Bipolar Disorder During the Holidays: Avoiding Triggers and Coping


The holidays can be a tricky for anyone. But people with bipolar disorder may anticipate November and December holidays with real dread — and depression.

“The holidays can be very hard for people with sleep and make you more prone to mood swings.

  • Excessive spending. It’s the season when it seems everyone is running up their credit cards. If you have a history of excessive spending and grandiose gift-giving during hypomanic or manic episodes, you are clearly at risk.

  • Missing your anxiety.

  • Stick to your schedule. If you’re having fun, of course you don’t want to leave a party to make your . But you need to follow your regular non-holiday schedule as closely as possible. And make sure to keep up your normal exercise routine too — or at least get out for quick walks.

  • Try not to overindulge. It’s hard, but you really must stay away from alcohol, especially if you’ve had problems with it in the past. And despite the allure of all those sweets, try to stick to your normal diet.

  • Weigh the pros and cons. Even if it makes you anxious, it’s generally a good idea to try going to your family’s holiday dinner. But there are exceptions.

    “If you have a really stormy family history, and seeing your family tends to trigger problems, then staying away could be the right move,” says Thase.

    But make this decision carefully. Weigh the benefits and the risks. Can you handle the guilt of not going? Most importantly, make sure you have something else planned. Don’t just say no and then spend the holidays alone.

  • Bipolar Disorder & Shopping Sensibly

    It’s very easy to get caught up in the frenzy of the season and become fixated on finding everyone the perfect gift. But again, you need to stay in control — especially if you’re prone to unhealthy buying sprees. Here are some suggestions:

    • Keep perspective. Don’t get too caught up in finding the best gift for everyone. It’s not worth the anxiety — and besides, your nephew would probably be happy with a check anyway.

    • Stick to a budget. If you have a problem with overspending, come up with an explicit budget well before the holidays arrive. You may want the aid of a friend or family member to help you stick to it.

    • Spread out the shopping. Try to shop ahead. Frank suggests Halloween (or earlier, if you can manage it) as a great time to start looking.

    • Shop online. If you have access to the Internet, online shopping is a low-stress way to avoid the mall’s hassles. For a little extra, some sites may even gift wrap.

    • Go for gift certificates. Just about everyone loves a gift certificate. And they don’t have to be impersonal. Choose one that fits the person: get your sister one from her favorite boutique and your uncle one from a restaurant he likes.

    Caring for Yourself

    The holidays are a time when we’re encouraged to think about other people instead of ourselves. That’s fine, to a point.

    But if you focus so much on other people that you neglect yourself, you’re at higher risk of descending into mania or living with bipolar disorder to diabetes. “Just as diabetics can’t eat all of the sweets during the holidays, people with bipolar disorder have to take extra precautions,” he tells WebMD. “But if you take those precautions, the holidays really can go well.”

    So this holiday season, plan ahead, keep to your schedule, and scale back your expectations. If you do, you can beat holiday depression, mania, anxiety, and hassles — and enjoy the season. That’s good for you as a person living with bipolar disorder — and for your loved ones too.