Surviving and recovering from the holidays and avoiding autistic burnout

Out of the last 48 hours, I have just spent 22 of those hours preparing and cooking Christmas dinner to be delivered to 30 vulnerable people in my home city. I do this every year, and it takes everything I have to do it.

Whatever your traditions for this time of year, there is one thing to be certain of; it’s very tiring.

As autistic people, the holidays can be a nightmarish landscape of expectations and commitments that leave many of us burned out. As an autistic addict, I also have the fun of often being the only sober person in the room.

Here’s some tips from me to you, on how I survive the holidays.

1. Make time to do your own thing.

This means setting boundaries. People around you need to know that from time to time, you need to do things on your own that you enjoy. You don’t have to be “anti-social” (the neurotypical world loves that word), you just have to respect your needs enough to know when you need to recharge.

2. Do things that have positive meaning to you.

Even though it takes everything I’ve got, feeding vulnerable people on Christmas day gives me a sense of purpose and makes me feel good about myself. Of course, you don’t need to do something on that scale, but establishing your own positive traditions during and after the holidays can be an important protective factor.

3. Get plenty of sleep.

Once the chaos has settled down, make sure you get the sleep you need. Nothing will lead you to burnout faster than sub-optimal sleep.

4. Moderate your alcohol intake.

Alcohol is a staple of the holidays. Many of us receive it as presents. The temptation in the days following December 25th can be to drink from morning to evening. If you’re already exhausted from the celebrations, trust me, you don’t want a hangover.

5. Stay in contact with friends.

While alone time is important, it’s also important that we don’t withdraw completely. Phone that friend you’ve been meaning to call, send that WhatsApp message. This can be a lonely time of year, and staying in contact is good for you and your friends.

These tips aren’t a one size fits all, and if you do experience burnout, remember, it’s not your fault. Experiment to find things that work for you. Most importantly, enjoy yourself. This has been a dark year, we need to shine a little light into each others lives.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

Published by David Gray-Hammond

David Gray-Hammond is an autistic mental health and addiction advocate living in the South East of England. He is in recovery from addiction and psychosis, as well as other complex mental health conditions. He was diagnosed as autistic seven months after achieving sobriety, and is resolved to share his experiences with the world in the hopes of being the person that he needed when he was younger.

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