Some good advice for coping with the holidays when a family member suffers from a mental illness. The first thing that loved ones need to do is to respect the coping mechanisms the person with the mental illness has developed all year long. This means, respect their routine. Respect their need for space. Respect that they don’t drink. Respect that they need to exercise and eat and sleep on schedule. And so on. It’s tempting to say to the person, “oh why can’t you just loosen up for the holidays?” but it’s exactly that attitude that will get them into trouble. It’s critical that you support them in their healthy decisions because it’s hard enough to make healthy choices already without the support of the people who love you.
You can also help by creating less stressful environments. While everyone wants the “picture perfect” holiday, no one ever gets it, so maybe it’s time to consider striving for “good enough.” For example, don’t invite 12 people to Christmas dinner if it means that all everyone will do is stress about cooking. Maybe you could pair it down to a manageable number and reduce the stress in the household. Try focusing on something that doesn’t require money. Many people with mental illness don’t have a lot of money because they are too sick to work full-time and this might make them feel like they can’t participate in the holidays fully.
If the person with the mental illness is too sick to attend holiday events, try to be OK with it. Remember that their non-attendance isn’t about you; it’s about an illness they can’t control. Tell them that it’s OK, you love them and will see them soon.
Happy stress free Holidays!