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Bipolar Disorder: Handling the Holidays

With a little planning you can avoid holiday depression, anxiety, and mania -- and enjoy the season.

Facing Holiday Parties

For a lot of people with bipolar disorder, it's the holiday get-togethers -- family dinners, office parties, neighborhood caroling expeditions -- that cause the most anxiety. Here are some tips for getting through them unscathed.

  • Say "no" sometimes. "Don't overbook yourself," says Crowel. Most of us have more holiday obligations than we can handle. Decide which ones are most important and which aren't. Some events may simply be overwhelming. It's okay to say "no".

  • Have an ally. If going to a party is making you anxious, go with a friend, relative, or co-worker. Arrive and depart together. And your partner could watch your back, helping you avoid alcohol and other temptations.

  • Leave early. Going to a party doesn't mean you have to stay all night. Decide beforehand when you'd like to leave and stick to it. Even stopping in for just a few minutes is okay. Having a getaway plan may relieve a lot of anxiety.

  • Stick to your schedule. If you're having fun, of course you don't want to leave a party to make your bedtime. But you need to follow your regular non-holiday schedule as closely as possible. And make sure to keep up your normal exercise routine too -- or at least get out for quick walks.

  • Try not to overindulge. It's hard, but you really must stay away from alcohol, especially if you've had problems with it in the past. And despite the allure of all those sweets, try to stick to your normal diet.

  • Weigh the pros and cons. Even if it makes you anxious, it's generally a good idea to try going to your family's holiday dinner. But there are exceptions.

    "If you have a really stormy family history, and seeing your family tends to trigger problems, then staying away could be the right move," says Thase.

    But make this decision carefully. Weigh the benefits and the risks. Can you handle the guilt of not going? Most importantly, make sure you have something else planned. Don't just say no and then spend the holidays alone.

Bipolar Disorder & Shopping Sensibly

It's very easy to get caught up in the frenzy of the season and become fixated on finding everyone the perfect gift. But again, you need to stay in control -- especially if you're prone to unhealthy buying sprees. Here are some suggestions:

  • Keep perspective. Don't get too caught up in finding the best gift for everyone. It's not worth the anxiety -- and besides, your nephew would probably be happy with a check anyway.

  • Stick to a budget. If you have a problem with overspending, come up with an explicit budget well before the holidays arrive. You may want the aid of a friend or family member to help you stick to it.

  • Spread out the shopping. Try to shop ahead. Frank suggests Halloween (or earlier, if you can manage it) as a great time to start looking.

  • Shop online. If you have access to the Internet, online shopping is a low-stress way to avoid the mall's hassles. For a little extra, some sites may even gift wrap.

  • Go for gift certificates. Just about everyone loves a gift certificate. And they don't have to be impersonal. Choose one that fits the person: get your sister one from her favorite boutique and your uncle one from a restaurant he likes.

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