Monday, December 23, 2013

Bipolar Holidays

If you have been diagnosed and treated for bipolar disorder long enough to have a routine worked out for minimizing stress and maximizing calm pleasure during the holidays, then you have a head start on surviving this season without trauma.

But if you are bipolar and uneasy or uncertain about dealing with the holidays, here are a few tips for you to consider.

Alcohol. You bipolar meds may require you to stay away from alcohol, but in any case, one drink makes a second drink seem more harmless than it may be for you. You can take alcohol-free wine or beer with you to parties, and if you don't, you can stick to water or club soda.

Parties. Eat with restraint and watch out for sugar overload. If crowds make you nervous, arrange to go to parties with a friend or your spouse or a date.

Sleep. Even if you are the first one to leave a party or if you are not going to get everything done you think you should, be consistent about getting enough sleep. You may miss some of the fun, but you're likely to miss a lot more if exhaustion triggers bipolar symptoms that sleep can keep dormant.

Long-Distance Travel. Changing time zones is too risky for those bipolar people who find the adjustment unsettling. And even if that doesn't bother you, the stress and unreliability of plane delays and weather disruptions are a challenge to just about everyone. Consider conservatively any travel plans.

Stress. If crowds give you the creeps, do your holiday shopping earlier in the year or online. A New York friend and I once discovered that both of us avoided Bloomingdale's in December, because trying to shop there during the holidays triggered panic attacks bad enough to drive us right back out the door.

Money. Many of us lose our grip on money when in a manic or hypomanic state. All of us who share this risk need to keep a reasonable, sensible control on holiday spending. I find it helps to write down my spending limits on gifts and then to consulting this guide if I'm tempted to go overboard.

Medications. During the holidays, be hyper-aware of keeping to your prescribed meds schedule and of not forgetting a dose. Keep your meds with you if you don't want to leave a social event to take them at home.

Family. Dealing with family may require extra resolve, but if large gatherings unhinge you, say so. If not attending a family holiday party is your best option, try to explain without passive aggression, i.e., don't try to make them feel guilty about a long guest list. Ideally, of course, your family will adjust their celebrations to include you.

Therapy. Stick to your usual schedule if you are seeing a therapist. And if your therapist is going away for the holidays, ask for a recommendation of another therapist you can call if necessary.

Self-care. A gift to give yourself for the holidays is to set limits to the social events you might attend or host and the gifts you make or buy. Being kind to yourself enhances your ability to be kind to others.

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