Avoiding Holiday Burnout

Jillian Enright

Avoiding Holiday Burnout

Advice for my fellow Autistic-ADHD-anxious-introverts

What helps

With the holidays coming up, you might be really looking forward to time spent with family and friends. You might be dreading it. If you’re anything like me, probably a bit of both.

I love spending time with my family and close friends. One of my best friends is very much into the holidays, so she gets very excited about getting everyone together and hosting dinners.

These are my close friends (who are few) with whom I feel very comfortable and am able to be myself, so it’s much more relaxing and enjoyable to celebrate with them.

That said, something can be both very enjoyable yet still exhausting, and that is the case for all the visiting and socializing during the holidays.

If you’ve ever found yourself completely run-down, exhausted, and totally burnt-out after the holidays, you’re definitely not alone.

This is more common for neurodivergent people — (Something I explain in greater detail in my article, Autistic and ADHD Burnout), but it can affect anyone.

ADHD and Autistic Burnout

One particular point I wish to expand on is the strain of masking. Especially during the holidays, there can be a social expectation to attend parties, dinners, gatherings, and do lots of people-ing. Sometimes even more challenging, there is a social expectation to be “cheerful”, merry, bright, and all that crap.

Masking — putting on a persona to avoid rejection and criticism — may be necessary sometimes for our self-preservation, but that alone can take a huge toll on our psychological and emotional health.

Give yourself permission to turn down invitations if you need to, and be your authentic self where it feels safe to do so. Whether you’re more like Scrooge McDuck or Will Ferrel in Elf, your feelings about the holidays are entirely valid.

What works for me won’t necessarily work for everyone, but I will share some strategies I’ve learned in the hopes you might find them helpful.

Happy Holidays!

Schedule downtime

Schedule it in, otherwise, it may not happen. Make it a priority. Say no upon occasion, when you notice your list of commitments starting to grow, or when you just don’t feel like doing the thing.

Rest when you can. If you’re someone who feels guilty for “doing nothing”, remember: self-preservation and self-care are not nothing, they’re vitally important. (Yes, easier said than done, I find this difficult too — working on it!).

Wear headphones

It’s worth the investment in some noise-cancelling headphones, especially if you’re noise-sensitive, or become overwhelmed by loud and busy environments.

Not only that, I find they help with other types of sensory overload too. For example, if a lot of people are talking and you need a break from conversation, putting on headphones will send a clear message that you’re not available for chatting at the moment.

Music is also one of my favourite self-regulatory activities. I love listening to my favourite songs really loud, immersing myself in the sound, and losing myself in the music. It’s a whole-body experience for me, and it really helps me reset when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Also, music can simply be enjoyable for its own sake.

Calming activities

Keep a reserve of calming activities. When you’re feeling upset or burnt out, it can be harder to think of things you enjoy doing, and things that help reduce your stress. It helps to have a box or shelf with some fidgets, sensory items, books, or whatever you prefer.

My favourite is reading, always reading. I also enjoy doing puzzles, painting and going for walks.

Find your stim

Find the stim that works for you. For me, it’s really loud music that takes over my whole nervous system. I also find tapping really calming. I tap on my shoulder or the inside of my wrists, or I tap each of my fingers to my thumb in succession.

Sometimes I shake my hands out or twirl my hair. I also do “cricket feet” where I rub my feet together. Some people like to flap their hands, jump, run, rock, twirl… whatever works for you, give it a go!

Read my article about Autistic and ADHD burnout on Invisible Illness.

Happy Holidays!

…or humbug. Whichever you prefer.

© Jillian Enright, ADHD 2e MB

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ADHD and Autistic Burnout

I was Masking for So Long, I Lost Myself

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References

Barkley, R. A. (2015). Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: A handbook for diagnosis & treatment. The Guilford Press.

Belmonte, M. K. (2020). How individuals and institutions can learn to make room for human cognitive diversity. In Bertilsdotter Rosqvist, H., Chown, N., & Stenning, A. (Eds). Neurodiversity Studies: A new critical paradigm. Routledge.

de Vries, B. (2021). Autism and the Right to a Hypersensitivity-Friendly Workspace. Public Health Ethics, 14(3), 281–287. https://doi.org/10.1093/phe/phab021

Livington, L. A., Shah, P., Happé, F. (2019). Compensatory strategies below the behavioural surface in autism: a qualitative study. The Lancet Psychiatry, 6(9), 766-777. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30224-X

Russo, F. (2018). The costs of camouflaging autism. Spectrum News. https://www.spectrumnews.org/features/deep-dive/costs-camouflaging-autism

Walker, N. (2021). Neuroqueer Heresies: Notes on the neurodiversity paradigm, Autistic empowerment, and postnormal possibilities. Autonomous Press.

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Neurodivergent. 20+ years social work and psychology experience. I write about mental health, neurodiversity, advocacy, education, and parenting. Founder of Neurodiversity MB. CYW, BA Psychology.

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