Christmas is a time for gathering together family and friends, enjoying delicious food, and celebrating both the traditions and spontaneity that come with the holidays. However, for both children and adults who experience different sensory sensitivities, Christmas can quickly become an uncomfortable or overwhelming time. People can be hypersensitive to sensory inputs; bright lights, too many or loud noises, strong smells and taste aversions, or from increased physical touch. Especially with COVID restrictions this year, 2020 has meant less exposure to large groups, unpleasant sounds, and an increased capacity to control one’s environment (with work and study from home). This can make Christmas a more difficult time, not only for those with sensory sensitivities, but also for those who experience anxiety, or find extended social activities difficult.
While we may not always be fully aware of those around us who have sensory sensitivities, there are various ways to make Christmas gatherings sensory-friendly for everyone;
- A quiet space –ensure people are aware of quieter spaces they can retreat to if Christmas events start to become over-stimulating; such as an outdoor space, or a quiet room to sit and recharge.
- Stretch it out – Try to spread out Christmas activities over multiple days and with clear breaks within and between days for down time, instead of a single jam-packed day with multiple environments, people and situations to adjust to.
- Accept ‘no’ – Even if you’re sure they’ll love a certain tasty food, fun activity or new song, allow others to say no to your requests and engage with Christmas in the ways they’re most comfortable.
- Tell someone – if you, your child, or someone you know has clear triggers or sensitivities, it can be helpful to let a host know beforehand, just as you would if you had an allergy.
Emily is in her final year of a Master of Clinical Psychology at the University of Sydney. As part of her studies, Emily has completed placements for adult therapy, family therapy and in community mental
health. This included facilitating a telehealth DBT group (skills for emotional distress and regulation). She also has experience as a co-facilitator of a group therapy program for adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, targeting social anxiety and social functioning, for which her publication of the results is currently under review.
Prior to completing her masters, Emily worked in private practice as a provisional psychologist, working with children and adults with disabilities and co-morbid mental health concerns.