12 Tips on How to Manage Mental Illness During the Holidays


If you live with a mental illness like bipolar disorder, then the holidays can be a tough time of the year. Between crowds, dysfunctional families and pressure to buy gifts, the holidays can bring bouts of depression, battles with mania and huge helpings of anxiety. Here are 12 tips (kind of like the 12 days of Christmas) that can help you through this holiday season.

1. Make a list and check it twice.

When you create a list of gifts to buy, it can prevent you from impulse buying. I suggest making a list and checking it against your budget to make sure you are making smart choices. The idea here is not to go into debt to the point that you are stressing out the rest of the year trying to pay it off.

Additionally, if you use a credit card, then you will likely be paying two to three times what the original price was. Successfully managing bipolar disorder is often done with lots of planning ahead. For example, I am impulsive and want everything right away. It is hard for me to think clearly in the moment. My solution is to plan ahead. I make my lists and budget everything out so nothing is left to impulse.

2. Practice smart shopping.

If crowds cause major anxiety, then online shopping can be your best friend. You can have items shipped straight to your door, or you can avoid shipping costs by picking up purchases in the store. If you can handle a few minutes of crowds, then picking up your purchase is ideal. Another idea is shopping during times when there are not many people. Some retail stores have later hours that you can take advantage of.

3. Take time for you.

In all of the hustle and bustle, remember self-care is important too. Read a book, take a walk or treat yourself to one of your favorite things. One of my favorite things is working out. So I’ll probably be treating myself to some extra gym time. Taking care of yourself during this holiday seasons is so important for your mental health.

4. Don’t spread yourself thin.

I know sometimes during the holidays we pile one activity on top of another on top of another until we are unbelievably stressed and not even remotely enjoying the holiday season. Even if you have a million activities to do, prioritize. Attend to the important ones and save the less important ones for another time. I’m finding out more and more each day, that it is fine to say no every once in awhile. I make sure to try to keep my stress level under control because huge amounts of stress can cause mania.

5. Live in the moment.

Often the picture in our heads ruins the way something turns out. Instead of enjoying what we have, we are disappointed that it didn’t turn out how it played out in our minds. Try to ignore previously conceived notions of how an activity or event will turn out. Enjoy the beauty of what is.

6. It’s OK to ask for help.

Oftentimes, people with a mental illness have a hard time asking for help. I know it is difficult for me. If your to-do list is piling up, then it’s OK to ask for help. Ask a spouse, close friend or other family member to help out. Sometimes, just asking for help relieves the burden.

7. Fight the blues by creating tradition.

A lot of our depression this time of the year comes from missing loved ones who are no longer with us. Make a tradition of remembrance for your loved one. For example, remember one thing that your loved one did during the holidays and replicate it so you are keeping their memory alive. I have had quite a few loved ones pass away. I share memories of them with my son as we carry out the traditions they influenced.

8. Overcome loneliness with support.

Our depression can also come from loneliness. Some ways to combat this is to join a support group or volunteer for an organization. I know when I did these things, I met so many people and they helped me go further in my journey. It was rewarding, and I no longer felt alone in the things that I had gone through. I also found understanding friends, with similar journeys, who I could turn to when the holiday season brought me down.

9. Stick with your routines.

If you have read my blog before, then you know how important routines are for me. Do not stray from your established routines. Ditching routines during the holiday season could cause a shift in mood, and this is the last thing we need when trying to maintain recovery.

10. Take care of your body.

During the holiday season, it is tempting to splurge with food and alcohol. Make sure you are aware of how you treat your body during the holiday season. Practice moderation and have a little bit of what you enjoy, but don’t take it to extreme. Eating tons of rich food and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can cause depression because your body is not used to it or cannot process all of it.

11. Stick to your sleep schedule.

I have had so much success with sleep therapy. I go to bed at relatively the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning. It has made a huge difference in my mental health. I have fewer mood swings if I stick to my schedule. I encourage you to stick with a sleep schedule to reduce mood swings, so the holidays will be more manageable.

12. Take time for the people you love.

The holidays are a time for the people you care about. It’s more than just gift giving. It’s about spending time with the people you love and who love you right back. Make sure you set aside time for that. I make it a point every holiday season to watch a Christmas movie with my son almost every night I have him. These are the times we will both remember with fondness.

I hope these tips have given you some ideas on how best to manage your mental health during this holiday season. Many blessings to you during this holiday season!

This post originally appeared on the International Bipolar Foundation Blog.

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