Holiday Stress and Coping Strategies

 Holiday Coping Strategies 

This time of year can be exciting, fun, and full of cheer. For many of us, this time can also be very stressful, overwhelming and difficult, often exacerbating symptoms of mental illness or spawning new ones. I've honestly struggled through most holidays in my life, whether before, during or after diagnosis with bipolar disorder. I will share a bit of my story and try to offer a few suggestions on how I'm trying to change things up this year.

At a younger age, and then seemingly every year, holidays have been marked by traumatic events; divorce, death of multiple grandparents, and major fights (many of which were likely caused by me later in life) within the family. Due to this and the seasonal changes, like a severe lack of sunlight we all share in the winter months, a major depressive episode has occurred like clockwork as long as I can remember. Combine this with the issue of persistent financial issues, little money for gifts, no wherewithal to plan ahead in any capacity and I just look ahead to the holiday season with dread in many ways. 

    So, enough negative, how are we going to change things up. I’ve already incorporated some of the below with some success. I survived Thanksgiving without my mood substantially changing, so I’m hoping this works out for Christmas. 

  1. 1. I show up when I can. I make it to (almost: see 2) every holiday function and often for multiple days. But I take breaks, go to a room alone for a while, sneak in a podcast or wake up a little later or read in bed. It’s the small things.  

  1. 2. If I can’t make it, that’s okay. I’m just honest about it and explain why if I can.  

  1. 3. Work out, I always work out at least once to keep my routine and maintain stability(ish).  

  1. 4. I try to get my normal sleep and leave to go home at a reasonable time. I used to stay until the last minute and get home late. Yes, the extra time with family is nice, but the anxiety is less if I can get home, put everything away, and just have some time to relax or work out.  

  1. 5. Relax. This is my time to take it easy a little bit. I can’t go too far. I know this because I usually do, but that’s okay (I’m really trying to tell myself it’s okay. We got this).  

  1. 6. Set plans as far ahead of time as possible. This gives me time to prepare mentally for as many variables as possible. I’ve also tried to simplify my holidays, instead of going to every house possible. I have more to give to the people I’m with; another bonus!  

    7. Don't be too proud to call your therapist or mental health team. Mental illness doesn't take a break for the holidays.

  1. Put your stability first. Be honest and communicate effectively with those around you. Beyond that, if you need to leave or take another measure you might think extreme; do it and forgive yourself. It really is okay.  

Have a good holiday season and month into the New Year. Consistency is key, even on break! 


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