Norman Rockwell’s image of a family arriving with gifts is lovely but idealized, at least based on my experience! Real life is a little messier. Packages are not always so nicely wrapped. The children are not always full of smiles and eager to help. The house is not usually “perfectly” decorated. Even the family pets may behave differently under the unusual stresses of the holidays. These are especially true when ADHD is in the mix. That doesn’t mean we can’t all have a wonderful holiday! Here are a few thoughts that might help.

In today’s ADHD HINT we’re looking at the executive function of response inhibition  and the character strength of creativity.  Both come into play at this time of year.

One of the key characteristics of ADHD is impulsivity, the inability to inhibit responses. For example, we tend to blurt aloud or in writing whatever comes into our minds, often with little or no filter or thought of consequences. Or we jump up and leave a meeting or meal because we remembered something we had meant to do, without pausing to consider our priorities or common courtesy or our responsibility to the people we’re abruptly leaving.

When we are well rested, calm, free of stress, and in familiar surroundings, impulsivity can be less of a challenge; we are better able to inhibit our responses to thoughts that arise and to filter our comments and actions. But around the holidays, calm is often lacking, stress is usually non-stop, and we may find ourselves in settings that are unfamiliar, such as in the homes of friends or relatives or at office or community celebrations in strange environments.

  • Pause several times a day (using alarms on your phone to remind you, if necessary) to take four or five breaths, slowing and deepening your breathing with each breath. This is fundamental to creating calm.
  • As you are paying attention to your breathing, take note of where you are in time and space. Also rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 for stress or anxiety in the present moment.
  • If your stress is a level higher than is serving you well, take five more deep breaths and imagine you are looking down on yourself from a fifth story window. Evaluate your present choices and actions from the perspective of that elevation. See if that change in perspective helps you choose the things that are most important.
  • Let go of some of the tasks on your list, or resolve to do them to a “good enough” level. Perfectionism is unattainable and a sure recipe for stress.
  • Using your self-awareness, notice little things that are going well and be grateful; appreciate the special moments that you spend alone and with others; pat yourself on the back for a job done well enough that everyone, including you, can enjoy the season!

Creativity, a character strength that is high on the list of strengths for most of my ADHD clients, has an opportunity to really express itself during holiday seasons. There are decorations, parties, performances, gifts, travel plans, year-end journal entries, and so many more opportunities to be creative.

Do you notice all the ways your creativity is expressing itself? Do you cultivate it by creating conditions where it can shine? It might be easier to notice ways you are creative around the holidays, so this is a good time to practice noticing. Then, once you are back into your usual routine in the new year, you’ll be more prepared to notice your creativity.

Have you considered how impulsivity and creativity, the two traits we are looking at today, might be connected? Perhaps you have run across this quote by Dr. Edward Hallowell:

“. . . what is creativity but impulsivity gone right?”

If you click on the link above, you’ll read how that idea itself was an example of the creativity/impulsivity connection. Dr. Hallowell writes:

One of the best ideas I ever had came to me out of nowhere while being interviewed by Catherine Crier about 25 years ago for the TV show 20/20.  With the camera running she asked me to describe ADD (as it was then called).  I ticked off the three defining symptoms: distractibility, impulsivity, and restlessness or hyperactivity.  But then, unplanned and without having thought it before that very moment, I added, “But if you turn each one of those negative symptoms on its head, you get a positive.  The flip side of distractibility is curiosity.  The flip side of hyperactivity is energy.  And what is creativity but impulsivity gone right?”

But, impulsivity can sometimes go wrong and cause significant repercussions, so take care of yourself during this busy time. Be sure that six foundational components for living well with ADHD are in place:

  • you are getting sufficient sleep
  • you are eating a healthy diet
  • you are getting sufficient regular exercise
  • you take your meds as prescribed and they are having the effect you and your doctor want
  • you find time every day to play
  • you find time every day or so to spend time in nature

Have a joyous and creative holiday season!

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