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Lowering Anxiety Towards Family Gatherings

Dreading the upcoming holiday family gatherings? When we have ADHD, the anxiety can be even stronger than it is for neurotypical folks. Brittany Sulkin, ADHD Coach at Agave Health, share the top 3 tips to prepare yourself to navigate these stressful times.

December 2022, Brittany Sulkin, ADHD Coach @ Agave Health

It’s that time of year where many of us gather with our extended families. While many of us WANT this to be a wonderful time of bonding and fun (like we see in Hallmark movie after Hallmark movie) the truth is it can be anything but. People with ADHD face unique challenges when it comes to these situations. A lot of my clients describe themselves feeling “anxious” about seeing their families this time of year. Here are 3 common reasons behind some of these anxieties and what you can do about them.

1. Large Family Gatherings are a Sensory Nightmare

Rooms full of people? All that talking and music and hugging and smells from the kitchen and your nieces and nephews running around screaming AND….it can add up easily and before we know it we’re feeling completely overstimulated and irritable.

What you can do:

  • Identify your sensory triggers ahead of time so you’re not caught off guard

  • Make a plan to step outside or to sit in your car when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

  • Don’t plan anything too taxing after a family holiday gathering. Make space for rest and recuperation.

“Remember to take care of yourself.”

2. Structure? What Structure?

The holidays tend to be a time when our regular daily structure is thrown out the window. Family gatherings may happen when you would usually be at book club, or meal prepping, or maybe during what is usually very valuable scrolling-through-TikTok-on-the-couch-time. Either way, we can feel off kilter going to so many events. We may have a hard time enjoying ourselves when we’re there because we’re worried about how we’re ever going to get back to “real life” when the festivities are over in January.

What you can do:

  • Do your best to keep a regular sleep schedule.

  • Maintain your usual meal times. Make sure you are eating and hydrating regularly.

  • Understand that jumping completely back into your regular schedule after the holiday season may take some time. Cultivate grace for yourself around this.

3. Your Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria Acts Up Around Family

Listen, they installed our buttons so they know how to push them. Sometimes they don’t even mean to push them, but at a time of year where we’re often overstimulated and undersleeping, things can get a little messy emotionally. For those of us dealing with RSD, holiday gatherings can be a nightmare.

What you can do:

  • Consider which topics of discussion are most likely to trigger your RSD. Create boundaries around these subjects. Practice using them with a trusted loved one.

  • Practice mindfulness techniques. Find ways that help you bring your brain back to the here and now.

  • Remind yourself how wonderful you are. RSD can trick us into thinking negatively about ourselves. Try positive affirmations. Create a list of your 10 best qualities. Journal a love letter to yourself.

Remember to take care of yourself, ADHDers. Put these actions into practice and if you find you’re still struggling it may be useful to seek out the support of an ADHD Coach or mental health professional.


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