When you have a mental illness, it can seem impossible to deal with holiday stress. What can we do?

The holidays are right on top of us, and the air is filled with a buzz, it seems. While most people get excited about the holidays, it can feel just a bit different from those who suffer from a mental illness.

Yes, that buzz can sometimes feel like an overwhelming loud and obnoxious noise, decorated with tinsel, of course. I mean, the holidays for the mentally ill can be more stressful than the stress gathered throughout the year – holidays can exacerbate symptoms.

What is holiday stress?

Honestly, most everyone knows about holiday stress. It’s that rushed feeling you get when you’re decorating, wrapping presents, and trying to fit in regular routines at the same time.

It’s not so bad if you have the ability to stay calm most of the time, but for those who have issues like PTSD, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, these changes can cause problems – problems such as an increase in panic attacks, frequent fights, and even sleeplessness.

There are many ways that holiday stress can make life much harder for those who suffer from problems like this. Remember, mental illness is no different than any other illness and others should also take this into consideration.

How to handle that extra stress

1. Plan what you want to do

Don’t let others drag you any and everywhere during the holidays when you don’t really feel like going. You should make the plans for what you can handle during these busy times.

If you rather stay home most of the holiday and only visit a few relatives for a few hours, then that should be fine. Make these plans, let everyone know, and don’t be coerced into changing what you want to do.

2. Get plenty of sunlight

The seasonal affective disorder is a real thing. During the winter months, depression can become much worse, especially if you’re not getting enough sunlight. Getting the light you need may not always be easy if it’s cloudy and overcast most of the time.

In this case, use bright fluorescent lights to provide as much brightness as possible. Yes, even during Christmas, try to find some light to alleviate those holiday blues.

3. Don’t neglect therapy

Just because it’s the holidays it doesn’t mean you should skip out on therapy for your illness. Therapy and counseling are what help keep your symptoms under control and gives you a support system. During the holidays, with all the hustle and bustle, you will need this support system to keep you grounded.

So, by all means, don’t give your doctor a vacation. If they’ll willing to see you sometime during the holidays make sure to take advantage of this.

4. Budget well, if you can

One of the problems with bipolar disorder is overspending. If you happen to be in the mania stage, you will need to make sure you can budget somehow. Most of the time in this state, you will need a friend to help you with that. If you have a support system like that, they can help you gain control of your spending.

They may have to keep some money aside so you won’t go overboard. But hey, what are friends for? With other mental illnesses, you should also remember to budget well because the aftermath of overspending can cause problems with anxiety.

5. Mindfulness

During the holidays, you will really need the advantage of mindfulness. Meditation and prayer can help you calm your mind and center at the present moment. This works especially well with anxiety, as shopping can be an extremely stressful activity.

If you can find time to meditate before you engage in any heavy holiday shopping, you will be able to get through. Mindfulness also works great when dealing with relatives who can sometimes really be difficult. Instead of getting into fights, the previous meditation can prepare you to have a calm response.

6. Try to avoid alcohol

I know, I know…spiked eggnog and wine are tempting, but you have to think of the end result of that indulgence. If you have a mental illness, simple holiday stress can turn into an altercation, or even a fight or two when you’re under the influence of alcohol.

Alcohol has an aggressive effect on many people, and the last thing you want is to be the cause or part of ruining a family get-together. Without alcohol, you are better equipped to deal with instigators and trouble makers in the family. And you know what they are.

7. Take a timeout if needed

Holiday stress can be so suffocating that the only way to get peace is to getaway. I’m not saying leave your family completely, or leave your friends for the rest of the day. When I talk about timeouts, I mean finding a place to be alone for a while, preferably in a quieter area.

You can go to an empty room and take a nap, meditate or listen to calming music. This little timeout will invigorate you and give you the stress to make it through the rest of the holiday event.

You can still enjoy the holidays with a mental illness

Just because you deal with a mental disorder doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the holidays. It just means you should find ways to deal with the added stress in your life. To be honest, some people with mental illness aren’t that fond of the holidays, and it’s because of not understanding how to deal with the added stimuli.

I hope these few ideas have helped you plan a better holiday season for yourself. Remember, you never have to indulge in every holiday tradition. Pick and choose, and this should also help you keep it together and stay healthy.

Happy Holidays!


  1. https://www.nami.org
  2. https://www.psycom.net

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