5 ways to reduce overwhelm at Christmas
As Christmas approaches, for some children, the levels of overwhelm can increase. Whilst we often associate Christmas with magic, awe and wonder, for others it can feel stressful and create anxiety. This often affects children who:
- Find the increased sensory inputs overwhelming (lights, shiny decorations, music playing everywhere, things hanging from ceilings etc)
- Find the changes in school routines can be challenging
- Are excited for Christmas, but find crowds and all the people too much
- Like their homes to be calm and quiet and suddenly there are lots of visitors
- Want to attend events but also want their routines to stay exactly the same
- Need time to decompress and rest but timetables become hectic
Striking a balance and also taking time to be kind enough to ourselves, that if our child is one who needs more calm that this is absolutely fine takes a little headspace.
Here’s 5 things you can do to reduce the overwhelm:
#1 – Plan downtime
Amongst the events which typically come with Christmas, structure some downtime. For instance, for every busy morning have a quiet afternoon. For each busy day, take a quiet day. Offering spaces to decompress and regulate allows children to better enjoy the other days and reduces stress and anxiety. For children who experience restraint collapse after a day of masking, this can reduce huge overwhelming emotions which can lead to meltdowns and feelings of embarrassment and shame for the child.
#2 – Structure in some regulation activities
Regulation activities come in too late if they are after we spiral. Structure in regulation strategies (find a list here) before, during and after the events that you attend so that children feel safer and in control. This could be a crunchy breakfast, some chewy sweets and headphones on the journey and cold drinks to sip during events before stomping or swinging it out before the journey home, making regulation a part of your plans reduces stress for everyone and increases enjoyment, as well as building confidence.
#3 – Be ok with having your own ‘normal’
Normal is such an overrated word, in my years as a therapist, I have had the privilege of seeing thousands of types of ‘normal’. Take time to step back and not compare YOUR Christmas with what you see on social media. What is on someone else’s highlight reel is not what you or your family necessarily need. Christmas comes in hundreds of shapes and sizes, coming out of it feeling positive and relaxed is far more important than an illusion of ‘perfect’ which does not necessarily equate to perfect. Create your own routines, rituals and festive approaches and allow it to be surrounded with calm and peace, rather than trying to squish yourself into a star shaped hole that escalates anxiety and worry.
#4 – Reduce the pressure
Reduce the pressure, and if children need it open Christmas presents sporadically over a few days. Many children can feel overwhelmed by gifts and so spreading them out and introducing in small segments can be a beneficial to reduce the overwhelm and allow children to enjoy the gifts they have received.
#5 – Say ‘no’
If you know certain events will push your child over the edge and lead to emotional dysregulation choose one of two options, either attend for a short period and leave early on a positive, or say no and recognise that pushing them to do something they are not ready for will cause them distress and lead to you all feeling more stressed overall. There can be great perceived pressure to make Christmas ‘great’ and all singing and dancing after the last few years, when in reality that does not suit all children. For those who are easily overwhelmed, anxious or introverted small doses or alternative quieter activities that offer opportunities to build confidence are of greater value.
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