top of page
Search
  • Writer's picturenidhi

16 Silent Nights and Fidgety Delights

Christmas is my favourite time of year. From a young age, my mum has always gone full-out, OTT with decorations, presents and festive traditions. Whilst reflecting on what I love so much about this time, I think it boils down to the following. This holiday seems to unite people: whether it be visiting family from thousands of miles away, or just simply receiving a “Merry Christmas” text from a long-lost friend. People seem to smile brighter, laugh more and act a bit kinder. But also from a neurodivergent perspective, I find the winter holidays to be a sense of comfort when it comes to routine, repeating yearly traditions like putting up the Christmas tree, making gingerbread men (with the same year-old recipe) and listening to the familiar songs on repeat.

 

However, as much as winter holidays can be utter bliss and a writer’s paradise, the festive season can unfurl numerous challenges for some neurodivergent individuals. I hope to unwrap strategies that make Christmas less about worry and more about wonder for us all.  

 

Navigating Sensory Overload

The holiday season is notorious for overstimulation. From overdecorated spaces filled with bright lights and clashing colours to the cacophony of holiday music and bustling crowds, it can be a lot to handle. The key to managing sensory overload is preparation and communication. Creating quiet, safe spaces at home or if possible, when out, can offer a refuge from the sensory bombardment. Also, using aids like headphones, tinted glasses and fidget toys can provide some relief.

 

Balancing Social Demands

Social gatherings are a staple of the season, but they can be overwhelming. This can be one of the trickiest parts of any holiday season, but my biggest tip is to remember that it is more than okay to be selective about which events to attend. You need to prioritise yourself! As much as the winter break is about reuniting with loved ones, it is also about recuperating from the busyness of daily life. So, it's importance to remember to take time out to recharge our social batteries.


Over busy holiday periods, I find using visual aids like calendars can help in preparing for the expected and the unexpected. I like to write down events I have planned each day, or throughout the week as I find it easier to visualise and digest plans. I harness my social toolbox when attending events - not just the physical items mentioned above, but also versatile, conversation topics I can use when I am meeting people I feel less comfortable with (e.g. how school/work is going, future holiday plans, one's Christmas wish list).

 

Maintaining Routines Amidst Festivity

I have spoken about routine repeatedly, and with any holiday period comes a great deal of disruption, change and possible uncertainty. Whether it is the closure of schools, and universities, or changes in work schedules during Christmas, this undoubtedly can disrupt our meticulously crafted, structured daily routines. To mitigate this, I try to maintain as much regularity as possible, like consistent waking, meal, exercise regimes and sleep times. Visual aids can again be instrumental, providing a clear structure for the days during the festive period.

 

Adjusting to Changes in Support Systems

Many social services and support networks are on break during Christmas, which can also add to a change in routine, or leave a gap in support systems. This can be very tricky, and something which is out of our control. Thus, I have found the best way to deal with similar situations is to plan. For example, if your regular therapy session is postponed for the week, maybe plan with a trusted friend or family member to check in regularly so they can provide some continuity of support. I know this isn’t the same, but it is about ensuring that there is a reliable alternative, even if it is just temporary. Additionally, ask your regular support network for emergency contacts available during the holiday time.


Dealing with Unfamiliar Environments and Travel

Travelling and visiting new places can be disconcerting, and when meeting up with friends and family, this can often be in unfamiliar households or public spaces. It is really important, if you feel at ease, to communicate with hosts ahead of the event as this could help you minimise anxiety of the unpredictable: understanding the day's events or asking for a tour of the house/venue before arriving for the event. If you have to plan to be somewhere and you struggle with time blindness, it can be useful to look up journey times ahead of schedule and set progress reminders and alarms throughout the day.

 

Confronting the Pressure to Conform

The pressure to engage in Christmas traditions and the expectations around them can be daunting. I find opening presents difficult. I am not good at facial expressions and being super animated. Since my diagnosis, as my family are aware of this, they are much more understanding and completely get that just because I may not look over the moon, doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate their gifts! It is important to educate family and friends you feel secure around about your individual needs and preferences, so they too can understand and support you as best as possible. Perhaps opening gifts in a more private setting can alleviate the pressure to react in a certain way, or maybe if everyone opens presents together, there is less of a spotlight on one individual.

 

Managing Food-Related Issues

Before I begin speaking about this, I know the holidays can be a difficult time, especially when it comes to food. If you feel this may be a sensitive topic for you, please feel free to skip over this paragraph or seek any relevant support you have available to you.


Food can be a tricky subject during the holidays. From sensory sensitivities and social eating pressure to conditions like misophonia (where sounds like chewing can trigger an emotional or physiological response) and eating disorders, the festive emphasis on meals can be a source of anxiety. To be completely honest, this is something I find challenging, hence I don’t feel entirely comfortable, or skilled to delve deep into this topic. But I do want to stress that there are ways to ease your anxieties and here are some of my tactics - asking for detailed menus in advance, having a 'no comment' policy on food and appearances, and most crucially, shifting the focus to non-food-related activities can divert attention and reduce stress. At the end of the day, the winter holiday is so much more than just about food.

 

 

In essence, creating a supportive environment this Christmas is about acknowledging and respecting individual needs. Each neurodivergent person is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Open dialogue and a willingness to adapt can go a long way in creating a holiday season that truly is the most wonderful time of the year. It means adjusting the traditional way we celebrate to accommodate everyone. By doing so, we ensure that the festive season is filled with warmth and cheer for all, regardless of neurodiversity.

 

The Christmas season is often depicted as a time of joy and celebration, but for neurodivergent individuals, it can present a unique set of challenges. The good news is that with a little planning and understanding, we can make the holidays more inclusive and enjoyable.

 

So, from me, thank you to anyone who has read or shared this blog – you have made my Christmas wishes come true! I wish everyone a festive, enjoyable, neurodivergent-friendly winter break.


Thanks for reading,

Nidhi :)



 

References


Cover image: Cindynhiart Pixabay

133 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page