The holidays can be a tricky for anyone. But people with bipolar disorder
may anticipate November and December holidays with real dread -- and
"The holidays can be very hard for people with bipolar disorder,"
says Raymond L. Crowel, PsyD, vice president for mental health and substance abuse services at the
National Mental Health Association. You'll probably face loads of possible
triggers: relatives, stress, exhaustion, and the temptation to overindulge, to
name a few. Slipping into a mood swing may be much easier than usual.
Rapid cycling is a pattern of frequent, distinct episodes in bipolar disorder. In rapid cycling, a person with the disorder experiences four or more episodes of mania or depression in one year. It can occur at any point in the course of bipolar disorder, and can come and go over many years depending on how well the illness is treated; it is not necessarily a "permanent" or indefinite pattern of episodes.
So what should someone with bipolar disorder do when the holidays roll
around? Be a Scrooge and opt out? Hibernate?
You don't have to do either. WebMD talked to experts about how people with
bipolar disorder can weather the holidays -- with tips on avoiding depression
and mood swings, planning, enjoying the season, and more.
Bipolar Disorder: Why the Holidays Can Be Hard
Experts say many things come together to make the holidays tough for people
with bipolar disorder, including:
Disrupted schedules. "The biggest single problem with
the holidays for people with bipolar disorder is that they take them out of
their routine," says Ellen Frank, PhD, director of the depression and manic
depression prevention program at the University of Pittsburgh's Western
Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.
Studies show that people with bipolar disorder do best when they're on a
schedule -- getting up, eating, exercising, and going to bed at roughly the
same time each day. Even the loss of just one night of sleep can trigger a mood
swing. But during the holidays -- when you may be traveling across time zones,
partying, or staying up until the wee hours -- it's all too easy to get off
Over-stimulation. Shopping, decorating, and preparing for
the holidays can leave you excited and anxious. Some family reunions aren't
always happy. Any excess stimulation can trigger a swing toward holiday
depression or mania.
Shorter days and longer nights. Some people with bipolar
disorder find their mood swings are related to the seasons. Depression is more
common in the fall and winter in the northern hemisphere, says Michael E.
Thase, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical
Holiday "cheer". The holidays are a time when
excessive drinking is often tolerated, even encouraged. Though unwinding with
alcohol can be tempting, it can be bad for people with bipolar disorder. Not
only can it interfere with medicine, it may also ruin sleep and make you more
prone to mood swings.
Excessive spending. It's the season when it seems everyone
is running up their credit cards. If you have a history of excessive spending
and grandiose gift-giving during hypomanic or manic episodes, you are clearly
Missing your medication. When you're busy, it's easy to
forget about your medication. You may even feel tempted to skip a few doses on
purpose: it might make it easier to tolerate alcohol, or being a little
hypomanic may give you the energy to get errands done. But when you have
bipolar disorder skipping your medication is always risky, since it makes your
mood less stable.
Believing the hype. We all know how we're supposed to feel
at the holidays: brimming with joy, good will, and love. But a lot of us don't
really feel that way. Being depressed during the holidays can really make you
feel out of step, which adds to feelings of isolation.