Dealing with Bipolar at the Holidays – Family

December 21, 2012 Natasha Tracy

In my last article I wrote about creating reasonable expectations for the holidays and how that can help your mental health. Today, I want to talk about the stress of holidays with family.

Now, don’t get me wrong, family can be great, but more often than not, holidays cause a gathering of family members you both gel with and those you don’t and I hear from a lot of people that they hate such family gatherings. But why? Are family gatherings worse for people with a mental illness?

Families and Mental Illness

In short, yes, family gatherings can be harder for people with a mental illness. Here’s why:

  1. Mental illness often runs in the family so many family members may be struggling with their own mental illness and addiction issues.
  2. The stress of the holidays exacerbates possibly already out-of-control bipolar and anxiety symptoms.
  3. Some family members are often unsupportive to those with a mental illness up to an including believing that mental illness doesn’t exist at all.
  4. Some families put pressure on the person with the mental illness to behave in ways that harm their mental health instead of help it (like insisting they go to parties or drink with everyone else).
  5. Some families bring up very bad memories and this can cause additional stress on the person with bipolar.

And, in short, all these are stressors and stressors are very bad for people with a mental illness. Unlike your average person who may experience short-term distress due to these stressors, someone with a mental illness may be put into a full-blown episode because of them.

Handling Families When You’re Bipolar

If you have a supportive family you love being around, great! But if you don’t, here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. You do not owe you family anything that compromises your health. If the health problem you had was cancer and you knew that being around your family would worsen your cancer, this would probably be clear to you. The rules don’t change just because it’s a brain disorder.
  2. Stay away from things you hate. Seriously. Stand up for yourself. Declare that you won’t be going to your drunken uncle’s house. Say that you won’t attend gatherings that you know will just end in screaming fights. Decline invitations that you know will make your symptoms flare up.
  3. Don’t be a sheep. Don’t do things just because everyone else expects you to. Don’t do things just because everyone else does. Do what is best for you.
  4. Claim personal boundaries and space. Rest when you need to. Avoid conversations that you need to. Don’t let your family bully you into things that you know will hurt you.
  5. If you mental illness comes up, remember that the closed minds of others doesn’t affect what you know and live with every day. Don’t let Aunt Mary’s stringent anti-mental illness views affect your self-image. Stand up for yourself or just walk away if you need to.

In short, don’t be afraid to make ripples. If you don’t change, then your experience of the holidays never will. You can take part in what you enjoy and leave the rest. Really. It is possible.

Because your holidays don’t have to be a rerun of every year since you were 12. Your holidays can be what you want and what you make them. If this means being on a sunny beach instead of with your family altogether, then do it. True, people might not like it, but if you lived your life by what other people “liked” you would never have a chance to be you.

You have the right to make it through this holiday season happy and healthy. Do what it takes to make sure you do.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2012, December 21). Dealing with Bipolar at the Holidays – Family, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

Megha Tendulkar
December, 21 2012 at 6:25 pm

I agree that going on a holiday with family members can be very stressful. Even meeting them in family get togethers creates anxiety and many a times bags you down. The games that some family members play are understood and and one feels impulsive to react. There is lot of insensitivity amongst the family members. So it is better to cope with such incidents by keeping a distance from such get togethers or holidays.

December, 23 2012 at 9:30 pm

I absolutely agree with you. Its time I took the enjoyment of my holiday into my osn hands. Right now I'm depressed (started last night) and I know this holiday is going to be difficult. I was running around in a mixed episode tryinh to get xmas done, college work done, maintain a clean house but that all back fired. Now I'm depressed, with a family who are unsupportive because they dont believe me when I try to explain to them my illness. I isolate a lot and they dont get that. Even when i went on trial medication earlier on this year they redused to believe this brain disorder. So I'm very much alone this xmas, this is currently the worst xmas ever. It didnt go to plan, family and others ruined my holiday plans and I HATE change too. But im glad i read this article, its helped me vent alot of stuff out of my head :)

December, 24 2012 at 7:25 am

Good advice for everyone -- thanks.

December, 25 2012 at 6:26 pm

Well hohoho!I survived Christmas by myself my son was with his Dad and I have no family here - but am moving back home in June - going through divorce and bancruptcy no stress right would love to hear from anyone --Thank you

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