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Holiday helpers

Five things that will help me this festive season

Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, the festive period invariably leads to some disruption to the "norm" here in the UK. Bank holidays, shops, schools and other services being shut, people constantly making small talk about Christmas...

For me, it usually means: some time off work, spending time with family, travel, lots more socialising, and different food. Most of these are good things, don't get me wrong... But, that doesn't much matter. Different is still different. And different is DIFFICULT.

Here are five things that will help me survive the festive season.


Thing 1: planning anything that can be planned

I've got a lot of social events and travel to do. There are things I need to do or prepare for all of those. So, I set aside some time to go through everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. I have a spreadsheet outlining meals, appointments, and activities that will happen while my family are visiting. I have notes in my calendar to remind me what I need to clean or cook at different times, when to drop things off at friends' houses, when to check in with people, and exactly what I'm doing for every bit of travel.

This way I can rely on "past Lauren" to have my back, and know that I don't need to hold all of these plans and tasks in my head. My calendar will tell me what to do from this point forward. Past Lauren comes in pretty handy at times.


Thing 2: being extra conscious about decompression time

More social events means more energy expenditure. No matter how much I enjoy it all, that is still going to be true. So, I'm taking the pressure off of the rest of my time. Making sure the bare essentials get done, but not forcing myself to do anything I don't 100% feel like doing. Instead, making sure I genuinely pause and stop when I am home. Doing the things that calm me down. Keeping meals really simple. Not scheduling any calls or meetings or errands that could wait a few weeks.


Thing 3: feeling my feelings

Christmas can be quite intense and sentimental for lots of people. Not always in a good way. Over the last few years I have learnt to "feel my feelings" in a way that I never did previously. I'll write a whole article about this at some stage, but all I really mean is: when I notice I am feeling something, I stop and sit and notice it. Rather than distracting away from it. I try to pay attention to what it physically feels like, and take a few deep breaths. Then decide what I need from there. It might be that I need to cry, reach out to someone, balance out a sensory issue, go for a walk, whatever it might be. Sometimes, it isn't practical to take that action. Even just acknowledging what I need, knowing I can come back to it later, helps me process and settle back into the present.

I like to think about feelings as data. Data about what your body and your brain need at any given moment. They are there whether or not you engage with them. Consciously feeling them means you get a choice about how to act, in order to support yourself. Ignoring them means you'll be more reactive. The feelings will still come out eventually... but more likely than not, that way will be less healthy. So, I'll be making a conscious effort to keep this up over the festive period.


Thing 4: setting my boundaries

To protect myself from being entirely burnt out by three weeks of abnormality, I need to set some boundaries. Things like sticking to my usual bedtime, mealtimes, and meals as often as possible. Making sure I get some alone time. Cancelling things last minute if that's what I need. Not joining in too whole-heartedly with the usual festive drinking, as I know that increases my sensory issues the next day and throws off my sleep. For me, understanding the impact of this stuff helps me feel "entitled" to set boundaries. Because I know all too well what not looking after these things feels like! These aren't things I need 100% of the time, but during such a busy period, being extra cautious will help me a lot. Which leads me very neatly on to Thing 5...


Thing 5: remembering the basics

Whatever else is going on, I am still autistic. Social stuff, routine stuff, and sensory stuff all need some attention. Especially when things are busy and different. So, I am trying to remember the basics. For me, that is: reducing socialising that I don't need to do (including work meetings), quiet time after I see people, writing out my schedule for the day and what day of the week it is somewhere really visible, keeping meals simple, having plenty of nice sensory things close to hand, and especially making sure I get proprioceptive input.

Lauren x

PS the picture is my best dog pal Wellie, who will be travelling with me this Christmas, and carrying his toys in his backpack on the train! Unbearably cute. (But maybe I'm biased).


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