Yikes! Another article about the holidays?! Isn't it more than enough that Christmas music starts on radio stations the day after Halloween, or that every magazine has beautiful edibles on the cover and gorgeous photos of decorated homes featuring Normal Rockwell scenes? Everywhere we look, we are inundated with photos, advertisements, music, articles, TV shows, and let's not even mention the stores. We know that therapists' offices are busier at this time of year. (Well, maybe you didn't know that, but it's true.) And why is that? It's due to stress, of course, and overwhelm and inner critics and old stories. What is this all about? Likely, we know the many and varied answers to this question, but I will list them here anyway, in case you may have missed or forgotten one. The main causes of stress and angst during the holidays include:
- Extra tasks (shopping, writing cards, mailing, wrapping, cooking, cleaning, planning);
- Financial hemorrhage;
- Forced interaction with people we may not even like (even if they are family);
- Losing our routines and structure;
- Repeating old patterns from childhood;
- Gaining weight;
- Expectations, of others and of ourselves;
So how does this have anything to do with ADD?
The last item on the list, expectations, is the focus of the rest of this article. I sense that this may be the biggest stressor for all people, with and without ADD. However, adults with ADD/ADHD have even more stress during the holiday season, because accomplishing what is 'expected' can be so much more challenging than for the average person. "I often say that living with ADHD is like being in the height off the holiday season all year round", says Sari Solden, MS, LMFT, author of Women with Attention Deficit Disorder. She continues on to say, "People feel embarrassed when they can't cope well. We tend to have high expectations during the holidays and if we can't meet them, we feel like failures." This may be true for all adults, but what is different for those of us with ADD is that our challenges are much more in the spotlight at this time of year. Many of us feel that we really can't hide. Hiding is a way of life for many people with ADD, and particularly women. We may not invite people to our homes, because they aren't tidy (a huge understatement for some) or because we feel they are not well-decorated, or because the thought of planning and preparing a meal for our own families, let alone company, is simply overwhelming.
Shopping??? OMG! It's bad enough that some folks with ADD fear and/or loathe shopping at anytime, but at this time of the year? So not only do we have to do all of the things that may normally be challenging, but now there are both added and public expectations. If we actually do manage to purchase the gifts (at all or on time), we now have to wrap them. Did we remember to get the wrapping paper? Or did we choose not to purchase it because we knew we already had some, but now can't find it? Do we even have time to wrap them before we get to Grandma's or just to get them under the tree in our own homes? Or worse, what if we actually have to MAIL THEM??? OH NO!!!! Mailing is the worst! We have to figure out how to package them, determine if we have the appropriate packing materials, tape, markers and do this enough IN ADVANCE to transport them to the post office (yet another issue) in enough time to ensure delivery BEFORE the holidays are over. Often we can't even get a birthday card purchased or mailed on time during the rest of the year... how are we supposed to manage this monumental feat, in addition to everything else that is expected? And, uh-oh... what if Hanukkah is early this year? Fortunately, this year, it's not nearly as early as lit was ast year, when we celebrated Thanksgivikkah. ;-)
So if societal and familial expectations appear to be unattainable for the majority of folks, not to mention those of us with ADD, what is the solution? I contend that if you consciously adjust your expectations and DEFINE YOUR OWN TERMS of what constitutes a fulfilling and successful holiday season, you will be able to shed a great deal of angst, stress and heavy energy. What does this mean in practical terms? Here are some suggestions:
- Think about what is important to you;
- Determine the most difficult or challenging tasks and either drop them or delegate;
- SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY;
- Be creative (not in the Martha Stewart kind of way, unless you love that AND it does not cause you stress);
- Don't overbuy;
- Solicit the help of family or friends to come with you when you shop, mostly so you actually DO IT, but also to help you stay on task while you are out. (Or, if you have enough time, shop on line!)
In addition to these practical tips, I encourage you to think a bit more spiritually. Regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or another holiday, take some time to think about what is important to you at this time. Just sit quietly and let go of merchandizing, family and societal expectations, and ego. Just breathe... How do you YOU WANT this holiday season to be? Realistically, what can you let go? Try to take yourself forward in time, to when you are drifting off to sleep on 12/25, or waking up the next morning. Perhaps even further, to next year, looking back on the previous year. What do you want to remember? What do you want your family to remember? Is it the stuff, the food, the decor, or is it a feeling? If it is about a feeling, what do you want it to be? Try to really put yourself in that space... really inhabit it... Once you know how you want to BE, now decide how you want your holidays to look from this perspective.
Perhaps you can create a new tradition, one in which everyone chips in somehow or you decide that everyone will make a present for one person, like a grab, but that you have to create the gift yourself. Maybe you'll decide that you won't buy presents, but instead, create a collage of gifts you'd buy for your loved ones if you were rich, or even if you had simply had a bit more discretionary income. What if you drop some of the expected food items and make one particular treat? Maybe you and family can start a tradition of taking a walk together... you get the idea.
Once you know how you want to feel and the energy you want to create, own it and BE in that space. Even if you say what you consider to be the "right" things to family and friends, if you are just giving lip service, people know. They can feel it. Drop all expectations, unless they serve you and give yourself (and your family) permission to just be. Wherever you are and however you are, simply enjoy and what is and don't dwell on what isn't. Keep in mind that if you are a parent, you are modeling how to conduct yourself during the holiday season and you are creating memories for your children. Do you want them to remember stress and lack? Do you want them to remember gluttony and excess? You can only be who you are; no more, but quite possibly, less. Do the best you can with what you have, capitalize on your strengths, remember your sense of humor and enjoy this and every other time of the year without the pressure of living up to others' expectations. And don't forget to breathe...