Navigating the Festive Season: A Neurodivergent Guide

As the festive period rolls around, it’s a time filled with joy and celebrations…and for many of us neurodivergent folk it’s also filled with a mix of excitement and apprehension. The festive season can bring about significant changes in our routines, more social gatherings than we might be used to, and an array of demands and expectations that can feel overwhelming. This is my first year going into the festive season with eyes wide open (aka actually understanding why my body reacts the way it does) and I want to share something with you: you are valid, and it’s important to remember that it’s okay to experience these feelings and that there are strategies to help us navigate these times more comfortably.

Tips for Making the Festive Season More Manageable

1. Plan and Prepare:

  • Visual Schedules: Consider using visual schedules to outline your activities. This can help in mentally preparing for what’s ahead and reduce anxiety about the unknown. My husband likes to hand-draw a calendar to help him visualise what’s ahead.
  • Set Boundaries: It’s okay to say no. Attend only the events that make you comfortable, and don’t be afraid to step out for a break if things become overwhelming.

2. Creating a Sensory-Safe Haven:

  • Travel Kits: If traveling, pack a sensory kit with items that help you stay calm, like noise-canceling headphones, fidget toys, or a favorite tactile object. I’m heading to my husband’s family home over Christmas, and I am taking quite a few sensory saviours with me!
  • Quiet Zones: At home, designate a quiet space where you can retreat to decompress. This can be a lifesaver during busy family gatherings.

3. Embrace Your Routine When Possible:

  • Consistent Elements: Try to maintain some elements of your regular routine, such as meal times or bedtime rituals. This consistency can provide a sense of security amidst the holiday chaos.
  • Flexible Scheduling: Be gentle with yourself if your routine gets disrupted. It’s okay to adapt and find new ways to incorporate familiar routines.

4. Mindful Communication:

  • Express Needs: Don’t hesitate to communicate your needs with family and friends. Whether it’s needing a break from socialising or adjusting plans, honest communication can make all the difference. If possible, send an early heads up to family and friends, this will help reduce your need to advocate in the moment, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated.
  • Use Technology: If large gatherings are challenging, consider virtual connections as an alternative to stay in touch with loved ones.

5. Self-Care and Relaxation:

  • Mindfulness Practices: If you can get around it, engage in mindfulness exercises like deep breathing or colouring in, or some other hobby that requires little thought from you and lots of repetition.
  • Personal Time: Make time for activities you enjoy and that relax you, be it reading, a solitary walk, or a creative hobby.

The festive season, with all its excitement, doesn’t have to be an overwhelming source of stress. With a little planning, clear communication, and self-compassion, you can find joy and comfort during this time. Remember, it’s about creating an experience that works for you, and it’s perfectly fine to celebrate in a way that feels right and comfortable. Happy holidays, and here’s to a wonderful New Year filled with happiness and self-compassion.

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