by Bek Koven 

The holiday season is a busy and overwhelming season for everyone.

Most people attend numerous social gatherings, go holiday shopping, and navigate how to find time to relax during the chaos.

While this is a stressful time for everyone, this can be amplified for neurodivergent individuals. The pressure to go to social events, organize gift-giving and receiving, and act like they aren’t tired are just a few examples of why this time of year can be especially difficult for this group of people.

This article will briefly explain why the holiday season is hard for neurodivergent individuals. After that, I will give some tips on making it easier for yourself or the neurodivergent individuals in your life.

Why exactly is the holiday season so difficult for neurodivergent individuals?

Well, there are many reasons that go into this. I will focus on a few of the reasons, starting with routine issues.

So, as you likely know, many neurodivergent individuals prefer to have a solid routine, and when they stray from this routine, they may become emotional.

The holiday season is the time of year when your routine gets thrown off because you likely have to attend multiple social gatherings as this is when most people come to visit family.

You also have to find time to organize gift-giving, you have to plan what to get people, when to go shopping, wrap the gifts, and finally give them.

Now, most people do not have these sorts of activities planned in their normal routine, so they have to adapt their routine which can be very difficult for neurodivergent individuals.

Another reason the holiday season can be difficult for neurodivergent individuals is due to sensory issues and overload. The holiday season is full of lights and singing, which can lead to sensory overload and over-stimulation.

Another source of over-stimulation is having too much on one’s plate, as I mentioned before, it is likely that people have numerous social gatherings to attend during this season. Attending so many social events can also cause over-stimulation, this constant over-stimulation can lead to extreme fatigue and social burnout.

The term social burnout is something that is often overlooked and not considered, but this is something neurodivergent individuals will likely face at least once in their lifetime, but likely many times. Social burnout is pretty self-explanatory, but let’s give a simple definition so that we are on the same page.

Social burnout is the constant feeling of exhaustion, stress, anxiety, and disconnectedness due to the over-exertion of one’s social battery (Aldao, 2022).

Often, when in this state, individuals feel like no matter what they do, they do not feel that they can stay social, and seem to always be exhausted after a social event.

So, with that said, it is easy to understand how this can be a major issue during the holiday season. Often individuals have to frankly deal with it and do not feel they have a way to accommodate both their social battery and the expectations of others to attend all of the social events they have been invited to.

Tips on how to make the Holiday season easier for neurodivergent individuals

So, now that we have talked about what makes the holiday season difficult for neurodivergent individuals let’s go over some tips on how to make this season a bit easier for yourself or your neurodivergent loved one.

1) Practice Routine Adaptation

This is something that can be used for the holiday season, but also in general, is something that can be highly beneficial. This might be seen by having days where you plan for something to cause a hiccup in the routine you or your neurodivergent loved one has in place.

Now why is this beneficial? Doing this is beneficial because it teaches the individual how to adapt and cope with this need. The reason this may be helpful is that the individual is not placed on the spot during the holiday season, and they are expecting a change. This can curb strong emotions and meltdowns, which will likely help the individual feel better in general.

2) Do gift preparation in advance, do not wait until the last minute!

Waiting until the last minute can be chaotic in many ways, it can be overwhelming especially when navigating busy stores. It can also be stressful if the plan goes awry if things are out of stock or things cannot be found.

3) Take breaks

This is something that should be implemented any time not just holidays, but is especially beneficial during the chaotic time of the holidays.
This can be done in many different ways, for example, if you have multiple social gatherings in a week try and take a day in between to decompress and relax.
This is important because it can help prevent burnout and overwhelming emotions.

4) Set up sensory safe zones for yourself or your neurodivergent loved one

Quiet zones are vital for neurodivergent individuals to have access to. These give them a safe place to escape stimulating situations and prevent overstimulation.

5) Make time to share feelings with trusted family members

Open communication is key to making sure you and your loved ones are being heard and understood.
Set aside time to discuss boundaries ahead of social gatherings so that everyone is on the same page ahead of time.

6) Respect boundaries and limits

This is very important to keep in mind all the time. For example, some neurodivergent individuals do not like to be hugged. This can be tricky during the holidays, especially for family events. It’s important to respect this boundary and if your loved one sets a boundary make sure you’re not allowing others to cross this boundary.

7) Offer alternatives or accommodations

This can be seen as just allowing your loved one to leave early or open their gifts first. You can set aside time to discuss what accommodations your loved one would prefer.

Happy Holidays from the Connected Pathways Coaching Team!

Crista A. Hopp, M.A.
Crista A. Hopp, M.A.

Crista is trained to coach as an Academic coach, Executive Function (EF) coach, and individuals with ADHD. Crista can be reached through her website at www.ConnectedPathwaysCoaching.com/contact-us.