The holidays can be a difficult time for people living with bipolar disorder. Adjusting your expectations and finding time to enjoy simple pleasures are among many ways you can stay stable and avoid triggers.

The holiday season can easily trigger hypomania, mania, dysphoric mania, depression, anxiety or intensify an already existing bout of depression. So, I offer these 12 “keys” which I have found which empower me to live well through the holidays:

  1. Adjust your expectations. Expectations more often than not have let me down. I find that if I adjust my expectations “down several notches” or even better if I have no expectations I enjoy the holidays Too high of expectations of others always seems to lead to disappointment. And disappointment can easily play into the hands of a mood swing.
  2. Enjoy the little things. Focusing on the little things can make a big difference. Life is made up mostly of little things. And simply enjoying them is important. I always have to remind myself not to make the little things into big things. And remember,  the little things that are not enjoyable or even painful are nothing more than little things.
  3. Give to others. If I focus too much on myself during this time of the year inevitably, it will lead me to the self-pity’s doorstep. When I am “other” focused I do much better. Giving to others and helping others who are in need allows me to keep the focus off of myself.
  4. Remember, this too shall pass. Going through hell only last if you stop while going through hell. If you are having a particularly hard holiday season, just keep going even if you are “barely going”. The holidays will pass. As they say, when you are going through hell, don’t stop! The one constant in life is change. Things will change. This too shall pass.
  5. Remember, depression lies. Remembering that depression lies is a biggy for me. If you and I begin to believe the lies of depression, then depression can even take a stronger hold on us. I always have to remind myself if depression is lurking around the corner or even if it has come to visit to use my rational thinking regarding all of the lies and deceptions that it has to offer. Despite how dark depression feels, I fight to use my logical mind over it.
  6. Watch your sugar and caffeine intake. This one is especially no fun at this time of the year. There is good food and drink everywhere. But, sugar (and carbs) takes us on a roller-coaster of highs and lows. Caffeine can easily overstimulate you and me. I recently lost about 62 pounds with many more to go, but during this holiday season, I’m allowing myself to enjoy some of the sweet things around me. But, I have promised myself that if I slip up and overindulge that does give me cause to jump off of the healthy eating wagon for good.
  7. Stick with a healthy sleep schedule. Don’t sleep too much or too little. Doing it is more challenging at times than knowing it. This one is absolutely necessary at all times.
  8. Exercise will help. The truth is that exercise always helps. But, if you are like me, I don’t enjoy exercise. I find that I do better if I choose some projects to do that cause me to move more than usual. Moving more is better for me and if the project is something I enjoy I don’t even realize that the movement is good exercise.
  9. Don’t isolate. This one is much easier said than done especially when you are in the midst of depression. Some years ago after being initially diagnosed, I was so depressed that I found myself simply isolating more and more each day. I had to do three things to isolate less:

a. I asked others to come to me and hang out with me as opposed to me going out.

b. I forced myself to get out of the house at least once each day. Even if it was only to take a short walk. It always helped.

c. I allowed my wife to urge me strongly to get up and get out of the house when I was not accomplishing the first two things. I didn’t always like it, and I didn’t always do it. But, she didn’t give up on me or get mad at me. She was lovingly very insistent.

10. Don’t over think. Overthinking life is never helpful. Overthinking can cause an “override” with our entire emotional and mental health. Overthinking can simply shut us down. If I’m too much in my “head”, I can lose large segments of time that go by with me becoming frozen in my thinking. Yes, I need to think and not react compulsively. But, overthinking can get me in as much trouble as not thinking and reacting impulsively. Balancing the two is very important.

11. Remember, there are no perfect families. During the holidays, most of us spend more time with our families than usual. And many of our loved ones can easily trigger us. Through the years, I have found it helpful to remind myself before a family gathering that “so and so” will probably once again trigger me. So, I plan ahead of time as to how I’m going to respond. Most times this works for me. You may not have the best family. But, remember, there are no perfect families.

12. Focus on what the meaning of the holidays. If you are a person of faith, it is important to remember why we celebrate the various religious/spiritual days during this time of the year. For those of us who are Christians, the message of God sending his son for us is the central message of Christmas. Which easily gets lost in amongst all of the commercial hype. So, during this time of the year, I take special care to make sure to spend time each day meditating on what the true meaning of Christmas is.

How about you? What have you found to be helpful to living well through the holidays? What works for you? What challenges you during this time of the year?

Check out Brad’s weekly podcast at www.FreshHope4MentalHealth.com

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