Avoid Winter Holiday Season Stress

June 5, 2024

December brings what for some is the most wonderful time of the year: the winter holidays, or December holidays. In our regular Lunch N Learn series, we learned from Haley Moss a little bit more about making this (often) stressful time of the year a bit more accessible for our autistic and neurodivergent clients, friends, and love ones. It’s even more stressful if you have a mental health condition.

Talking About Holidays Inclusively

Throughout this blog and our holiday content, we are referring to this season as the winte holidays or December holidays. Haley previously wrote about making holiday celebrations more inclusive within the workplace, and shared this with us. While the overwhelming majority (93%) of Americans celebrate Christmas either religiously or secularly, other faiths and cultures have traditions and holidays that occur during December as well. Instead of just focusing on Christmas, we can shift our attention to December and winter holidays so everyone remains part of the celebration. But this shouldn’t just be during December - it should be all year long to continually practice inclusion of all faiths and traditions, whose most important holidays also may occur throughout the year.



Gift-giving is one of the top stressors at this time of year, whether it’s the expectations, motor skills in wrapping gifts, or figuring out what is appropriate for each person while respecting your budget. 

If you need some ideas for the neurodivergent person in your life, consider supporting neurodivergent creators and small business owners, as well as checking out our annual neurodiverse gift guide

We also learned about the importance of gratitude, and how to react during all the sticky social situations we end up in and might have to model for others, such as how to politely thank someone for their thoughtfulness (even if they give you unwanted socks), or the spiritof the season (even if they give you a gift you already have) without hurting anyone’s feelings.


Socializing Without Stress 

Something we learned comes from Dr. Megan Anna Neff, an autistic/ADHD psychologist. Dr. Neff wrote: “Choosing to participate in holiday family gatherings is consistent with my values; it doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it.” Being graceful with ourselves and our loved ones, and taking that pressure off to have a good time, is a radical and necessary step. This stuff is hard! 

To make it less hard, here are some things we figured are worth trying. 

●      Find or establish an escape spot at holiday gatherings – a bedroom, quiet space, or somewhere to leave the social pressures

●      Bring some favorite games, toys, or electronics (and their chargers). Trust me, the chargers are a lifesaver. You never know when your phone or video game console will die, and chances are the batteries run out when you need them most.

Prepare scripts for certain interactions to help build self-advocacy tools. The holidays are a great time to teach and practice self-advocacy, whether you’re a parent, neurodivergent person, or a professional. Some recommendations:

●      How to excuse yourself politely

●      How to thank someone for a gift you already have

●      How to say “no” to unwanted hugs and other family scenarios (this is also great for us adults who get asked invasive questions, like ‘when are you having children?’)


If full-scale advocacy fails, try inventing a code word before attending a gathering. When said or typed, that word or phrase means “I’ve had enough” without judgment from trusted individuals to help you escape an uncomfortable, overwhelming, or just plain unpleasant situation.


Holiday Shopping 

The internet makes a whole lot of shopping easier, as does our neurodiverse gift guide, but if you have to go in-person, there are ways to make it less overwhelming on neurodivergent children and adults. I am someone who gets overwhelmed if a place is too loud, crowded, or we spend an inordinate amount of time browsing rather than going mission-specific when there’s just a lot going on!

To avoid this:

●      Try to go early when the stores open, or during the week

●      If you’re going to meet Santa or take holiday photos at a mall, talk to kids about: consent and talking to strangers. Safety is key. On the other hand, see if you can request accommodations beforehand if needed, or if you are getting private family photos taken to best adapt.


Holiday Travel

This can be its own blog all by itself, but more first-person perspectives on autism and travel are:

●      Tiffany Hammond’s “What Holiday Travel Looks Like For Families With Autism

●      Haley Moss, Autistic While Traveling and Disability and Travel: What Everyone Should Know


Take Care of You!

It’s so easy to focus on everyone else at this time of year, but it’s okay to practice self-care and protect your physical and mental health. Sometimes, the best gift of all is meeting your own needs and not neglecting yourself in the process. We promise it isn’t going to land you on the naughty list.

Interested to learn more?

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