For those who live with a mental illness, whether it’s bipolar disorder like me, depression, anxiety or any other diagnosis, the holidays can be tough. While for a lot of people it’s a cheerful time with worries set aside, for those who struggle with their mental health, those struggles carry on regardless of the time of year.
Christmas can be tough for people with mental illness for so many reasons. There is a great deal of social pressure in so many forms. People tend to spend time with family at Christmas; if you have loved ones to spend the holiday with, being surrounded by so many people, noises and lights, having to engage in conversation and be alert can be draining for those of us with mental illness.
When you are around family who you don’t see often and everyone is talking about their achievements and how they have spent the year, sometimes it can be tough to talk about your mental illness and how that might have been affecting your life.
If you don’t have loved ones to spend the holiday with, this is emphasised at Christmas when you are ‘supposed’ to be with family. Often seeing others with their family and the social media portrayal of the perfect family and perfect Christmas can be really tough for those who may have tense relationships with their family or aren’t with them this holiday.
Financial worries can be prevalent, feeling that you need to buy nice gifts for those in your life and perhaps not having the financial resources to do so. This can increase stress and anxiety as well as feelings of guilt and worthlessness.
Alcohol and rich food
More alcohol and rich foods around the holiday can be tough, especially if you struggle with addiction, eating disorders or unhealthy coping strategies.
Disruption of routine
For a lot of people with mental illness, a routine is vitally important; I know that for bipolar disorder having a set routine is something that keeps me stable. When that routine is thrown off during the holidays, it can make it tough to find your bearings and remember to monitor your mood, as well as to remember to take your medication and to stay stable.
Loss of loved ones
Those who are no longer with us can be missed so much more around the holidays; the lack of their presence leaves a big hole where they are supposed to be. Christmas makes bereavement so much more difficult.
For many people they will be travelling to see family, or having family travel to see them and stay with them in their homes; these situations can be very stressful, feeling that you don’t have access to that ‘safe space’ that you usually have at home, and perhaps feeling that you are expected to behave in a certain way.
It can be fun
This all sounds really dire, but the holiday can be so much fun; despite mental illness, we can all take part and make the best of it. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting tips and guidance on how to tackle some of these problems and make the best of the holidays.