How to Survive Holiday Drama When You Have a Mental Illness

Updated: Jul 12

Families, gotta love ‘em….. right?  Ideally, the holidays bring families together to celebrate, reunite and enjoy each others company.  However, that’s not always the case. Having a mental illness during the holidays is tough enough, but add family members who don’t understand your mental illness could lead to you being in a toxic environment.  I broke this post into 3 sections: what to do before your gathering, what to do during and what to do after your gathering.

Remember, Hey Brown Girl!, you got this.


BEFORE you spend time with your family, these tips should help you feel prepared:

1. Practice self-care

  • Yoga, running, reading, meditating, whatever activities you do that replenishes you, do it!  Like I said earlier, if you have a mental illness, the holidays are already stressful enough and if you’re worried about spending time with your family, you need to make sure you stress/anxiety is being managed.

2. Get plenty of rest

  • Try and get a good night's sleep leading up to the gathering, if you can’t sleep, lay in bed or sit in a chair to try to get rest that way.  Your patience and mood will be better if you go to the gathering well rested.

3. Set boundaries for yourself

  • What are willing to put up with and what are you not willing to put up with?  This is what you need to ask yourself before your families gathering. If you can ignore your Aunt constantly pointing out you’re single, fine, you deserve a medal.  However, if you can't you should go over in your mind what you want to say.

  • This of course is an example, but say something like, “You know Aunt Vi, it really bothers me when you ask me about being single, I would appreciate it if you would stop.” Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself!

  • Here’s an article that talks about setting boundaries:https://positivepsychology.com/great-self-care-setting-healthy-boundaries/

4. Come up with an exit strategy

  • Do not feel obligated to stay.  If you feel like the boundaries you set are still being disrespected and your mental health is at risk, leave.  Your family may not be happy about it, but making yourself a priority is nothing you need to feel bad about. Period!

5. Find an ally

  • Is there a family member or friend that will be there that knows about your mental health and family challenges?  If so, you might want to let them know what your boundaries are and what your exit plan is so they can support you and if need be stand up for you or help you stand up for yourself.  Sometimes if we know we have support, it makes facing tough times easier.

6. Do you really need to go

  • Yes, I said it.  Do you really need to go?  This is different than having an exit strategy, you’ve given it the old college try with an exit strategy.  If you already know that your family will not respect your boundaries and your mental health will be at risk before you step foot in the door, don’t go.  Simple, again, making yourself a priority is nothing to feel guilty about!

7. Take your meds

  • Make sure you take them leading up to the gathering, the day of and after.  Taking your meds can help your mood and possibly your outlook, not taking them could have negative effects on your mood and outlook.  




During the visit, these tips should help you deal with your family:

1. Stick to the boundaries you set before your visit

  • It’s possible guilt and intimidation could have you second guessing yourself, but don’t let it.  You got this! You’ve gone over what you want to say and when and if the time comes, don’t be afraid to advocate and stand up for yourself.  

2. Try to find joyful moments

  • It would be great if holiday gatherings were like the movies, but that’s not life.  Our families may not be perfect, but try and find the joy, love and laughter where you can and cherish that. 

3. Accept your family for who they are

  • If we could wave a magic wand and fix our family to our liking I’m sure many of us would, but we can’t.  We need to accept that and just like we want our family members to accept and love us the way we are, that feeling needs to be reciprocated.   

4. Limit your alcohol intake

  • Alcohol can interfere with your medication and exasperate your symptoms.  Not only that, you can lash out at your family and make matters worse. Instead of calmly talking to Aunt Vi, you could be yelling and cursing and saying something you regret when you’re sober.

5. Find a moment alone if you need to

  • Step away if you need to and practice some coping skills such as 54321 grounding technique, deep breathing, or whatever works for you.  Again, making yourself a priority isn’t something you should feel guilty about. If you need a moment of quiet for whatever reason, take it.

6. Take your meds

  • Like I said, taking your meds can help your mood and outlook. Take them!




After the visit, these tips should help you recover after your family gathering

1. Get rest

  • Whether you have mental health challenges or not, family gatherings, no matter how fun (or not), can be draining.  Taking everything into account such as travel, the amount of people, the activities that took place, it can be a lot to deal with and it could leave you drained.  Take time to rest and recover!

2. Practice self care

  • Again, being around people can be draining so make sure your self-care practices replenishes and restores you.

3. Avoid feeling guilty

  • The holidays have trained us to put people and their needs before ours.  If you put yourself first during the gathering and someone says something negative about, don’t feel guilty.  I cannot stress this enough, there is nothing wrong with putting your needs first and making you a priority!


My 2 Cents

1. Don’t feel guilty about advocating for yourself and making yourself a priority

2. Don’t feel obligated to go to something that you feel would be a detriment to your mental health

3. Set boundaries for yourself and stick to them 


You got this, I believe in you!

1. Livehappy.com 

2. Apartmentherapy.com

3. Psychcentral.com


I hope this post was helpful and that you feel better equipped to face your challenges this holiday.


Remember Brown Girls, you got this and you are NOT alone. 

Websites I Referenced



Did you know that I now have a podcast? It's called, For My BrownGirls! Podcast and you can listen to it HERE!


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