Mental Illness & Holidays - Tips on How To Cope

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There are millions of people in this world who suffer from some type of mental illness. For many of them, the holidays are a time filled with stress and anxiety rather than the joy and cheer of the season.  Changes to normal routines, travel, family gatherings, and the added hustle & bustle, among other things, can contribute to holiday stress as well.

If you find yourself wondering how to cope, try these tips:

  • Make sure you take your medicine as prescribed. 
  • If you think you might need to increase your dose to get through the holidays, talk with your doctor now. Don't wait until the symptoms get out of control.
  • Set priorities! If you know that shopping the crowded malls, baking up a frenzy, going to party after party, and sending cards out is all going to be too much for you then pick and choose what you really enjoy doing and just skip the rest, or scale down.
  • Avoid the temptation to overindulge. This includes eating, alcohol, and spending.
  • Try to maintain a regular schedule getting up, eating, exercising, and going to bed at roughly the same time every day. 
  • It is OK to say NO. Don't overbook yourself and if you know an event is going to be too overwhelming, don't feel like you must attend anyway.
  • Know your limits and plan ahead. If you know attending a family gathering or party is going to raise your anxiety level to a dangerous limit, but you want to try to go anyway, make sure you have an exit strategy. Whether the plan is to leave early or to find a quiet room somewhere to regroup, it is OK.
Like other serious illnesses, a mental illness can be difficult for caregivers, friends, and family to deal with as well. Stress from caregiving can make it difficult to cope with a loved one's symptoms. Having a support system in place is very important for both the caregiver and the one suffering from the illness, especially during this time of the year. 

For more information on specific disorders, visit the National Institute of Mental Health and click on a topic.