Are you dreading the New Year’s Eve celebrations? If you have ADHD, autism, PTSD or struggle with sensory issues, that night can be pretty challenging for you. When dealing with sensory overload and managing social expectations, it’s not easy to enjoy the occasion. What can you do to make New Year’s Eve as safe and comfortable as possible?
Why New Year’s Eve can be difficult
Exploding fireworks, loud music, drunken crowds — New Year’s Eve can be highly unpleasant for people with sensory issues, even to the point of causing physical pain.
Some common symptoms of sensory overload or being triggered are:
- Anxiety, restlessness, panic
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Irritability, anger
- Inability to concentrate
- Feeling wound up or like you have too much energy
- Physical reactions, like a stomach ache, nausea, headache, muscle tension
- Heightened sensitivity to sounds, textures, lights, etc.
There are also the social expectations to participate in the celebrations that include potential triggers. You can be stuck between joining in and suffering the symptoms or staying home and risking feelings of guilt or being misunderstood.
With all these challenges, how can you take care of yourself during this time?
How to have a sensory-friendly New Year’s Eve
Respect your boundaries
The most important thing is your comfort and safety, not meeting the expectations of others. People who genuinely care about you will understand your needs and boundaries.
“The boundary protects us from engaging in behaviors and people we don’t feel comfortable with and lets others know what we are willing and not willing to do,” says David Tzall, Psy. D., a Brooklyn, N.Y., licensed psychologist.
Be honest about what you need and listen to your body. Are you feeling tired? Don’t push yourself to stay up late. Are you uncomfortable about going to a friend’s party? It’s okay to decline the invitation.
Learn to say no
Attending a party means dealing with uncomfortable and even painful consequences, but declining an invitation can invoke feelings of shame or guilt, especially if the host takes it personally.
“One of the best approaches is to be honest and draw boundaries within ourselves and others,” says Tzall. “Being honest can take several forms. You can let the person know you’re not feeling up to it, would like to be alone, or have other plans. If you wish to spend the evening alone and not around others, then you do, in fact, have other plans. They do not need to involve others. You simply made other commitments to yourself and wish to see those through.”
Discover your triggers
A crucial part of keeping yourself safe and respecting your boundaries is understanding your triggers — things, words or sensations that elicit a strong emotional and physical reaction — and how you react to them. It’s not always a panic attack. Sometimes, you can get angry for no apparent reason, go numb, get extremely sleepy or suffer a pounding headache.
Consider keeping a diary to write down your triggers, reactions and possible ways to avoid or deal with them. Think of healthy coping mechanisms, such as breathing exercises or other grounding techniques.
Make a plan
Create an action plan just in case your condition worsens. Is there someone you can reach out to if you need help? Where will you feel the safest — at home, at your parents’ house?
You can stock up on food to avoid going out and bracing the loud and drunk crowd.
Make sure you have your comfort items at hand, like a weighted blanket or noise-canceling headphones.
If you plan on participating in a party or a gathering, Tzall suggests that you “build in small breaks when around others. This approach can be helpful, so you’re only taking small bites of socialization. It also changes the perspective of the interactions in that it is not one long drive but instead a trip with many different rest points along the route.”
Consider a trip
You can also plan a trip to somewhere quiet and go alone, with your family or a few friends. Popular destinations will still host New Year’s Eve celebrations. Still, an accommodation like a mountain cottage should provide reasonable quiet and privacy.
Celebrate on your own terms
Not participating in the usual parties and events like the Times Square countdown doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate at all. You may do your own countdown at noon to avoid fireworks, and it’s a great way to include smaller children in the festivities. You can also organize a celebratory breakfast or brunch.
“One of my favorite tips is to limit any gathering and involve close family or friends,” says Tzall. “This limits the amount of stimulation you are around because of the crowd size and has the benefit of being around a safe space. It is likely to be safe because this group will have information about your condition and would be comfortable giving you space and not take it personally if you need to step out and be with yourself.”
Give yourself time to recover
Even when you take all the steps to make it as comfortable as possible, New Year’s Eve can still exhaust you mentally and physically. Take it easy and give yourself space to recover after the ordeal, especially if you experience sensory overload, panic attacks or unpleasant physical symptoms like nausea.