What to Do When the Holidays Trigger Mental Illness Symptoms

christmas stress

I am facing the peak of the holiday season as today is my children’s last day of school before their two week winter break. Not only does the stress of Christmas shopping, increased social engagements and family get-togethers, and the intense hustle and bustle of the general public wreak havoc on my mental health, but having school-aged children home for two weeks cooped up indoors is enough to drive a mama crazy! What to do? Here are some borrowed sayings I try to live by:

First Things First

My first instinct is to climb into bed, draw the covers up over my head and go into hibernation until it is all over. Obviously, I can’t do that so instead, I ignored the dishes in the sink and the presents needing wrapped, and took a two-hour nap this morning. I’ll do the dishes and the presents this afternoon after I write this post. No big deal.

Easy Does It

Tomorrow I am going to get a massage. I think it will help me de-stress and also prepare my body for the upcoming added stress of family engagements, especially since I am hosting Christmas dinner at my home. I plan on drinking a lot of water, and getting plenty of rest as well.

K.I.S.S. – Keep it Simple Stupid

I plan on cleaning one or two things/rooms a day and not the whole house in one afternoon as is my tendency. That way I don’t overwhelm myself to the point of tears and a complete mental breakdown; that and a crabby attitude toward the rest of my family, including playing the martyr role. Oh yeah, and I will not be doing everything myself…I will ask my family to help!

Practice an Attitude of Gratitude

I did a wonderful guided meditation on gratitude yesterday. I’ve never felt so relaxed while awake and not on some kind of drug! I will try it again throughout this week, and I will also be making gratitude lists whether on paper or just mentally each day to keep my thoughts positive.

To Thine Own Self Be True

Overall, I have learned that I have to take care of my body, take care of my thoughts, protect my time and my personal space, take my meds, abstain from alcohol, exercise, get plenty of rest, and keep some PRN Ativan on hand at all times.

How do you cope with holiday stress? I hope everyone is doing well. I know the holidays are a rough time for many. Please reach out if you are struggling. I would love to hear from you.


The Princess, the Pea and the Holidays

Rockefeller Center Christmas tree

Rockefeller Center Christmas tree

The holidays bring with them extra family, travel, food (usually the not-so-healthy kind), money-spending, crowds, and stress. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard enough time managing my stress on a “normal” day.

I require a low stimulating, non-demanding environment in order to remain relatively sane. I call it the “Princess and the Pea syndrome.” If you recall the children’s story written by Hans Christian Andersen, there was a princess sleeping on a dozen or so soft mattresses, and the only way to know if she was a true princess was to test her physical sensitivity by placing a pea under the bottom mattress to see if she felt it while trying to sleep.

If you are like me and the princess, then keep reading as I share the ways in which I limit stimuli to my hypersensitive system, thereby managing my holiday stress:

Family Events:

Show up late. Leave early. Tell them you have diarrhea. Who’s going to try guilting you into staying if you say you have diarrhea? Ha ha! Just kidding – don’t lie.

What I say is that I am not feeling well, which is true if my body and mind have reached their limits. Fatigue, tension in my neck and shoulders, headaches, and chills or sweating are all signs that I am beginning to experience anxiety and it is time for me to scadaddle.


If in the car or airport for any length of time, make sure you have ways to block out extraneous sensory input, which to me is anything beyond someone honking their horn at you for weaving into their lane, or at the airport, the attendant calling for finally boarding on your flight.

Some ways I block out extra stimuli when traveling include listening to relaxing music through earphones. Sometimes I leave the ear buds in even when there is no music playing because strangers or even my kids are less likely to make small talk or bother me if they think I am listening to something.

Bring sunglasses! I don’t have a problem just shutting my eyes no matter where I am – in the airport, a restaurant, or on someone’s couch. Closing my eyes, even if just for a minute or two, really keeps me from becoming visually overstimulated.


Eat a carrot for every cookie you inhale. Do I do this? No. But it’s a good idea, right?

Shopping crowds:

Online, baby! Unless your lap is overpopulated.

I hope some of these suggestions help you manage your holiday stress this week. What do you do to decrease stress during the holidays?  Please share in the comment section below.


P.S. December 31, 2012 is the deadline for submissions to Turtle Way‘s next issue. Turtle Way is Write into the Light’s online mental health journal. See submission guidelines here.