Adult ADHD & The Holidays: Tips for Making the Season Easier

Decorations, gift-giving, great food and parties — all parts of the holidays that are meant to bring joy. For people with ADHD, however, holidays can quickly become overwhelming and more stressful than celebratory.

Disruptions to routines, sensory overload, and unrealistic expectations can pull you downwards during a time of year that should be all about lifting your spirits up.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In this article, we’ll explore how you can simplify your holiday planning and prioritize your own happiness this season.

Published: December 10, 2023

Table of contents

    Make a list, and check it twice

    Planning and prioritization are common struggles for people with ADHD. It’s easy to end up only thinking about things as soon as they become urgent, which can make things even more stressful and lead to not accomplishing everything you wanted to do.

    You can make things easier on yourself by creating a short, straightforward list of all the things you want to accomplish this holiday season, such as:

    • Buying gifts

    • Planning parties

    • Cooking meals

    • Decorating

    • Traveling

    If you keep it simple, this shouldn’t take more than an hour or two, and will help you reduce unnecessary holiday stress.

    Once you have your list, give it a once-over and think about if you really need to do everything you wrote down. Do you really need to decorate your entire home, or can a few decorations suffice (if you really need any at all)? Can you create a simple meal – or simply order out – instead of that epic 6-course spread you were thinking of? Look for opportunities to reduce pressure on yourself and set realistic goals you’re able to accomplish, which will make it easier for you to enjoy the holidays.

    Simplify gift-giving

    Trying to find the perfect gift for everyone you know can be a big source of stress and consume much of your time — not to mention your money.

    Start by setting a budget for how much you want to or are able to spend. Then, make a list of all of the people that you want to get gifts for. Consider if you really need to get gifts for every single person on your list, especially if it’s stretching your budget or you’re strapped for time. There’s more to the holidays than just giving and receiving gifts!

    If you’re finding picking out a particular item to be challenging or need to get something quickly, consider gift cards! If you feel like getting a gift card is “cheating” or shows a lack of consideration — don’t. As long as you know on a high level what your gift recipient is interested in — like a specific clothing brand, books or games — a gift card is a great way to show that you care without having to find the perfect item. Most people are going to be thrilled  to be able to pick out something for themselves as long as it’s from somewhere they’re interested in.

    Finally, if you find yourself stressed out by crowds and long lines during the holiday shopping rush, try to do as much of your holiday shopping online as possible. This comes with the added bonus of being able to ship gifts directly to recipients if you’re unable (or choose not to) to be there in person!

    Get consistent sleep

    Sleep disorders are common in people with ADHD, with studies indicating that anywhere from 40–80% of people with ADHD have trouble sleeping consistently. Not getting enough sleep can make it more difficult to focus and add additional stress, while sleeping in too late — or napping too much throughout the day — can make you feel like you’re missing out on holiday time you should be enjoying.

    While issues like insomnia and restlessness can make it feel like improving your sleep is out of your control, there are simple steps you can take such as:

    • Waking up at the same time every day, which can make it easier to fall asleep more consistently at night

    • Limit caffeine consumption, especially eight hours before you want to go to bed

    • Avoid napping for too long (over 30 minutes), and take naps before 2pm at the latest

    • Take your ADHD medication earlier in the day, as stimulants can make sleeping more difficult

    Learn more: How ADHD Impacts Your Sleep And What You Can Do About It

    Stay aware of substance use

    For many people, drinking is a natural part of the holidays. However, studies have linked ADHD with an increased likelihood of drug and alcohol abuse. Additionally, alcohol consumption can worsen symptoms of depression — not to mention its obvious effects on one’s general decision-making capabilities. Hangovers following alcohol consumption can also make you feel worse both mentally and physically.

    If you’re taking stimulant medication to treat ADHD, there are important things to keep in mind before consuming alcohol:

    • Stimulant medication stimulates the central nervous system, whereas alcohol depresses it — meaning alcohol can reduce the efficacy of your medication

    • Drinking alcohol while taking a long acting stimulant can lead to unexpected intoxication outcomes – for example, if you have a reduced appetite due to your stimulant medication and are eating less, your tolerance for alcohol could be reduced

    • If you have an event at which you will be drinking more than you usually do, consider not taking your stimulant medication on that day

    Cannabis is also a common recreational drug, and studies link cannabis use — and dependency — with ADHD. If you’re using cannabis while being treated for ADHD:

    • CBD use is preferable to THC (which has more psychoactive effects)

    • Plan for cannabis use in the evening to avoid counteracting medication effects during the day

    • Use less than 1 gram of cannabis per day

    The substances you consume are ultimately your decision. However, you should be aware of their impact on your mind and body, and if you’re feeling dependent on them. If the holidays are already a stressful time for you, substance use could exacerbate that stress by reducing your ability to focus and affecting your physical and mental health. If you believe you have issues with substance abuse, you should talk to a medical professional.

    Make space for yourself

    The lights, loud chatter, and crowds of the holiday season can often lead to overstimulation — a sense of overwhelm caused by your sensory inputs being overloaded. For people with ADHD, overstimulation can cause feelings of panic and anxiety, or lead to meltdowns that cause them to lash out at others or at themselves.

    Remember that if you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s OK to step away and take a break for as long as you need to.

    You also don’t need to go to every single holiday party or gathering that you’re invited to — sometimes you might be happier just being by yourself or with your closest family, and that’s fine too! Just stay in tune with your feelings and ensure you’re not isolating yourself in a way that makes you feel lonelier.

    Remember you’re not alone

    While the holidays can be a lot to manage alongside ADHD, remember that you don’t have to do it alone. It’s OK to ask friends, family members and loved ones to help you!

    Depending on the level of trust in those relationships, consider being open about your struggles and how they connect to your ADHD. While masking your symptoms and pretending you have everything under control might feel safer in the moment, it can cause you to burn out and end up feeling isolated from people who would be willing to help out.

    If you need more support in managing your ADHD symptoms, or believe you have undiagnosed ADHD and want to explore treatment options, Frida is here to help too. Frida is one of the fastest and most accessible options for getting an ADHD diagnosis and treatment in Canada, and we handle everything from ADHD diagnostic assessments to ongoing support and medication prescriptions — including delivering them directly to your door.

    Take our quick symptoms test and see if Frida can be a good option for you.

    Frida Care Team

    We are a group of clinicians, continuous care support, writers, and creators who care deeply about patient care and ADHD. Together, we write content that we hope sheds light on ADHD and the health care space at large. You can reach us at if you have any questions!