The holidays present a special challenge to people who live with bipolar disorder or depression. The challenge is a combination of the increased stress that the holiday season often brings combined with the symptoms — such as mania or depression — of these disorders. As a result, people who live with bipolar disorder and those who live with depression might dread the upcoming holidays.
Whether you’re stressing about money, family issues, remembering a loved one who’s gone, or just feeling lonely, there are a few things you can do to cope better this time of year.
A person who lives with bipolar disorder typically has a treatment plan that includes medication that helps prevent or reduce the cycling that is a hallmark of the condition. And the treatment plan for a person with depression often includes an antidepressant medication to help keep their mood elevated. Nearly everyone with bipolar disorder or depression also benefits from seeing a psychotherapist on a regular basis — especially during the holidays.
Stress is a common trigger that can make a person’s mood worsen, even while they’re on medication. The holidays bring most of us additional levels of stress, even if we’re generally feeling good about them.1
6 Tips to Help with Bipolar Disorder & Depression
These tips may help you deal more effectively with the challenges around the holidays.
1. Don’t hibernate or isolate
One coping mechanism many people resort to when under stress is to go underground — to hibernate or isolate themselves from others and social situations. While this may help deal with the stress and anxiety surrounding being social when you don’t really feel like it, it contributes significantly to feelings of loneliness.
2. Keep spending — and comparisons — in check
Social media sites including Facebook and Instagram are wonderful for keeping up on your friends and family. But they can also make us feel badly about ourselves when we use them as a comparison tool. “Oh look, Amy is buying a new laptop for their daughter… I wonder how that’s going to make my daughter (her friend) feel since she’s still using one that’s three years old…” Get off that hamster wheel and avoid social media if you find it’s making you feel poorly about yourself. You can’t spend yourself into feeling better (despite the many marketing campaigns that try to convince us otherwise).
3. Stick to your treatment routine — and up it, if need be
A person with bipolar disorder at this time of the year may be feeling like they’ve been doing so well, the last thing they need to worry about is taking their prescription as directed. And a person with depression may feel like, “Well, the meds don’t seem to be working as well as they once did, so why continue taking them?”
A desire to make a significant change to one’s treatment plan during a hectic time of the year is usually unwise. Stick to your existing treatment plan and think about adding to it temporarily — like with an additional support group meeting or even another therapy session — to help you cope.
4. Plan your holidays with a little forethought — don’t try and do it all
Too many of us try and do it all around the holidays, and when grappling with a mood disorder, this can be an overwhelming combination.
Many of us feel buffeted by the holidays, going from one thing to another and feeling like we have very little choice in the matter. The truth, however, is that we very much have a choice — we just go along with things the way they always are because that’s what’s easiest. But it may not be what’s best for us. It may help to sit down with your calendar and plan your holidays out, choosing the things you want to do and go to, and saying “no” to things you really don’t want to do this year.
5. Remember moderation
It feels good to let go sometimes, especially if you have bipolar disorder and remember some aspects of a manic phase that were positive (while conveniently forgetting the less-positive aspects). Holiday times might seem like a good time to let loose and over-indulge, whether it be in eating, drinking, buying presents, or consuming social media. But overdoing it in any area of our lives rarely results in anything positive. Resist the temptation to overdo it, and remember moderation in all things.
6. Rest, forgive, take responsibility, and give thanks
Throughout it all, remember the holidays are a time to celebrate life, friendships, family, and being thankful just for being alive. It’s a good time to make amends if need be (with a friend or family member), take responsibility for your own behaviors, and try and be more mindful of the many moments you are living. We take for granted that we will always get more of them with all the same people, but that is rarely the case.
Keep your expectations minimal and well in check, and you may find this to be one of your better holidays. And remember, one of the best things you can do is to stick to your routines and don’t try to change anything big.
For further reading
- Not all stress comes from bad events. For instance, marriage is one of the happiest moments in a person’s life — but also one of the most stressful. [↩]