The lead up to Christmas can be a time for excitement, but often, it takes a lot of planning and consideration to make it truly enjoyable.
The countdown to the festive season is officially on, bringing with it a sense of joy, community and celebration for many.
This can be a time to attend exciting events, have fun with your social circle and partake in traditions, but taking part without high amount of stress can mean a lot of planning and preparation in the lead up. This is especially important if you need to consider physical accessibility when travelling to and attending events or visiting family and friends, or for people who are neurodivergent and find certain aspects of this time challenging.
With the right planning and considerations, the festive period can become more enjoyable, and this starts with understanding the challenges that could arise for you or your loved one. For many neurodivergent people, the holiday season can mean an overwhelming amount of change and disruption. Social gatherings, bright decorations, loud music, and sensory-rich environments can all lead to anxiety and discomfort.
To navigate this time successfully and look after yourself or your loved one, recognising anything that could act as a barrier to enjoying yourself ahead of time can help.
Effective communication with those around you is key when preparing for the festive season. Whether you’re a parent, carer, or live with a disability, discussing your expectations and preferences is essential. Planning ahead and sharing what’s important to you, and your loved ones, can help you to set boundaries about how many events you are willing to attend to look after your health. How you approach this time and setting boundaries will be unique to you and your family, but there are some simple ways to make the festive period easier.
Using visual aids, calendars, lists and social stories to break down the holiday season’s schedule and can be helpful in providing a clear understanding of what to expect, especially for children and young people.
During this time, try to maintain daily routines as much as possible. Consistency in meal times, food choices, and daily schedules can help reduce stress.
You could also create quiet spaces within your home where people can retreat to when they need a break from sensory stimulation.
Managing expectations is crucial to ensuring a less stressful festive period. Understand that everyone has unique needs, and it’s perfectly acceptable to adapt holiday traditions to suit your family’s comfort level.
Prepare friends and family members for potential differences in behaviour or responses during gatherings by discussing expectations in advance. Encourage understanding and acceptance, and give them information on how they can help to make this time as enjoyable as possible.
If you can, choose small gatherings and consider celebrating with a close- knit family group rather than attending large gatherings. This allows for a more relaxed and enjoyable experience, and it can be easier to ask close friends to change the location to suit any accessibility needs.
When visiting others or attending large events, inquire about quiet spaces where people can go if they need a break. Additionally, seek out establishments offering quiet hours during shopping trips to buy those last- minute presents and treats.
If you exchange gifts with extended family, you could discuss yours or your loved one’s gift-wrapping preferences in advance, letting them know if gifts should be unwrapped.
For those who need additional guidance and support during the festive season, several organisations can offer valuable assistance.
The Campaign to End Loneliness is a great resource for anyone who will be spending Christmas alone, and focusses on combating loneliness, offering resources to address isolation during the holiday season.
If you are worried about the costs of Christmas this year, The Salvation Army supports individuals and families in need during the festive season by providing Christmas meals, food parcels, and toys.
Spending time in the community can be a rewarding way to combat loneliness and contribute to others’ wellbeing during the lead up to Christmas. Consider volunteering at local food banks, community centres, or charities. Volunteering not only helps those in need but also fosters a sense of connection and purpose.
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Communication is essential to having a less stressful Christmas period. Start an open conversation with your loved ones about your needs ahead of time.