuff will come in and out of style – kind words are always in fashion.
Plan Early for Gifts, Bonuses, and Charitable Giving
Maybe you really want to give a lot of gifts to everyone you know.
Perhaps you come into contact frequently with people in the service industry for whom you want to give bonuses.
Or, you’re possibly one to give out a lot to those in need through charitable giving.
Do it, but first make a budget and then carefully track your spending, in any way that works for you.
Make the plan early, and help yourself stick to it by including some extra money in the budget that isn’t allocated to anything in particular, but that you can use at discretion. Save it for those moments when your impulses win out and you have to buy that amazing digital food thermometer for Aunt Susan.
Generate a list of all the people for whom you want to give gifts, and set a total limit for each. Keep track of what you’ve spent for each person and charity on your phone. Looking at those numbers daily will help you realize if you’ve already gone too far and need to reel it in.
If you’ve already started buying as you’re reading this, it’s not too late! Make a retroactive plan now, and apply the total of what you’ve spent for everyone already. It can help you contain your spending for the rest of your list, as well as provide a basis for next year’s budget.
If you want to give out cash gifts, pull out $10 here and there starting in September so that you don’t feel like you’re making a huge withdrawal in December that’s going to hit your wallet hard.
You Don’t Need Decorations to Be Festive
I want to be the kind of Instagram-perfect person who goes all out decorating my house for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Chrismukkah, and all the other holidays. I dream of buying garlands and streamers and vase fillers and twinkly lights.
But I have to face facts. I can’t afford it, I don’t have time for it, and I’m not really good at it.
So, I don’t do much decorating. I put out festive candles, I have a few pumpkins and Halloween decorations, we hang up a beautiful Hanukkah wreath and some outdoor winter lights. It’s sparse but it makes me happy.
You may be the type who loves to go all out and has the means to do it. I think that’s awesome! Send me pictures of your finished decorations anytime!
But if it’s a yearly source of shame, frustration, or irritation, here’s a reminder for you: you can simply say “no thanks”.
No thanks to cursing at your spouse as you try to balance on a rickety ladder and hang lights that eat up your electricity bill. No thanks to hours of lugging plastic cartons up and down the stairs as you switch out between Halloween and Thanksgiving and Hanukkah and Christmas and Kwanzaa things. And no thanks to looking around at a fully decorated room and not really liking what you see after all your hard work.
I promise that you are no Grinch if you’re not decorating.
If you still want to be around festive trimmings, there are so many places that do it up with holiday décor and are often free to hang out in. Winter markets, garden centers, outdoor shopping centers, drive-through light displays. For the ultimate paid experience in the US, check out Enchant if it happens near you.
It’s okay to let go of your own expectations of how your home should look for the holidays, and to just find other ways to get your fix.