Ask Dr. Saline: How Do I Set Myself Up for Success This Holiday Season?

menorah and christmas tree Dear Dr. Saline,

I’m a 26 year old man with ADHD. I’ve always found the holiday season overwhelming, but especially the last couple years since I moved away from home. The travel, gift planning, and non-stop parties leave me exhausted. I know it’s important to catch up with family and friends but when it’s all compressed in a short period of time all I want to do is run and hide. Do you have any suggestions about how I can get through the holidays without letting stress get the better of me? 

Thank you,


From Dr. Saline

Dear Victor,

This is a timely question! For many of us, especially those with ADHD, the holiday season is a time of stress. With countless parties, family dynamics, shopping in crowded stores, and travel, it’s no wonder people feel overwhelmed. Fortunately, there are a few tactics you can use to help set yourself up for success during the holidays. In fact, you may even find you enjoy the holidays more than you expected. When you focus on self-care, planning ahead, pacing, and staying present, you’ll be better prepared to handle whatever this busy time of year has in store (no pun intended!).

Make Self-Care a Priority

The holidays are about expressing gratitude and giving. We give our time, energy, and kindness to our loved ones. And this is truly one of the great joys and privileges of life. But all this giving of ourselves can leave us spent and feel like we’re running on empty. That’s why self-care should be a priority during the holidays.

Take time to refuel and relax. It’s a busy time of year, so you may need to actually schedule self-care time by blocking it off on your calendar. Make time to get exercise, mediate, or climb into bed extra early with a good book. Be deliberate about taking time for yourself so you can rest and enjoy doing something to help you unwind and prepare for the next round of running around.

Plan Ahead

very effective way to avoid overwhelm during the holidays is to plan ahead. Use a digital calendar or a paper one and sketch out what the next couple weeks look like. Jot down important dates, reminders and deadlines. Todo lists are another great way of keeping track of everything that’s going. It’s easy to forget even important tasks when there’s so much going on. Keeping a list and tracking the when’s, what’s, and where’s will relieve you of unnecessary holiday stress.

Feeling ready and confident ahead of social gatherings is important for those with ADHD. Think about who will be at the party and what topics might come up in that setting. Prepare a few things you might like to share. Lastly, review some communication strategies which will make conversations more comfortable and enjoyable for you.

Pace Yourself

Whatever your obligations, the one thing you want to avoid is wearing yourself out by trying to squeeze in too much. What “too much” looks like varies person to person, so you’ll need to see what’s best for you. Consider how much “active” time you can handle before needing a break and plan your time accordingly. If doing all your gift shopping in one day is a good strategy for you, then great. But if it feels like too much, spread out your shopping across multiple days or weekends.

The same approach applies to socializing. Most folks can’t handle more than 1 or maybe 2 social events in a day. Instead of overcommitting and needing to skip, only plan on attending the gatherings you will actually have the energy to handle. If you need to decline a party invitation, you can always suggest meeting the host for coffee or a walk to still have the chance to catch up. One on one or small group activities are much easier for those with ADHD. So if appropriate, give yourself permission to skip a large and noisy party and find other opportunities to connect with friends and family.

Stay Present

With so much going on around holiday celebrations, it’s easy to feel like your mind is spinning out in different directions. To keep your anxiety and stress from taking over, see if you can stay present and focus on enjoying the beauty of the moment. Turn down the volume on negative self-talk and calm your thoughts and your body. When you block out the constant hum of what’s happening around you, you can stay in the moment and engage your senses. Notice how nice it feels to hug a relative you haven’t seen in a while. Savor a delicious meal. Sing or listen to some favorite music. Bring awareness to the joy of sharing a good laugh with friends. Slow down and enjoy all the goodness that the holiday season brings.