Coping With Christmas
The holiday season is upon us and it’s time again to take part in fun filled festivities, eat turkey, fill our houses with lights and decorations and eagerly listen for the sound of sleigh bells announcing the arrival of Santa with exciting presents. Family and friends gather and share joy and happiness to one and all and we make our way to the atmospheric carol service where we celebrate in the Christian heritage of this wonderful time of year. The lights and commotion all get too much, the noise is deafening, the chores and pressure to all encompassing and all routine is destroyed…
The excitement and expectations of a perfect Christmas can be a challenge for those affected by autism. For me there are parts of the holiday season I really love, but others that are a minefield. So what can we do to make Christmas ho ho ho, rather than ho ho NO!?
In this post I’d like to share with you a few strategies I have found helpful. I hope that if you or your child struggles over Christmas then you might find some of these helpful and enjoy reading this post. You may have tips that you have found helpful to you that I’ve not thought of so please feel welcome to add these to the comments section.
Make a plan
Regardless of how or if we celebrate Christmas ourselves, it is likely that it will have an impact on our usual routines. Work schedules are likely to change (in my case my office closes for a whole two weeks), schools break, shops have different opening hours, clubs and support networks often break. As someone who lives by my routines this is challenging so I try and plan ahead as much as possible.
What is key for me is plotting out what is happening and when in a format that’s very easy to see. I use a page per day diary but in the past have used a wall chart. Whatever works best for you is fine as we all have our own ways of making sense of information.
Being able to clearly see where my commitments are in advance helps me to adjust to changes in routine over the holidays.
Set a budget
Christmas is an expensive time. Everything from stocking up the fridge with goodies, buying presents for loved ones, travelling to see family, parties and social commitments can send the budget sky-high.
It is a good idea to set a clear budget before wild spending on credit. How much do you want to spend on each person’s presents etc, can you afford to attend both of the Christmas parties you’ve been invited to? Planning ahead can save the stressful and expensive bill from arriving come the New Year.
Make your OWN traditions
It is often easy to get weighed down with following what you think you ‘should’ be doing over Christmas. Just because you ‘always’ go to that Christmas market doesn’t mean you ‘have to’ do it. Christmas can work around you and your needs and it is fun making your own traditions tailored to you. Get creative and think of little things you can do that might make the season all the more fun and personal for you and your family.
Growing up we had some great little traditions in our household. My favourite was on Christmas Eve. I had a Christmas Pillowcase that needed to be left on my bed for the elves to collect. I’d take great care decorating it and leave it out ready. Without fail it would vanish and in the morning it would have reappeared in the lounge filled with presents. I knew from an early age that it was most likely my parents removing the pillow case, but they insisted they wouldn’t confess to anything until I was 18. Each year my attempts to catch them in the act got more and more elaborate, but they always managed to remove the case without me catching them. This game of cat and mouse actually served a really good role at distracting me and keeping me occupied while mum set about the laborious task of preparing the meal for the following day and getting the house ready for visitors.
What traditions do you have?
Make decorating an event
As someone who doesn’t like change, returning home to find a random tree in the lounge would be a bit much for me! In our house decorating was a family event. We would all be involved in placing the decorations and I often spent time making decorations for the tree. This involvement helped me adjust to the changes and helped build excitement rather than fear of the commotion of the season.
My favourite activity was always building the gingerbread house and nativity scene we would place in the shrank. It had a full set of sugar figurines. Every year I pleaded with mum to let me eat one. I was never allowed, but they had been in use since the 70s so may not have been that tasty!
Get some exercise
With the cold days and long dark nights it can be very easy to spend the whole holiday wrapped up warm inside. I always find it helpful to get exercise and importantly, fresh air. Perhaps you can head out on a walk around the neighbourhood to see the Christmas lights, go hunting for pine cones to get crafty and turn into decorations or avoid the traffic by walking to the shops.
Set aside a quiet sanctuary
With all the noise and excitement I find it very helpful to set aside a quiet place to escape to if it all gets too much. Being able to take a time out from the celebrations to relax and recharge can help so much and is something I’d recommend to anyone.
Know your socialising limits
Christmas is one of the times of the year when the much sought after social invites come in thick and fast. Work Christmas Parties, Family Gatherings, Clubs Christmas Socials…
It is easy to say yes to everything and for me I can get overwhelmed faster than I realise. I try and set limits to how much I engage in these parties. So often I can get carried along with the flow and find I’ve over done it and I’m at capacity. There is a fine line between having a great evening and becoming exhausted and having a bad time. Know your limits and hopefully you’ll have a great time.
Take time to get back into routines after Christmas
Whatever your feelings about Christmas, It’s all over fast and everything returns to normal. If there have been major disruptions to your routine it’s good to return to your usual routine as smoothly as possible. Try and plan ahead if you can. For example if you need to get up for work or school early then give yourself a few fays to readjust rather than suddenly switching your wake up call from 11am to 7am.
I hope you've found this of interest. I'd love to hear what you enjoy most about Christmas and how you overcome the challenges you may find with this time of year. Feel free to let me know via the comments or Facebook. Merry Christmas to you all!