Many people can find enjoying the holidays challenging, but for those with bipolar disorder, the holidays can also cause bipolar mood instability. This is a special challenge over and above what the average person faces. While average people may worry about seeing a brother who hates them or an alcoholic aunt who is a mess, people with bipolar disorder risk a bipolar relapse. Here are some of the reasons why the holidays cause bipolar mood instability for those with bipolar disorder.
Bipolar Mood Instability and Mania/Hypomania
The holidays can be merry and bright. They can be merry and bright and loud and stressful and intense and overwhelming. The holidays can expose us to so much stress and stimuli that it causes mood instability to the point of hypomania or mania. This can happen because we sleep less (What’s the Deal with Sleep and Bipolar?), because we get overstressed, because we socialize so much, because there is so much alcohol flowing or simply because our typical routine is interrupted. I think of it like being trapped in a world of swirling Christmas lights. It absolutely can make you feel crazy.
I know that for me, when I’m overstimulated with stress and anxiety, my hypomania tends to magically appear. It often appears in a minor way and then causes a lack of sleep which makes it worse. Soon I’m in a hypomanic or mixed mood only noticing it when it gets really bad.
Bipolar Mood Instability and Depression
Bipolar depression is another type of mood instability that is common during the holidays. This can come about if you’re not looking forward to the holidays but feel compelled to participate in them anyway. Anyone in that situation might feel uncomfortable or down, but for a person with bipolar disorder, this can rapidly progress into a full-blown depression. I know that some years, sitting around my family’s dinner table on Christmas day can be more an exercise in self-control and dissociation than it is either bright or merry.
But I also find the disruption in my bipolar routine is likely to lead to bipolar depression during the holidays. Again, this is often because of a sleep disruption and an overly-emotional environment. Many people do find that family triggers unpleasant emotions but the difference for those with bipolar disorder is that it can, again, turn into a full-blown episode.
And for me at least, I often keep it together during the holidays and then fall into an endless hole when it’s all over. I know that the drive home often uses up many, many tissues.