When You Feel Like You Can't Handle the Holidays

December 22, 2020 Natasha Tracy

Do you feel like you can't handle the holidays that are right around the corner? If you are in this boat, you aren't alone. I suspect this is going to be one of the hardest holiday seasons in years for many people and many families. However, if you have bipolar disorder, not being able to handle the holidays can be even worse than for the average person. Today, I'll be discussing what to do if you feel like you can't handle the holidays because you're overwhelmed or otherwise.

Not Being Able to Handle the Holidays Because You're Overwhelmed

Being overwhelmed by the holidays is not uncommon. There are decorations to put and baking to do and present to buy and wrap and events to organize and family to see and cooking to accomplish and oh, so much more. It's a lot for anyone, but it's especially a lot for a person with bipolar disorder.

I've written before about how bipolar itself can be overwhelming. Having bipolar disorder often feels like a full-time job. So, add to that all the intricacies of this time of year and it's no wonder people with bipolar disorder feel like they can't handle the holidays.

Feeling Like You Can't Handle the Holidays for Other Reasons

Of course, feeling overwhelmed by all the holidays brings isn't the only reason to feel like you can't handle the holidays. I know that sometimes just seeing family feels like something that can't be handled, due to family dynamics, existing relationship problems, people who don't support your mental illness diagnosis and other issues.

Of course, this year there's also COVID. The coronavirus can offer so much anxiety around the holidays that it alone seems impossible to handle.

And I'm sure mental people have other equally-important reasons for feeling like they can't handle the holidays.

Can't Handle the Holidays? I've Been There

I used to dread the holidays something fierce. I despised so many things that were a part of this time of year. The very idea that I had to go and spend days with my family was awful enough but put the pressure of the holidays on top of it and I just wanted to scream. I absolutely felt like I couldn't handle the holidays and I certainly couldn't handle the holidays and maintain my mental health.

Over time, however, I've learned that I can handle the holidays if I do a few things differently:

  • I don't let other people control my holidays. One of the issues with holidays is it sometimes feels like you're subject to a tug-of-war consisting of other people's needs. I don't take part in this anymore. I focus on my needs and work with others to see how we can come together. I no longer let other people control what I will do and when I will do it.
  • I make a plan. I don't just let things happen anymore. Now I plan for eventualities and even make contingency plans ahead of time. For example, if I go to a family event and people are getting drunk or high, I make sure ahead of time that people know that I may choose to leave that environment. I also make sure I have a place to go should that need occur.
  • I set boundaries. I think of boundaries like the rules of the road for dealing with the holidays. I admit, my boundaries with bipolar are stricter than for many others, but that is what protects my mental health and that's my priority and I've learned that my priorities matter.
  • I stick to a budget. This one goes without saying for many of us. I would love to be able to buy people everything they desire, but I just can't afford it.
  • I plan little escapes while out of town. While family members might want to see me 24/7 when I'm around, that doesn't work for me. So I plan on taking mini-breaks to recenter myself and keep my sanity. This can be as simple as being in a room alone for an hour. That can be the recharge that I need.
  • I create my own holiday traditions. Holidays traditions are often set by the older family members. That didn't work for me so I've created some of my own. For example, while the tree is normally put up in my mother's house, I've chosen to put up my own tree too. There may be years when no one even sees it (like during a pandemic) but it's something I do during the holidays just for me. This creates ownership over the holidays and makes it seem less like I'm at the mercy of other people's whims.

And finally, I've learned to not feel guilty about doing these things. Yes, the first time you start asserting your own boundaries to protect your mental health, other people may not understand. They may even get mad. Honestly, that's okay. It takes time for other people to adjust to a new relationship norm. (See: "Getting Others to Respect Your Health Boundaries.") But I refuse to feel guilty about getting what I want during the holidays. Yes, I care about what other people want, too, but now I don't allow that to be the only driving factor.

One other thing to know about handling the holidays: bite the holidays and your own needs into chunks. When you look at the holidays as a whole, it can be hard to even decide what your boundaries are. However, if you look at tiny portions of it individually, things can become clearer. For example, can you follow the above points during Christmas dinner? Can you follow the above points when it comes to gift-giving? Can you chunk up what's going to happen and address your needs for each chunk? I think doing that makes it much easier to handle the holidays.

Do you have any tricks for handling the holidays? I would love to read them below.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2020, December 22). When You Feel Like You Can't Handle the Holidays, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 19 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.

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