Navigating the Holiday Season

I love holiday seasons!  Those special days like Christmas, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, etc., are often not just a single day for me.  There are so many things to do, people to see, activities to participate in; how do people manage if they limit these awesome times to a single day?  Sounds like a recipe for sensory overload to me.   Even when I prolong the pleasure (or the agony, depending upon perspective), over a couple of days (or a month), the experience can become overwhelming.  The sights, smells, and sounds of any of the holiday days can be exquisite, and intense.  Neurodiverse individuals are often even more acutely aware of these sensory aspects (aka stressors), than neurotypical individuals are.  I am often asked at the clinic how to help families mitigate holiday stressors.  Sadly, there are no magical aspects to this as different people respond differently to different stressors.  Generally speaking though, there are often a few things I suggest trying to help make special occasions more manageable for our neurodiverse loved ones and their families.

My primary recommendation is to try to keep things realistic.  Individuals who do not like crowds of people are not apt to make an exception “because it’s Christmas” or because all  50 people (OK, even all 15) “are family.”  A crowd is any number that is more than what is usual in your home,  If the grocery store is often more than is manageable, a day of shopping in the mall around any of the holidays can create more exhaustion or distress than is needed or wanted.
Gifts are sometimes challenging for neurodiverse individuals.  Again, let’s be realistic about why this can be.  New items smell and feel different.  Some neurodiverse people do not like “new” smells and the feeling of new clothes, toys, blankets, etc.  This can be challenging when new items are needed or even have been asked for.  Gifts are for the person receiving–if “new” is problematic, buying “new to you” clothing can be perfect.  New toys can be less challenging in that they can be opened and aired out, even washed to reduce the “new” smells and feel.  Being realistic about what the gift receiver wants and enjoys can ward off many tears of frustration for ALL involved.
Holidays in my family are always laden with foods and beverages (quite likely a reason why I like them so much).  For some people the foods and drinks of holidays are fun but for others they are frustrating and not appreciated as they get in the way of the foods that are typical.  On top of that, when there are issues with foods touching, meals with huge varieties of dishes can be a big problem.  Sometimes it’s possible to avoid the “yuckiness” of foods touching on the individual’s plate but when others are loading plates, sometimes just seeing what other people will eat can verge on horrifying; like gravy on a vegetable…gross!!  It’s realistic to minimize food “traumas” by doing things like arranging seating to reduce exposure to overloaded plates and to provide some comfort foods if this will allow the holiday experience to be pleasurable.
My final suggestion is engage in preparation; set the stage so to speak.  Prepare the neurodiverse individual for what is coming; give them a framework for what behaviours are expected and present this in the positive; “this is what we want to do” as opposed to “we don’t do that.”  As well as preparing the neurodiverse individual, also prepare the neurotypical people for aspects that the neurodiverse individual might find important.  It’s ok to tell someone that although they would love to see a gift played with and tried on, that this might not happen on an already chaotic day.  Although it may feel uncomfortable to explain to others that hugs and kisses are not going to be forthcoming and are not desired, that discussion is not likely as uncomfortable as unwanted touch or as the meltdown that may result from the sensory overload.
I tend to expand holidays to try to reduce some of the sensory overload.  I prolong the events so that I can try to do more of “the things” without doing “all the things” at once, with everyone.  For me, having multiple days to celebrate means less overall chaos.  For me personally, being realistic with holidays does mean prolonging the season in various creative ways.  I definitely want to experience both a shamrock shake and green guinness but not on the same day, because that would be GROSS.  For others, protracting the season is not realistic, and that is OK too.  Do what is realistic for you and your family, after all, there is no one correct way to celebrate,
Holidays can be amazing or disastrous and everything in between.  In my experience, being realistic with expectations and planning can help slide the odds in the direction of holidays being enjoyable for all.
Merry Christmas!!!!
Blog Post written by Registered Psychologist, Tara Garratt.

Saying No During the Holiday Season

Saying No During the Holiday Season

Holiday season is upon us. December can have lots of excitement, gatherings, and celebrations.  We may feel sucked into the hustle and bustle. We will try to be everywhere and do everything so that we squeeze all those visits in and no one is disappointed.

Is this realistic?

I want to give you the permission to say no. Your time and energy is important, valuable, and you get to decide how and where it is placed.

If you are having an inner battle about what decision is best for you, here are some strategies that you can try:

Do a gut check or feelings scan and really listen to what your body is telling you.  If you are exhausted and overwhelmed then this self awareness is important and should be honored.

Take time to answer.  As a society that is driven by cell phones and technology usage some of us may feel the need to provide an immediate response (I know I do …..).  Put the phone down in the evening and come back to the response in the morning with a fresh perspective.

Speak your truth in a clear and decisive way. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a kind and pleasant “no thank you.”  I encourage you to practice this short and sweet response.

Do not overexplain, defend, or debate your response. You have permission to make the decision that is best for you. Only you know what that is.  Own your emotional needs with love and self compassion.

Cheers to you!


Blog Post by Registered Social Worker, Nicole Wright

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Grief in the Christmas Season

Death and dying are a part of our lives and it is inevitable that we will all experience the death of a loved one. Death ends a life, and not a relationship. Your relationship with your loved one is instilled through the memories you made, the conversations you have of your loved one, and the continued connection you embrace of your loved one.  Grieving during Christmas can bring on intensified emotions and I am here to share my life experiences to help you find some comfort and hope during this year’s Christmas season. Sixteen years ago, on November 18th, 2006 my life was changed forever; my brother Kevin tragically died in a car accident near Hudson Bay, SK. He left behind his wife, two children, his parents, his siblings, and many more relatives and friends. I remember vividly the first Christmas without my brother. Many tears of sadness, shock, numbness, and disbelief. These emotions during “The most wonderful time” of year were intensified throughout the Christmas season. Grief today for me during the Christmas season feels and looks less intensified. Grief today for me is filled with blessings, joyful moments, reflection, resilience, connectedness, and many conversations about my brother as I keep his spirt alive in my heart and in my family.

To help you cope during the Christmas season the following has helped me accept and acknowledge my grief and work through difficult times:

FEEL – Give yourself permission to feel whatever shows up in your heart, mind, and body. It’s okay to not feel okay. Accept what feelings are showing up and breath through them one at a time.

TALK – Keep your loved one in your conversations. Encourage yourself and others to share their stories.

CONNECTEDNESS – Connect with family, friends, and other grief community supports. We are wired for connection and when a loved one dies we need connection more then anything.

TRADITION – Continue Christmas traditions that have been established, but also make new traditions in memory of your loved one.

SELF-CARE – Taking care of yourself can look like going for a walk, baking, taking a bath, journaling, listening to music, etc.

     Our grief will never go away; our grief of a loved one will feel differently at any given time. Sometimes the grief feels more intensified and sometimes does not. The hurt and pain losing a loved one does for us is unimaginable; however, the way we recover and work through our emotions of grief is how we are able to manage and cope. This Christmas season I am here to hold space for all those that have lost a loved one.

Blog written by Registered Social Worker, Trina Hjelsing

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