Dealing with Bipolar at the Holidays – Expectations

December 17, 2012 Natasha Tracy

I believe the holidays hit everyone. Sometimes that hit is very positive, sometimes it’s really negative, but I think that hit is real and pretty universal. If it’s not parents, it’s siblings, if isn’t not kids it’s money, if it’s not partners it’s the planning of perfection. In short, there’s something for everyone to be stressed about at this time of year.

For me, personally, I can’t count the number of times I would leave my family and cry and sob for hours as I drove home. Holidays have never really hit me positively.

And as I’ve said before, even if you’re lucky enough to get a positive kick from the holidays, even good times can lead to bad health. But knowing the hit is coming, is there anything we can do to soften it?

The Expectation of the Perfect Holiday

Holidays are seriously stressful, but we bring on much of this stress. We are stressed by the concept that we all must be Martha Stewart in order to have the “proper” holiday experience. We think that centerpieces are key and napkin rings must match place cards and menus should be printed. We think that mashed potatoes must be put through a ricer and cranberry sauce must be homemade and gifts must appear to have been decorated by designers.

And this, our thoughts, expectations, are what put undue burdens of stress on us.

And seriously. When was the last time you had a perfect Christmas (or other holiday)? Probably the last time was when you were ten-years-old and that’s only because you were given a Barbie Dream House. Your idea of perfection was much more reasonable back then.

Holiday Expectations

I remember one day when I was a kid where my mother flew off the handle about a garland we were putting above the fireplace. I wanted it one way and she wanted it another way and all I remember is that led to a shouting match of my brother shouting down to my mother who passed the shout onto me.

Apparently garlands were the new oxygen.

All of us had the expectation that the garland would be perfect (whatever that is) and we were prepared to fight to the death to ensure it was that way. If we just hadn’t of been so set on perfection, we might not have passed on all the yelling.

So, when looking at the holidays are there reasonable and unreasonable expectations? Of course there are.

  • Reasonable expectation: People will be civil to each other most of the time.
  • Unreasonable expectation: No one will fight and everyone will be happy to see each other.
  • Reasonable expectation: We will all eat a Christmas dinner together.
  • Unreasonable expectation: Nothing will be undercooked, overcooked and everything will look like a magazine cover.
  • Reasonable expectation: We will decorate a Christmas tree.
  • Unreasonable expectation: We will go to a forest and cut down the perfect tree as a family and then decorate it with all the latest fashionable colors.
  • Reasonable expectation: People will give gifts.
  • Unreasonable expectation: People will love all the gives they gave/got.

And so on.

Bipolar and Holiday Expectations

And if our expectations are out of line with what reality has to offer, we’re really just walking into a wall of sorrow and sadness (and maybe anger, or other things, who knows?).

This can result in two mood shifts.

Shift one is a slip into depression because of all the sorrow felt around the letdown of the holidays. Shift two is a slip into hypomania or mania to try to make all the perfection come to life.

And I’m not kidding about that. These “little” holiday issues can contribute to major problems with mood. And once those mood problems arise, it takes more than a perspective change to deal with them.

In short, it helps if we all go into the holidays understanding the reasonable and substantial imperfection of life and of the holidays. We need to remember we have real families and real dinners and real trees and real gifts and not Norman Rockwell paintings. We all need to relax and just take the holiday as it comes.

And if you can’t get over your need for perfection watch a Martha Stewart Christmas special. Because that’s as close to perfection as any of us is likely to get.

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

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2012, December 17). Dealing with Bipolar at the Holidays – Expectations, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 28 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.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

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

Christmas Is What You Make It
December, 10 2016 at 3:46 pm

It was the 50th anniversary of my mother's suicide today. It never gets any easier, believe me, even after that many years! I live alone so I decided to volunteer with the Union Gospel Mission in her honour. It was their Christmas dinner (held on Dec 10th, not Dec 25th). Served 2,848 people from 2:15 to 5 PM. Very busy but a nice diversion from sitting at home downcast. Made me feel good to help out. Even got a free dinner out of it. It was pretty good actually. The only part that sucked was the slogging there and back home again in the snow, slush and freezing cold wind and rain
When I got back to my tiny one bedroom apartment shivering and drenched in rain I turned on the oven, opened the oven door to warm up the place quickly then sat quietly in my livingroom mezmerized by flames of the "holiday fireplace" on TV thankful I had a place to come home to. No music. Just a picture of a wood burning fireplace on the TV screen with the accompanying crackling sounds from the fire. It felt very peaceful and relaxing even though I had to psych myself into believing the heat was coming from a home fireplace, LOL!. I threw on some thick wooly socks, wrapped myself in a warm cozy blanket and settled in for the night with a book. It was my perfect "Christmas".
Not sure what I'm doing on Dec 25. Probably spending time with family but it doesn't really matter to me either way 'cause I've already had my Christmas this year

November, 25 2013 at 6:08 am

It must be extremely painful for you,Phyllis..
As a fellow suffer of this life threatening disorder,I'd say take it one step at a time.
Where there's life,there is hope.
Don't give up,don't look back.
This is NOT your daughter,it's THE DISEASE.
It took me forever to get that simple but empowering concept.
Agree heard of NAMI,here in Cda through a friend whose son has a psychiatric disorder,she spoke highly of them.
Re online info,some things you may read are excellent,others not.
Good medication taken reg schedule,healthy eating,& reg rise/ bedtime schedule will help.DONT GIVE UP, ASK questions galore! in the moment.
Pray things turn around for you & your daughter.:-)

Natasha Tracy
December, 18 2012 at 10:00 am

Hi Phyllis,
The first place I would start is with her doctors. The hospital and her doctors should be able to put you in touch with local resources.
Secondly, there are many, many helplines available for different issues. I would recommend calling one and asking for their advice on where you can get more help:…
Also, you may wish to look up your local NAMI chapter (Google it) as they may run support groups and have other resources specifically for family that you can access.
You're definitely going through a trying time, but you're not alone. There are people out there who can help.
- Natasha

stephanie hansen
December, 18 2012 at 7:18 am

Take care of yourself first, Phyllis, and don't feel guilty for doing it. When the plane is going down parents are instructed to put the oxygen mask on themselves first. Doesn't matter how old you are. Still applies here. I say this as a parent of a severely disabled child and spent many, many, many nights in icu. Slept and ate and took time outs to calm and center myself every chance I got while all other family members wept and wailed and sat bedside vigil until they were delirious. Her dad and I were the only ones in any shape to help her when she was released because we "put the oxygen masks on ourselves first" while she was in the medical staff's capable hands.
I'm in Canada, so I only know where she could turn for help up here. Sorry. Just remember...the fewer overwhelmed adults the better. Lean on people. Get help where YOU can. Blessings...

Phyllis Crotty
December, 18 2012 at 6:23 am

My daughter is 44. She attempted suicide last night. Drank a fifth of vodka and took 10 ambian. She is in icu to be watched until she can be put in a psych unit. No money, no job, 3 kids. Dont know where to turn. Any advice?

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