In a world that rewards overdoing it, especially around the holidays, it is easy to be tempted into mania. Here is how I stay stable throughout the season.
While we are in the thick of the “holiday season”—which, to me, begins with Halloween in October and doesn’t end until Valentine’s Day in February—I have to take more care than ever to ensure that my bipolar disorder does not prompt a manic episode.
The demands, expectations, and rush of the holidays encourage me to overschedule, overdo, and overexert myself.
How can I avoid having a manic episode—or just feeling like I am in one as I rush around?
Months of Mania-Tempting Holidays
Halloween often brings school events, holiday parties, and bursts of creativity in costuming for trick-or-treating for us moms of growing children.
Thanksgiving encourages family get-togethers, often resulting in disruptions of routines and hectic holiday travel, not to mention the overindulgence in unhealthy foods.
The whirls of Christmas are particularly seductive for me, with gifts to be purchased, church events to attend, trees to decorate, and family obligations to balance.
New Year’s brings parties, resolutions, and cleanup from Chirstmas.
And Valentine’s Day can stress couples and singles alike with high expectations for expressions of love within our romantic relationships.
That’s four months of high spirits to run through!
How do I manage the emotions when they get too high? I found that if I concentrate on the rush instead of on my health, my health does suffer.
Halloween is now thought of as an activity for both children and adults. Parties at school and in our neighborhood have often been the highlights of the season for me. But overscheduling and overproducing holiday cheer often have negative effects that last longer than the Halloween candy.
I can become irritable, edgy, and unpleasant to be around.
My solution has always been to do just enough to enjoy the holiday but not so many activities as to stress me out. Moderation is key.
Concentrating on the fellowship with other people, rather than the trappings, has been a good moderating strategy.
Thanksgiving, as ordained by President Abraham Lincoln, is unique in that the sentiment of the events is to slow down and be thankful for all of our blessings.
But between cooking elaborate meals and planning for Black Friday shopping, even Thanksgiving can be marred by overdoing it.
I try to remind myself: Slow down and enjoy, don’t rush around and be stressed.
Remembering the “Reason for the Season”
Around Christmas, with decorations to be put up, parties to go to, presents to wrap, and baking to do, the worst feeling is the one of diluting the true purpose of the season. Instead of a time to reflect on the birth of Christ, I end up focusing on buying the right presents and the right number of them or the other trappings that go along with the holiday.
Again, focusing on the feelings of people you are trying to be closer to instead of trying to impress others is helpful.
Managing My Expectations
The emphasis on alcohol around New Year’s Day can be dangerous to those taking psychotropic medication. I try to remember that alcohol is a depressant, and making medication less effective helps no one! Avoiding making overblown resolutions can save me from heartache later on; managing my expectations for myself is important.
Focus on Loved Ones, Not Impressing Others
The older I get, the less Valentine’s Day means to me.
When it comes to my husband and me, I want us to love each other year-round, not to just shower each other with possibly wasteful gifts because of societal pressure.
Working out expectations on both ends saves grief later down the road. A low-key cooking of a special treat at home can be more affirming than an expensive and hectic night out.
Again, it’s a case of focusing on the loved one rather than on impressing others with your exploits.
Practical Steps to Avoid “Holiday Mania”
All of this is well and good, but how do I put it into practice? Here are some practical steps that help me to ease my tendency to get manic around the holidays.
#1 Enlist Help
For one thing, I have enlisted help as much as possible.
If I fell behind on the cleaning, I hired someone to come in an extra day to aid me in cleaning out all the accumulation that comes with living in a house with three children. And, as our children got older, I gave them more responsibility in preparing for events.
I often split obligations with my husband.
He would take a child to one school event while I stayed home and baked. We shop together for gifts instead of relying on me to get them all, which also keeps us from overspending by checking on each other throughout the shopping.
#2 Let Some Stuff Go
As I became wiser about my condition, I learned to just let some things go.
I stopped tying bows on presents, simply wrapping or bagging them instead.
I had the kids help bake for Christmas and put up our Christmas trees.
I simplified our décor plans.
I shopped for presents throughout the year to avoid a mad rush around the events.
I resisted the urge for everything to be “perfect” and settled for “good enough.”
#3 Step Up Self-Care
I also learned how bipolar can be affected by the demands of the season, and how that then affects me. This meant changing my approach to self-care.
I took my meds on schedule and resisted the lure of hypomania or full-blown mania to help me get everything done.
I accepted help even if I didn’t think I needed it, knowing that my awareness was likely impaired if I found myself scheduling “six impossible things before breakfast.”
I also stayed in close touch with my treatment team when I saw trouble coming down the road.
I learned to set boundaries, making my case for needing more rest and fewer obligations. If I felt the mania coming on hard, I knew I would need hospitalization if I didn’t pull back.
#4 Do Not Rely on Mania
Some people thrive on mania when their lives get too complicated. They think it enables them to pull off more activities than they could before, while stable or depressed.
Mania can be so tempting; our world rewards the overachieving and the busy.
The holidays may encourage manic behavior in the form of overspending on holiday gifts or the frenzy brought on by the rounds of parties and holiday get-togethers.
That’s the seduction of the upward mood swing of this mental health condition. But, as we always know, what goes up with bipolar must come down. Mania is never worth the erosion of my peace of mind.
Julie Whitehead lives and writes from Mississippi. A reporter for the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, she writes on topics concerning mental health, mental health education, and mental health advocacy. Julie was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder in her midthirties in 2006. She blogs about her experiences and daily life with bipolar at the site Day by Day. She has a bachelor’s degree in communication, with a journalism emphasis, and a master’s degree in English, both from Mississippi State University. In August 2021, she completed her MFA in creative nonfiction from Mississippi University for Women. Julie can be found on Facebook and Twitter.
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