Managing ADHD for happier holidays

The end of the year is an exciting time. Work winds down. The weather is warm. It’s about great food, time with family and fun with friends. The holidays, however, can be a challenging time for individuals with ADHD – unstructured time and endless freedom are fertile ground for impulsivity, inattention and hyperactivity.

Psychiatrist and convenor of the ADHD Special Interest Group, Dr Rykie Liebenberg, gives advice on how best to manage ADHD at this time, to ensure it’s still a memorable and fun holiday.

Limit screen time
Longer days and free time mean it’s tempting for individuals with ADHD to spend hours playing video games or binge-watching TV series. Liebenberg says this is common amongst ADHD individuals, as it’s instant reward, keeps them occupied and requires little participation.

“Excessive screen time – although enjoyable – isn’t beneficial for adults, teenagers or children with ADHD,” says Liebenberg. “It unfortunately leads to irritability and restlessness, and can become almost addictive. It’s wise for adults with ADHD to limit their screen time during time off.”

Manage the family
Holidays generally mean the whole family in the house at once – which is uncommon during the working year – and can lead to frustration and friction amongst adults (and children) with ADHD, if not managed properly.

“It’s common for individuals with ADHD to have mood swings during the holidays, because of the lack of structure, schedule and stimulation, paired with a crowded house,” explains Liebenberg. “It can be problematic for the whole family. Try and keep the family out the house and active as much as possible, or if you’re an adult with ADHD, make time for yourself to have some peace and quiet.”

Rely on routine
“Adults with ADHD thrive on routine – it keeps a lid on chaos and impulsivity,” describes Liebenberg. “Unfortunately, without work, school runs and regular mealtimes, the holidays are often completely unstructured.”

Liebenberg advises adults to stick to a routine as far as possible, even during the holidays. Whether at home or on holiday, adhere to a fairly regular dinnertime and bedtime (within reason) for your family and yourself.

Up the exercise
The benefits of exercise for managing symptoms of ADHD are innumerable – it can manage stress, decrease frustration and improve focus. According to Liebenberg, maintaining regular levels of exercise throughout the holidays can help keep impulsivity, hyperactivity and inattention under control.

“Exercise doesn’t have to be excessive or intense, and can be more low-key during the holidays. Try going for a walk with the family in the morning or evening. Swimming is also a wonderfully relaxing form of exercise and means you can take advantage of the warmer weather. Any exercise is better than none,” says Liebenberg.

It’s also important not to abandon healthy eating habits just because the sun is out and things are relaxed. Although there will be more festive treats around and big, celebratory meals, try and balance these with healthier, more balanced options.

Keep up meds
Liebenberg says she frequently encounters adults who feel it’s acceptable to stop taking their medication during the holidays because they “only need it when they’re at work” – and subsequently find symptoms of ADHD start to ruin their holiday.

“It’s wholly untrue that individuals with ADHD can stop treatment when they’re not at work,” explains Liebenberg. “It’s equally important for them to continue taking medication to manage ADHD during the holidays, otherwise it can have a significant impact on their family and friends.”

The effects of not taking medication to manage ADHD can be over-eating at end-of-year functions, excessive drinking or smoking and all-round irritability and aggression. Liebenberg says it’s safer and more manageable to continue ADHD treatment throughout the holidays.

“With a bit of routine, effort and planning, ADHD symptoms can be managed effectively and the whole family can enjoy a fuss- and stress-free end-of-year holiday,” concludes Liebenberg.