Holidaze: Surviving The Holidays With Bipolar Disorder

Dec 14, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Mental Health, Muffy Walker

by Muffy Walker, MSN, MBA

Muffy Walker, of the International Bipolar Foundation, writes a mental health column for KRL every other month.

For some, the holidays are a time for gathering with family and friends, gift giving, festive parties, shopping sprees, cookie exchanges, caroling and more. For others, the holidays are a lonely time, evidenced perhaps by the lack of all the joy experienced by others. For most though, the holidays are a time, good or bad, which can be filled with stress.

Here are some tips to help you get through the season unscathed:

The Family Gathering:

The family gathering tends to be high on the stress list. Should you attend the family dinner? Whose side of the family “gets you” and for what date(s)? Are your traditions being honored? Will family members you don’t get along with be at the gathering?

All of these factors play into your enjoyment of the traditional family gathering. If this is a particularly difficult time for you, let your host know. Explain that you may need to arrive late or leave a little early. Ask to be seated next to people with whom you get along and feel most comfortable. If there are grievances, set them aside as the holiday gathering is not the time to air them.

Be realistic about your expectations. As families change, new members join, so do the traditions. If yours is not honored, suggest to your host that you’d like to share it with the group or set aside another gathering to do so.

Take some time for yourself. Go for a 15 minute walk, sit on the porch and find something that helps you reduce stress.

The Gift List:

Where does your gift giving list end? Do you include only immediate family and best friends, or does yours extend to the mailman, hairdresser and 3rd cousins twice removed? What about the gift exchanges, the office party and pleas to help the underprivileged? Will you feel guilty if your gardener gives you a poinsettia, but you’ve nothing to give to him? Planning ahead can help.

Set a budget and stick to it. Let family know if you’re unable to give everyone a present. Suggest choosing a name and only buying for that one person. Set a dollar amount. Your gift doesn’t have to come from a store. Perhaps give something you make; your famous fudge or knitted shawl. Consider giving to a charity in the person’s name (no one knows the amount you spend except you & the charity!).

The Parties:

Family, friends, co-workers, neighbors…the party invitations may be endless or non-existent. If you are feeling lonely, why not look into community or religious events? Volunteering your time with those less fortunate will help boost your mood.

If the stream of invitations is plentiful, learn to say no. You know your limit, your sleep schedule and your budget. Decide in advance which parties work for you.

Don’t abandon your healthy habits. Over-indulgence will leave you feeling guilty. Eat a piece of fruit before going to the party. Once there, start with a glass of sparkling water or tomato juice. Remember to get plenty of sleep and stick with your exercise routine.

Seek professional help:

Despite your best efforts, you may still feel sad, lonely or isolated. Acknowledge your feelings. It’s OK to cry, feel angry or sad. You can’t force yourself to feel happy just because it’s the holiday season. Talk to your doctor or mental health professional, call on the support of your trusted friends or seek spiritual counseling.

Recognizing your triggers and taking control, will help you get through the season. Try each day to find one thing to be grateful for and you may find some joy as well.

Check out KRL’s Mental Health section for more mental health related articles.

Muffy Walker was born and raised outside of Philadelphia, PA. She currently resides in Rancho Santa Fe with her husband John C. Reed and their three sons. In 1983, Walker graduated with a Master’s of Science in Psychiatric Nursing from the University of Pennsylvania. She worked in the mental health field for over 18 years until she moved to California when she obtained her MBA with a focus in marketing from the University of California-Irvine. Walker is the founder and President of International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF). After learning that her youngest son had Bipolar Disorder, Walker joined other mental health boards and ultimately started IBPF. She has served on a plethora of boards including Children’s Hospital, Kids Korps USA, NeighborHelp, ChildHelp USA, and has dedicated the past 10 years of her life championing the education of the public about mental illness.

1 Comment

  1. I have only just seen your post about Christmas, I know that a lot of bipolar people do have some problems with celebrations but I never realised it was so common. I thought it was just me having a problem with friends and family. I have to avoid like the plague so that I can survive, literally. I am in England but I have had to make another ‘secret’ face-book page for my other self as my work colleagues and friends are on the other one where I am ‘normal’. I am involved in the studies for genetic predisposition and how to get on without medication along with any other studies which present themselves for bipolar 1. I made it to 50 yr’s old last year. It was a bit of a fluke as I rapid cycle with extra’s, but I am sort of proud to be working mostly full time and still here after a life like no one would ever imagine! I get more mania than the other but when it hits after a few weeks it leaves me half dead. I want all bipolar people to know, they can find something they are amazing at that few norms will be able to do and feel proud. I can write poetry as a whole piece, and sometimes I can calculate faster than a calculator. All my senses are amazing at times, I have a very high IQ when it is available. It is worth saying that it would be a waste of a world without us in it. 🙂



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