Holiday Challenges

Dan Haupt, M.D. Health Guide
  • People have high expectations for the holidays, and many social activities revolve around this time of year. Along with high expectations, the holidays can bring increased stress. For people with bipolar disorder, the holidays can pose additional challenges.

    With the many expectations and demands on people at this time of year, it is important for people with bipolar disorder to maintain a sense of perspective on the importance of taking care of their illness.

    During the holiday period, it may be helpful to take a moment to concentrate on one’s goals for managing their illness. Past experiences can be helpful in identifying ways to improve illness management. If a certain situation led to an exacerbation of symptoms in the past, it may be wise to plan how to address a similar situation this year.
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    There are some common hurdles that everyone can face at this time of year, but they may be especially dangerous for people with bipolar disorder, including:
    • Family interactions: Despite the value placed on family interaction and the joy they can bring, these events can be also be very stressful.

    • Sleep: For many people with bipolar disorder, maintenance of healthy sleep patterns are essential to managing the illness, and worsening of sleep patterns can herald the beginning of a manic episode.

    • Alcohol/drugs: Lots of people with bipolar disorder have had associated problems with drugs and alcohol, which can be exacerbated by the social atmosphere during the holidays.

    • Overeating: This same social atmosphere can also lead to overeating, which can be especially discouraging for people struggling to control their weight while taking appetite-stimulating medications.


    It may be helpful to consider that even though many people seem to be able to tolerate sleep deprivation, or drugs and alcohol without any obvious problems, people with bipolar disorder often do not fit into this category. This recognition can help to identify situations that may exacerbate the illness in advance, and allow one to take precautionary measures. For example, someone with bipolar disorder and problems with alcohol abuse or dependence may benefit from taking time to remind themselves of the adverse effects associated with previous episodes of holiday drinking as a way to prevent problems this year.

    Enjoy your holidays, and keep sending me your questions!

Published On: December 04, 2006