Managing A Busy Festive Home | By Melanie Steel

It’s the most wonderful time of year… and also, for many of us neurodiverse individuals, the most stressful.

Suddenly, on top of all the other day to day stressors (Balancing home, life, family and work whilst attempting to carve out some time for ourselves) we now have a whole host of festivities we are expected to plan and execute to insta worthy levels of perfection. It’s a lot. It’s probably too much.

As a Dyspraxic woman, married to a wonderful man with ADHD I have developed various strategies over the years to help us both manage the expectations placed upon us at this time of year. From gift shopping, to prepping and cooking festive meals and of course spending time with those who may or may not understand the added stressors you are experiencing at this time, here are my top tips for managing a busy festive home.


The Food

Preparing a festive feast for large numbers of people is a challenge, but not an insurmountable one.

Step1: Plan

I know our executive (dis)function makes planning difficult, but a little planning will reduce your on the day stress. If you struggle to get going, enlist a friend or family member to help you start. Even better, enlist them in the whole process. Unless you live alone, there's no need to take on this task by yourself. Let others help!

Questions to ask

 How many people are you expecting?

  • Are there any dietary requirements?
  • Do you need to find a recipe (For example, in some cultures special recipes are generational and if a certain dish is expected you may need to consult the relevant family member with the recipe) or do you need to look online, or consult a cookbook?
  • What time do they expect to eat, and how many courses?

Once you have this information- you can look at ways to make it easier for yourself. For example:


  • What dishes can you buy ready-made? There is no need to exhaust yourself making everything from scratch!
  • Could any of your guests bring dishes, or even better, would a potluck work? That way you would only need to cook one or two things.


  • What dishes can you make in advance- either dishes that can be frozen and reheated or even dishes that can be made the day before and kept cold in the fridge. Block out a morning/afternoon/day in your calendar and use it to prep food. Potatoes, vegetables, side dishes- the majority can be done well before the big day.


  • Can any of the dishes be made in a slow cooker? Slow cookers are your friend- simply pop the ingredients in, and set it going. Set a reminder on your phone (or write it down and put it somewhere you won't fail to look at it if you prefer) well in advance to prep ingredients and put them in.


Child helping with cooking


There are some wonderful done for you timelines online for traditional Turkey dinners such as

Your Christmas lunch time plan - BBC Good Food

However, there are many festive celebrations this time of year and yours may not have a done for your outline. In that case, you can make your own.

  • Remember- if it can be done in advance, do it in advance! The less you actually have to prepare on the day, the better.

The best way to do this is to work backwards using the information gathered from your recipes, starting with the dish that takes the longest.

 For example:

You want your guests to start eating at 2pm.

Your longest dish to cook takes 4hrs.

You would need to have that dish in the oven by 10am.

Prep time- most recipes have a suggested time. If you’re unfamiliar with the recipe, add on extra time. So if that dish that needs to go in at 10am suggests 30minutes of prep time, give yourself 45 minutes and start it at 9.15am.

Timing is the most difficult part. By working it out in advance, you will save yourself so much stress on the day.

Don't forget to add in any dishes you will prepare in advance that needs warming. If it's in your budget, a keep warm food station can really make things easier as you can put in the food once it’s cooked and it will be kept warm until it’s ready to eat.


Gift shopping

Festive shopping is typically a stressful experience, but even more so if you’re neurodiverse. The loud music, bright lights, bustling crowds of people, overwhelming choice (Hello decision paralysis!) It's all just too much.

However, if you DO need to venture out (perhaps to buy from a retailer who isn't online) there are some ways to reduce the stress.

Go early (If you can, I know many of us struggle to wake up early)

Utilise click and collect services

Avoid weekends if possible

If all else fails, go towards closing time. Shops are generally less busy then (Unless it's Christmas Eve!)

Online shopping is of course the best way to avoid all of...that. You can be in your own environment where you feel comfortable and ready to tackle buying gifts.


Lady in white mask christmas shopping

Gifting Tips


  • Many retailers can send gifts straight to recipients. This saves you so much time, and the perils of wrapping!


  • Electronic gift cards are available for a wide range of retailers and can be used for both physical products, and experiences. Again, they can be emailed straight to your recipient and since there’s no shipping involved, they make a great last-minute gift.


  • Secret Santa- This can alleviate both decision paralysis and the financial burden as it means you only have to buy for one person. A great idea for big families, or adult-only gatherings where gifts are typically secondary to the meal and experience.


Girl placing gift into gift bag

Cards- Though sending cards has declined in popularity, some people still expect to receive them. Check out Royal Mail last sending dates (put these in your calendar right now as they are almost here!) to make sure you stand the best chance of your card or gift being received on time.

Supporting other family members who are neurodivergent

If you share a home with other Neurodivergent family members then you can be a great source of strength and support during this busy time.

  • Focus on strengths


Everyone, irrespective of their neurodiverse condition, has strengths! I’m dyspraxic, so things like getting the decorations out of the loft/attic are a big NO. My husband is charged with this task as he’s much less likely to have a clumsy moment. Conversely, he struggles with getting started on tasks so I am happy to help him with gentle reminders. You know your strengths and weaknesses better than anyone- share these with your household and share the load.


  • Take time for you so you don’t get stressed with others


We all need time and space to be alone. Make sure you respect this need in others, and yourself.


  • Have space for people to be alone


If you’re sharing a small space, this is tough but try and designate even a small area (like a reading nook) as somewhere family members can go if they are feeling overwhelmed.


  • Do nice things/special interests in between busy stuff


In between all the festive planning, meet ups and familial obligations, it's easy to forget about making time for you and your household to do things you like. Try and block out some time where you can indulge a special interest, or even just sit and decompress quietly if that's what you need. Say “No” to things- it’s a complete sentence. Remember to reward yourself for all the wonderful things you have achieved this festive season!


Neurodivergent Children


If you have neurodiverse children, you know all too well that festivities can quickly become overwhelming. Whilst there's no way to guarantee this won't happen, there are some steps you can take to manage the situation.

  •  Talk through expectations what will happen

 Taking some time to sit and explain what is going to happen on a busy day with guests, presents and a big meal can be really helpful for neurodiverse children. A visual timetable could help them to understand what will happen, and when. It can help reduce the anxiety of “What is going on? When are we doing X?”

  • Have favourite activities nearby

 If your child needs or wants to step out of the festivities, have a nook or similar area with their favourite activities, books or toys that you know will make them feel better in a stressful situation.

  •  Let family know what to do /not to do when child is stressed

 Family means well, but they can often make things worse when a neurodivergent child is having a difficult time. If you can, ahead of time give these family members a heads up on what might happen if your child is upset for example, and what to do or avoid doing. This is not easy, and may not be possible depending upon your guests general understanding and response to neurodiversity as a whole.


Shouting, telling a child they are “naughty”, forcing them to stay seated at the table or worse is sadly an inbuilt reaction for many non neurodivergent adults in response to what they see as “bad” behaviour, and it makes things worse for everyone. You are best placed to suggest an alternative, as you know your child better than anyone.


Finally- Be kind and gentle to yourself


Practical preparations aside, an important aspect of the festive season is managing our own expectations. In the age of social media, we are exposed to countless images of so called perfect meals and gatherings where everyone looks happy, calm and the food looks so perfect you’re not sure you could bring yourself to eat it!


Let go of perfection.
Perfection does not exist.


There is no perfect festive gathering, despite what adverts, retailers and social media tells us. Things will go wrong. You might feel disappointed in yourself. Not having everything served on time, or done to someone else's impossible standard is not a failure. All you can do is your best. Even that might be too much. At the end of the day, your guests are much more likely to remember the overall experience of being with one another, rather than whether you were the perfect host, or served the most fabulous food.