How to Handle This Thanksgiving with Bipolar Disorder by Setting Healthy Boundaries

Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

When my father pressured me at the last minute to host a family Thanksgiving two days before I was slated to drive 1500 miles last year, I refused.

At first I agreed. Why not cook a feast for my extended family, at least seven people in addition to my own husband and two children (11 people total)? I would have loved to have my family over and fete them with all the trappings of the Thanksgiving holiday, all of which I would be cooking by myself because my husband was finishing up tasks at work in order to prepare for our road trip.

This made sense to me at the time. I could do laundry and pack for the massive, month-long road trip after the Thanksgiving holiday was done, right?

But I realized that as a woman with bipolar I, that much stress would immediately spin me out into a dangerous manic episode. Because of my very serious psychiatric condition, I wouldn’t have been able to even enjoy the holiday or the road trip because I would be too busy preparing for both. If I had hosted Thanksgiving like my father wanted, I may have even ended up in a mental hospital.

Once I recognized that hosting a holiday was not only overwhelming but unhealthy, I then had to set a boundary, something that has been very difficult for me in the past. Girding up my strength, I texted my father back and told him my immediate family would be skipping the Thanksgiving holiday entirely that year in order to preserve my mental health.

His disappointment rang clear to me through his emoji-filled text, but he thankfully understood my reasoning, and ended up enjoying Thanksgiving with my sister. My immediate family ended up baking a small turkey breast we bought at Costco and making mashed potatoes, a very low-key holiday of our own for just the four of us.

Thanksgiving, an American feast holiday including traditional dishes like turkey and pumpkin pie typically eaten with friends and family, can be tricky when bipolar disorder is an uninvited guest.

The stress of the holiday, especially when taking on tasks like all the cooking for a large group, may tip a person you over into mania or hypomania, after which there is almost always a depressive crash.

I am here to tell you that your holidays do not have to be unhealthy.

You can stick to your guns and set healthy boundaries with your friends and family.

If you are an adult, your family absolutely cannot force you into any uncomfortable position unless you let them. Will there be consequences for asserting yourself? Yes, definitely. But those consequences may not be as awful for your and those surrounding you as damaging yourself with a manic episode.

Why Setting Boundaries is Important

When you first start to set boundaries, you will be uncomfortable, especially if you’ve never set them before. But doing so is incredibly important. If you do not express your preferences and stick to your guns about them, you invite people to ignore your needs and set them up to fail.

Set them up to fail? What? How does that make sense? It’s simple, really.

People aren’t mind readers. But how can they be good to you if you don’t tell them what your preferences are? If you don’t tell people if you’re angry or even annoyed, they can’t respond in a proper way and they’ll continue responding in the way they feel is right based on limited information, possibly angering you or annoying you further.

If you don’t tell people the truth about what you like or what your preferences are, and if you just go along with what they say or don’t say no to them about something that feels violating to you, you are setting them up to fail.

That doesn’t lead to a productive conversation or to someone knowing the real you. This is not your fault, but it doesn’t have to be this way. You can express your needs and get them met.

Here’s how.

How to Set Boundaries This Holiday Season

Telling my father that my family wasn’t going to enjoy Thanksgiving with him was extremely difficult for me, someone who doesn’t set boundaries often, and especially not with him.

But having done my own research on how to set boundaries and having talked with my therapist about techniques, I was prepared.

Here are my steps to setting boundaries:

1. Find a supportive friend or partner to vent your feelings to before and after setting your boundary.

When I set boundaries with my father, I expressed my feelings of being overwhelmed to my husband, who helped me realize I could not take on the task of hosting Thanksgiving that year. My husband gave me the perspective and the courage I needed to stand up to my dad.

If you cannot find a friend or partner in your personal life offline to vent to, you may have more success online. You can also use a therapist for this. (For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.)

2. Use clear, easy-to-understand language.

When expressing your needs, you do not want to be misunderstood or give anyone any leeway or wiggle room to interpret your words differently. Write down what you want to say ahead of time and read from your notes if necessary.

One of the best ways to express your feelings to others is to use “I” statements. When you say, “you made me feel…” that shifts blame onto the other person and puts them on the defensive. Plus, framing the sentence that way doesn’t allow you to take responsibility for your own feelings. Try “I feel,” instead.

Last Thanksgiving, I communicated with my own father via phone text, the medium he chose, so I was fortunate that I could tweak my words before sending him the message until they were the most effective I could come up with.

3. Modulate your tone.

Setting boundaries with an angry tone doesn’t work. People dismiss other angry people, and may end up getting defensive themselves. Try to speak as neutrally as possible. This will be difficult, but having your needs listened to and respected is worth it.

I always try to remain calm when setting boundaries. If I find myself getting worked up, I tell the person that I’m setting the boundary with that I need to walk away momentarily and will be back when I’m calm.

4. Do not over-explain yourself, or explain yourself at all if you so choose.

When you set a boundary, expect to be listened to. If you find that people are unable or unwilling to understand what you’ve said, repeat your clear, easy-to-understand statement until they get it. There is no need to over-explain your reasonings.

When I’ve over-explained in the past, I’ve found that people do not believe that I the boundary I am trying to set is firm. Having solid reasons–which I do not have to explain at all if I so choose, and neither do you–requires me to think about them ahead of time to determine if I’m comfortable with those reasons. In the Thanksgiving example, my mental health and the health of my immediate family had to come first.

5. Set consequences if your boundaries are crossed.

The most effective boundaries have consequences. You can always, always stop speaking to your family. It’s uncomfortable, but you might find that it’s freeing as well. If they’re not going to treat you in the way you deserve, with respect and kindness, then they do not in turn deserve your attention.

When setting boundaries with my father during Thanksgiving, I was fully prepared to stop speaking to him. Thankfully he understood my set boundary and I didn’t have to, but if he hadn’t and I’d stopped speaking to him, then he wouldn’t have seen us for Thanksgiving anyway, and possibly longer, depending on how long I was willing to stick to my guns. It was a win-win for me.

Specific Examples of Boundaries You can Set

Here are some specific examples of boundaries you can set and the language you can use to set them:

  • To set a boundary with an angry family member, say something like, “You will not treat me [in the specific way they’re treating you]. If you continue, I will leave the room (or hang up the phone call).”
  • To set a boundary with someone who criticizes you, say something like, “It is not okay with me that you comment on my [specific example, like eating patterns]. Please stop.”
  • To set a boundary with someone who asks too much of you, say something like, “Although you are important to me, I must say no to your [specific request] to take care of myself and my family.”
  • To back out of a commitment, say something like, “I know I agreed to [specific task], but after looking over my schedule, I recognize that I will not be able to give [the task] my all. I want to help you find a replacement by [specific date].”

Conclusion

Setting boundaries with your family will be difficult, but the personal power you gain will be worth it. Get some perspective from a trusted friend, use clear, easy-to-understand language, modulate your tone, do not over-explain yourself, and set consequences.

When I set my own boundary, I was fortunate that my father respected me enough to understand why I set it. But I was fully prepared to stop speaking to him. I set my boundary and stuck to it, and I had a peaceful holiday with my immediate family that I wouldn’t have traded for anything.

You can handle this Thanksgiving. Remember, you get to decide what your holiday season looks like. You family cannot force you into anything you do not choose to do. Your mental health is paramount, and if you do not protect yourself, no one else will.

I wish you well.

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10 Frugal Gifts for People Who Suffer from Anxiety

A racing heart. Panting breaths. Tunnel vision.

Chances are, you’ve felt anxiety in your life, and you know how terrible it is. Many of our loved ones manage anxious thoughts and feelings every day.

But what if you could give a friend or loved one something to help soothe them? If you have someone who in your life suffers from anxiety, this gift guide is for you.

Last holiday season, I wrote a frugal gift guide for people who suffer from depression.

A lot of the gifts on this list overlap with that one, but feel free to check the depression post out for even more ideas!

Preface

I’d like to preface this gift guide by saying that whomever you’re giving gifts to, keep in mind whether the recipient will actually be able to use the gift. People who suffer from depression are easily overwhelmed. You want to offer them a present which won’t overwhelm them, and you definitely don’t want to have expectations that they will use the gift.

Presents don’t have to be expensive, but if they’re thoughtful, your loved one will appreciate them. If you can, do some research to figure out what your loved one likes and is into. Look into their social media posts and find out what he or she is posting about. That can give you a clue as to what your friend or loved one enjoys.

If you are a frugal person buying for a frugal person, the best gifts you can give are practical ones. Most frugal people are content with what they have, and don’t want to fill their houses with stuff they won’t use. So the best gifts you can give, aside from time, are consumables, like food, journals, or gift certificates to places they like.

With that in mind, here are 10 frugal gifts for people who suffer from anxiety:

1. Weighted Blanket

Imagine a situation where you’re antsy and distracted. Then imagine a full-body embrace. Imagine deep pressure enfolding your arms, your legs, your chest. Now imagine a calm passing over your frantic mind.

This is the soothing feeling of a weighted blanket.

Weighted blankets have been used by occupational therapists the world over to help calm their patients, both children and adults alike. Glass beads are partitioned out in pockets and sewn together in sections.

When picking out a weighted blanket, there are two rules of thumb to follow: the chin-to-feet rule, where you use a blanket that covers your whole body, and the 10% rule, where you use a blanket that is 10% of your body weight.

Keep these rules in mind when picking out a weighted blanket for your loved one, and you’ll be golden.

2. Essential Oil Diffuser

Aromatherapy has long been a practice to soothe people. Scents like lavender and pine have calming effects on the mind.

This is due to the fact that lavender has been linked to the same neuron receptors as powerful anti-anxiety medications. Calming scents, and lavender in particular, trigger your brain to produce more feel-good chemicals.

So why not get your loved one an essential oil diffuser? They’ll love it.

3. Worry Rings

A “worry item” is something you can hold in your hands to fidget with. Fidgeting is a natural habit that helps ground people who suffer from anxiety, so a worry item can be very useful.

A worry ring or spinner ring helps take your loved one’s mind off whatever’s distressing them. They will wear their ring and think of you every time they fidget.

4. Mini Zen Garden

Raking sand and setting up stones doesn’t sound like it will relieve anxiety.

But a miniature zen garden is perfect for creating a small environment where your loved one will have complete control over the patterns of the sand. A zen garden can be a very soothing activity for your friend or loved one.

5. Therapy

Everyone needs someone to talk to.

Depending on how your loved one feels about therapy, signing them up with a few virtual sessions with a licensed therapist may be a wonderful gift. Your giftee may benefit immensely from only a few sessions and be encouraged to continue.

But take care when giving this gift.

You must know your recipient well and be able to preempt their reaction. And don’t let the sessions be a surprise. Talk with the person before giving them therapy as a gift, so they know what your intentions are.

If you give therapy to the right person, a few sessions could really help them!

For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.

6. Adult Coloring Book

Coloring isn’t just for kids anymore.

This soothing activity is now for adults in the form of adult coloring books, which show complex patterns of animals, words, and mandalas, among other pictures.

Give your loved one a box of crayons and an adult coloring book, and watch their face light up.

7. Journal

Journaling has been proven to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Give your loved one the gift of a journal this holiday season. A nice Moleskin is a bit on the pricey side, but Moleskin makes excellent notebooks with leather-bound covers.

If you want to make the journal very special to your recipient, purchase it ahead of the gifting and write a positive affirmation or quote on the bottom of each page.

8. Yoga Mat

Downward facing dog. Mountain pose. Warrior I.

These are all yoga poses, from a practice which has been proven to help with stress and anxiety.

Why not give your loved one a yoga mat, so they can enjoy a few virtual sessions of yoga? If you want to go all out, spring for a work out DVD or some sessions with a professional yogi.

Like therapy, only give yoga sessions/mats if you know your recipient well and expect that they would enjoy working out.

9. Bath Salts

One of the best birthday gifts I ever received was a gift basket from my sister containing lotions, soaps, and a set of organic, deliciously-scented bath salts.

The salts were an especially soothing gift for me, as I was able to soak my troubles away in a tub that left my skin soft and my mind calmed with the scents.

Give your loved one the gift of scented bath salts this holiday season. Everyone needs to be clean.

10. Mug of Hot Chocolate to Share

And finally, the last gift on this list but certainly not the least, is a mug of hot chocolate to share.

There are some pretty cute mugs out there, some of which are funny and others of which can be sweet. Purchase a mug and some instant, powdered hot chocolate–or DIY some of your own with a recipe you can find online.

And then offer to share some hot chocolate with your loved one. What your loved one needs most is the gift of your time.

Even during a global pandemic, you can still set aside some time to virtually share a cup of hot cocoa with your loved one, right? You may have to schedule the visit and you can’t exactly hug each other, but your loved one will appreciate seeing your smiling face and catching up with you.

Conclusion

Shopping for gifts for a person who suffers from anxiety isn’t difficult.

You simply have to think about what you think would soothe your friend or loved one the most. Be it a yoga or therapy session, a long soak in the tub, or time spent sharing a mug of hot chocolate, do some thinking about what gift your loved one will enjoy.

I wish you well in your journey.

What gifts are on your list this year?

Related Links:

Last-Minute, Frugal Gift Guide for People Suffering from Depression

Last Minute Frugal Gift Guide for People with Depression - CassandraStout.com

None of these links are affiliated.

Christmas shopping. Some people love it. Most people hate it. Whatever your feelings on the subject, picking the perfect gifts for everyone on your list can be stressful. And it’s pretty late in the game to be shopping for gifts.

So, are you looking for last-minute, frugal gift ideas for those loved ones in your life who suffer from depression? Then look no further, because here is The Bipolar Parent’s Last-Minute, Frugal Gift Guide for People Suffering from Depression!

Preface

I’d like to preface this gift guide by saying that whomever you’re giving gifts to, keep in mind whether the recipient will actually be able to use the gift. People who suffer from depression are easily overwhelmed. You want to offer them a present which won’t overwhelm them, and you definitely don’t want to have expectations that they will use the gift.

Presents don’t have to be expensive, but if they’re thoughtful, your loved one will appreciate them. If you can, do some research to figure out what your loved one likes and is into. Look into their social media posts and find out what he or she is posting about. That can give you a clue as to what your friend or loved one enjoys.

If you are a frugal person buying for a frugal person, the best gifts you can give are practical ones. Most frugal people are content with what they have, and don’t want to fill their houses with stuff they won’t use. So the best gifts you can give, aside from time, are consumables, like food, journals, or gift certificates to places they like.

With that in mind, here is the ultimate last-minute, frugal gift guide for people suffering from depression:

1. Journal

One of the proven ways to help alleviate symptoms of depression is writing a gratitude journal. My son recommended I try keeping one this Sunday, in fact. A beautiful journal to help your loved one record his or her thoughts is a thoughtful and usually welcome gift.

Bonus: If you have the time, before giving the journal, write an affirmation about the person that you believe–and that you hope he or she believes, too–or a positive quote on the bottom of each page. This is the gift that I’m giving my mother-in-law this year.

2. Planner

A planner may be a tricky gift to give, because your loved one might think that you’re making a comment on him or her being unorganized. But if you know the person well and know he or she won’t be offended by your gifting them a planner, then your loved one will enjoy having a place to keep all their appointments together. Most people like calendars to ring in the new year. My brother-in-law gets his mother a pig calendar every year, and a planner is just a step up from that.

My friend, Sophie, at WellandWealthy.org has a planner specifically tailored towards people suffering from depression. There are self-care tips, space for to-do lists, and pages with prompts to reflect on the week. You have to print the Do It With a Smile Planner yourself, but it’s a great resource.

3. Weighted Blanket

Weighted blankets are excellent for people who suffer from anxiety or depression. When the world feels overwhelming, slipping under the weighted blanket can help soothe you–or your gift recipient. Occupational therapists have noticed that the deep pressure of a weighted blanket placed on the patients’ bodies calmed them. Give the gift of calmness and peace. To find a highly-recommended weighted blanket on Amazon, click here.

4. Fine Chocolate

If your loved one has a sweet tooth, then a fine chocolate is a highly-recommended gift. Try to pick out a strange chocolate that your recipient may not have tried, like a sweet hot pepper variety.

5. Coffee Mug with a Hot Chocolate Mix

Similar to the fine chocolate suggestion above, a coffee mug with a hot chocolate mix is a gift that will give pleasure to your loved one with a sweet tooth. If you can make your own hot chocolate mix (recipe here), even better.

6. Gift Certificate to a Massage

Often, people with depression don’t tend to take time for themselves for self-care. If you can offer them a gift certificate for a massage–provided they don’t mind being touched by a professional massage therapist–then they will appreciate such a thoughtful gift. Try to go local to your loved one’s area, or give a gift certificate to a national chain like Massage Envy.

7. A USB Stick with Family Photos

This gift might take a little bit of your time, but decently-sized USB memory sticks are fairly cheap nowadays. These are great gifts on their own, but if you can fill them with a curated set of family photos centered on the depressed person, you’ll be able to give a touching gift.

8. A Box of Crayons and an Adult Coloring Book

Adult coloring books can be a wonderful form of stress relief. These aren’t your kid’s coloring books: they’re more complex and feature beautiful pictures to color ranging from animals to flowers to mandalas. They’re fairly inexpensive, too, if you get the right one.

9. A Box of Tea

If you have tea drinkers in your life, they probably have a preference as to how they like their tea. Green, black, herbal–there are many types of tea out there. If you can, try to get one your loved one hasn’t tried. Harvey and Sons is a good brand, and I highly recommend their Hot Spice Cinnamon Tea. It has orange peel and warm spices, and while I’m allergic to oranges, I’ve never had a reaction to the tea.

10. A Book You’ve Read Recently and Loved

If you’re a reader and so is your loved one, buy him or her a copy of a book you’ve read recently and loved. Tell your gift recipient that you will make time to have a lunch date with him or her to discuss the book, but also let him or her know that there’s no pressure, and you’re not expecting that he or she finishes the book right away.

11. Your Time

The best present you can give anyone you love (and who loves you) is your time. Schedule a dinner date with him or her where you bring over dinner, a movie night where you bring the popcorn and the rented movie, or offer to help clean his or her kitchen, if you know he or she will accept your help. Show up intending to spend some time with your loved one, and you’ll be giving an attentive and caring gift.

Final Thoughts

People who suffer from depression need to know that you care. One of the best ways to show them that you love them and are rooting for them is to offer them your presence. Gift giving is about the people involved, not necessarily the present itself.

It also doesn’t matter how much you spend on the gift. What matters is the thought and care you put into your selection. If you can personalize the gift or make it more meaningful by adding a handwritten note wishing them a happy holiday season, then all the better.

It just takes love.

What gifts are you getting for your loved ones this year? Let me know in the comments!

Related:

Last Minute Frugal Gift Guide for People with Depression - CassandraStout.com

Do You Have Bipolar Disorder? You Can Still Thrive This Holiday Season

holiday.jpg
A picture of fireworks streaming across a black sky above a unique, circular building. Credit to flickr.com user ᗩnneღJ.~ Poetic photography. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

This post was previously featured on the International Bipolar Foundation website (ibpf.org), here.

The holidays strike fear into many hearts, especially those of us with mental illness. But they don’t have to. People with mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder, can thrive during the holiday season.

Don’t Neglect Basic Self-Care

You won’t be able to enjoy the season if you neglect basic self-care. This applies to whatever episode you’re in. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat well, get your heart rate up for 30 minutes, drink enough water, get outside, and socialize every day. These six suggestions are the basic tenants of self-care, first outlined by Sophie at WellandWealthy.org. If you often do all six, you will feel better.

But how do you manage that during the holidays, which can upset your daily routine? Planning. You can plan to bow out of conversations if you’re overwhelmed, plan times to take your medication, and plan for downtime by yourself to recharge your social batteries.

Also, don’t be afraid to communicate your needs. Figure out your needs ahead of significant social events and prepare yourself to ask for help. (For a post on how to communicate with your family during the holidays if you have a mental illness, click here.) And try to avoid alcohol, especially if you’re taking medication.

What to Do if You’re Manic

If you are manic during the holidays, you may feel like partying and socializing 24/7. But mania borrows energy from the future, so there’s a crash coming if you don’t manage your enthusiasm. You need to pace yourself, not only for your own sake, but for those around you who might not be able to handle your verve.

When you’re at a party, check in with someone you trust on a regular basis to see if your behavior is edging out of control. Set a timer on your phone every thirty minutes to take breaks outside the main party area. Use this time to take stock of what you’ve been doing at the party.

In addition to taking care of yourself at events, keep in mind that overspending frequently accompanies mania. Spending too much on gifts can be quicksand. Before you search for them, set a budget, and be vigilant about sticking to it. Limit presents to one per family member or loved one.

One of my manifestations of mania is crafting, so I get obsessed with painting, baking, and stitching stocking-stuffers and other gifts. Because I’m rushing through the projects, they always turn out sloppy. Once I’m no longer manic, that’s obvious to me (unfortunately, it’s also obvious to everyone else when they open the gifts). Don’t follow my lead; if you must make homemade gifts, limit yourself to one project at a time, and budget enough time to complete them well.

What to Do if You’re Depressed

If you’re depressed during the holiday season, don’t worry, you can pull through this. Most people with depression hide away from the world. But being around others can help. If you’ve been invited to parties, make an extra effort to go.

When going to a party, make sure to prepare yourself physically and mentally. Take a shower. Drink some water. Psych yourself up, and plan out what to say if you need to bow out of a conversation. Try to talk to at least two different people. Don’t stick your head in the ground like an ostrich, as tempting as that is.

If you’re spending this holiday season alone, cities and churches often host free holiday events that you can attend. Try volunteering at a food bank or animal shelter. Burn through your Netflix backlog. Drink non-alcoholic eggnog. And if you can afford a change of scenery, go!

Final Thoughts

Regardless of how your mental health issues present, there are plenty of strategies to help you thrive during the holidays. Don’t neglect your basic self-care, don’t isolate yourself, and do keep an eye on your budget and energy levels. You can do this.

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