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How to Survive the Holidays with Bipolar Disorder

Photo by Massachusetts Office of Tourism
Photo by Massachusetts Office of Tourism

Holiday Survival 101 for Bipolar Disorder

I was really hesitating to write this blog. I mean, aren’t there literally hundreds of blogs telling us how to make the holidays brighter? Cheerier?

In fact, I haven’t written in a week for fear that I had really nothing new to say. Then, I remembered that I’ve lived relatively successfully with Bipolar Disorder for the last ten years. I don’t really count the ten years before that because I hadn’t found my medication cocktail or my current pdoc and, frankly, don’t remember much of my forties anyway.

I have a thing or two to share

But since today is black Friday, and I had nine people for dinner yesterday and survived it unscathed, I thought I just might know a thing or two to share with you. Considering I’ve completed my Christmas shopping and it’s only the day after Thanksgiving, I think I’m doing pretty darn well, actually.

Here is my list of things to remember as we head into the holidays.

Photo by Massachusetts Office of Tourism
Photo by Massachusetts Office of Tourism

1. Get as much sunlight as you can, and use a lightbox if you are prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder like I am. I am literally a sponge soaking up the sunlight each afternoon, and turning on my Philips goLite every morning when I get up at 4 and every afternoon when it gets dark here around 4:30 p.m. If you don’t get enough sunlight, your internal clock will go wonky and you’ll be sleeping 12 or more hours a day – or want to at least. The amount of energy I have is in direct proportion to the amount of sunlight I’m exposed to.

2. Keep lists of everything. I use a 5.5” x 4.5” blank sketchbook that I take with me wherever I go. I use scrapbook embellishments to make it pretty and get creative. I keep lists for home, lists for work, grocery lists, chore lists and dinner menus. I can barely remember where I’m supposed to be or do at any given hour, and these lists are a lifesaver. There’s also something satisfying about crossing things off when completed and turning to a nice clean blank page.

3. Keep it simple if you are hosting the whole family like I am. Delegate side dishes and desserts to bring. I have three college-aged daughters living at home and I give them each a LIST of chores and a deadline for when it needs to be completed. I had the house cleaned, the table set, 1 dessert made and all menu items sitting out on the counter the night before Thanksgiving. All I had to do was get up early ( and I’m an early riser anyway) and make the stuffing and get the bird in the oven by 7 a.m. This way, when the first football game came on at 9:30 am, I was able to sit on the couch, and relax!

4. The Internet is your friend so shop online, check prices, get free shipping and be done with the whole thing. I am glad to say I went to one store to physically buy one item two weeks before Thanksgiving, and the rest were ordered online. I am now officially done with my Christmas shopping!


And last but not least –


5. Only go places and see people you really want to. Keep your circle small and tight and only include those who love and respect you. My sister didn’t talk to me for a year after I refused to have her husband in my home when one year at Christmas he insulted my parents and me. I refuse to have that kind of negativity around me if I have a choice. She finally gave in this year and seems to be talking to me again. I know it sounds harsh, but I have enough of a difficult time regulating my moods without someone I don’t like in my own home.

Know your limits this holiday season

It’s so important to know your limits, listen to your gut and follow it! If you get queasy thinking about the company holiday party, don’t go. If you can’t stand holiday traffic, make a point to go out at odd hours if you can. Set your boundaries and stick to them. You and those around you will be much happier and very grateful that you are in a good place to enjoy the holidays and create some good memories.

And don’t worry about keeping up with your neighbors or coworkers. Accept the cookies gracefully, but don’t worry about returning the favor if it makes you unbalanced. It’s okay. A simple thank you or note will suffice. Do what you can and let the rest go. Be at peace and enjoy the month of December.

How to Survive the Holidays with Bipolar Disorder

Lisa Keith, Psy.D.

September 29, 2014 Lisa Keith,Lisa.Keith Psy.D. is a 20-plus year veteran special education teacher who has taught grades K-12 and now teaches graduate students who want to grow up to be special ed. teachers. When she’s not teaching or academically engaged, she is completely engrossed in 49er football or the art of Zentangle. A typical day for Lisa begins at 4 a.m. to check email, Pinterest and journal, followed by a hefty dose of coffee and hours of study. You can learn more about her here:

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APA Reference
, . (2017). How to Survive the Holidays with Bipolar Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 17, 2018, from


Last updated: 13 Dec 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 13 Dec 2017
Published on All rights reserved.