Ah, the holidays. Season of flashing lights, shrill bells and a constant stream of Christmas songs on loud speakers. Let’s not forget the social obligations, which bring extra loads on already stressed nervous systems. This time of year is rough for many reasons for everyone, but especially so for those who are neurodivergent.
That’s why I’ve compiled this list of ways I get through this season relatively healthily and intact.
Prioritize Your Obligations
With all of the emphasis on family, community and social gatherings, it can be hard not to give into the pressure. Keep in mind that no one can do everything, and even people who don’t face the same challenges we do have to say “no” once in a while.
You don’t need to go to every party, volunteer or spend a lot of time shopping for the “perfect” gift. As taboo as it is to say, not all social relationships are equally important to us as individuals.
If you can only go to an immediate family member’s gathering, then politely decline the invitation to an acquaintance’s get together if you don’t have the energy. Can you shop from home for a gifts, or make them yourself? Spare yourself the added sensory load of crowded, bright and loud stores by planning ahead a little bit.
We naturally deviate from the norm every other part of the year, so what’s wrong with continuing that through the holidays?
Have An Out
What about when you start feeling overwhelmed at a holiday gathering? Do you need to try toughing it out and risking a meltdown or illness?
These cases do depend on the host and the party itself. If your host is a family member who has at least some understanding of your needs, they should be alright with letting you hang out in a quiet room until you start feeling steady again.
Many gathering places may also have a quieter area for guests to take a break from the noise and the crowd. Again, there’s no harm in asking about it beforehand, or making that accessibility a deciding factor in whether or not you attend that function.
Watch Your Health
Being able to take care of yourself is vital, especially this time of year. Sleep is a huge factor for a lot of neurodivergent people, but it can be hard to come by with all of the obligations piling up. This is where prioritization comes in again.
Think about what you feel you really need to do and what you realistically can do before diving in. If you still feel overwhelmed, ask for some help from friends or family. If addressing cards is too hard for you, why not join forces with someone else? You can stuff the envelopes for both of you and the other party can address them.
That idea can be applied to almost any aspect of planning ahead for the season of giving.
Diet is another important element to remember. With all of the rich foods available, it’s hard on everyone to eat properly this time of year, but it can be downright dangerous for those with allergies and food-related illnesses. Sensory aversions make it difficult, too.
There are a few things you can do to make the food issue easier to handle:
- Bring a “safe” dish to share at holiday parties. It’s already custom in some places to bring something for everyone to try, so why not insure there’s at least something there for you to eat, while you’re at it?
- Talk to the host beforehand about food selection, labeling or at least to ask what they’re planning on serving.
- Eat before you go, especially if you know there won’t be much there for you to dine on.
- Don’t force yourself if you don’t want to or can’t eat something. Nothing ruins a night faster than a visit from the paramedics or feeling sick.
For some reason, food will always be an area of contention for some people, but know that you are the one who has control over what goes in your mouth.
This may be a season of excess, but that doesn’t mean you need to make yourself sick or uncomfortable to participate. By doing what you can, and not pushing yourself in the name of what others want you to do, they can be much more enjoyable than they may have been in the past.