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Managing bipolar during the holidays is a struggle. And several common traditions, such as seasonal changes, routine disruptions, stress and anxiety, and holiday celebrations, are considered bipolar relapse triggers. They are my top triggers and make the holidays a bit tricky for me to navigate. So, how do you find balance and manage your bipolar disorder during the holiday season? I’m sharing ideas on accomplishing this and what I plan to incorporate this year to help beat the holiday blues.

Finding Balance with Seasonal Changes

Shorter days, increased darkness, and weather changes may trigger bipolar depression, which may be caused by an increased susceptibility to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I know this is something that I struggle with, and you may struggle as well. However, knowing what signs to look for can help you pinpoint when to visit your psychiatrist for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Common symptoms include:

  • General sense of apathy
  • Discontent
  • Loneliness
  • Loss of interest
  • Mood swings
  • Sadness
  • Excess sleepiness
  • Insomnia
  • Appetite changes
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Social isolation
  • Lack of concentration

A great way to identify when and if these changes occur is to keep a mood journal and track your moods and symptoms daily. I’m not always faithful in doing this but making an effort to do so during this season to stay in tune with my mental health.

Additionally, some lifestyle changes may help with managing SAD. For instance, increasing therapy sessions or finding a support group in your area. Finally, you can consult your doctor to determine if supplementing with vitamin D would benefit you.

Also, increasing physical activity can help release endorphins which are natural mood boosters. And if you’re struggling to wake up in the morning because of the darkness, try using a dawn simulator designed to wake you up with gradual increases of light, simulating sunrise. I’m excited to try this to see if it helps with my fatigue and extreme sleepiness.

Lastly, make sure you’re staying social. Prioritize time with friends and family and enjoy the holiday festivities and traditions.

woman standing with luggage at airport during the holidays

Overcoming Routine Disruptions

The holidays are notorious for knocking us out of our schedule. Things such as crammed social schedules, holiday travel, and end-of-the-year work commitments may make it challenging to stay on track with self-care and healthy routines creating the perfect recipe for a bipolar relapse trigger. Consequently, leading to sleep disruption and manic or hypomanic episodes.

The best way to overcome routine changes is to plan. For example, avoid overcommitting to social events during the holiday season. While it’s tempting to try and attend every party or gathering, it’s not realistic. Instead, you must prioritize a proper sleep schedule and self-care for mental well-being. Then, stick to one or two weekly gatherings and leave space for downtime.

On the other hand, you may find yourself traveling a lot to spend time with family during the holidays. Thus, putting you in different time zones, locations, and commitments completely throws your routine out of whack. If this is the case, aim to follow your routine as much as possible. Most importantly, stick to the same sleep and wake cycle, ensuring you get seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

Furthermore, make sure you’re taking medication at the same time and not skipping doses, especially if you’re traveling to a different time zone. Set the alarm or reminder to inform you when to take your medication. And make sure you have your prescription filled before you leave so you don’t run out.

Dealing with Stress and Anxiety During the Holidays

Another common bipolar relapse trigger that occurs during the holidays is the increase in stress and anxiety. The reason for this may be due to various circumstances. Typically, family tensions are high on the list of stress-inducing events. Having to deal with distant prying family members or unhealthy family dynamics may elevate stress levels.

If this is the case, choose which family functions are healthy for you to participate in and stick to those. For example, if staying with family creates unnecessary tension, stay in a hotel or shorten your visit. Or, if it’s too much for you to go home for the holidays, plan a vacation or getaway and skip out on the festivities this year.

Another stressor is having unrealistic expectations of what the holiday season should be. It’s easy to get swept up in the season’s magic and commit to creating the perfect experience for loved ones. However, doing so may put an unhealthy amount of pressure on yourself. And while this is admirable, it’s essential to be realistic and focus on what’s doable. Avoid overextending yourself physically, emotionally, and financially to achieve the perfect holiday experience.

a group of women drinking champagne during the holidays a common bipolar trigger

Holiday Drinking The Biggest Bipolar Relapse Trigger

There is no shortage of holiday parties during the holiday season. And with these celebrations, alcohol is the main star. Drinking is not only encouraged; it’s expected. Consequently, this expectation can make holiday celebrations a bipolar relapse trigger.

It’s natural to want to join in on the festivities, but it’s essential to know your limit and understand the potential downsides of alcohol consumption with bipolar. For many, alcohol can trigger feelings of depression and moodiness. Additionally, alcohol doesn’t mix with many mood stabilizers and antipsychotics.

It’s best to play it safe and avoid alcohol consumption, especially if you’re taking contraindicated medication. However, a variety of mocktails and non-alcoholic beverages can be enjoyed safely so you can still get in on the holiday fun. A quick Google search for holiday mocktails can provide fun ideas for different drinks to prepare and share with friends and family.

However, drink responsibly if you want to indulge this holiday season. Talk with your doctor beforehand about possible interactions or side effects. Most importantly, have an accountability partner to help you navigate these social gatherings to ensure you don’t overindulge and stick to a set limit.

Although bipolar relapse triggers are plentiful during the holidays, having the plan to counteract them is crucial. Learning to overcome seasonal depression, routine disruptions, stress and anxiety, and holiday drinking can decrease relapse and help you enjoy the holiday season.