The holidays are upon us. I am on a winter trip to Texas, Alabama and Florida in the southern United States. What are your plans for the holidays? Have you thought about how this time of the year affects your bipolar disorder symptoms? Maybe now is a good time to think seriously about what you need to do in order to stay healthy and stable during this frantic time.

How are you doing right now? Where is your bipolar disorder on a chart from 1-10? Are you stable? If you are a friend or family member, you can ask yourself the same questions. How is my loved one? Is she stable? Is he doing too much? Sometimes we get so caught up in life that our symptoms creep up on us and we are soon too sick to do anything.

The good news is that learning to stop bipolar disorder mood swings is not always about learning something new. It is often about stopping something you are already doing. This is a simple way to get some stability in your life before the hectic holiday season starts. I am creating checks and balances now that will make sure that my time with friends and family over the holidays will be relaxed and fun.

What can you do to stay stable?

Is there anything you can stop now in order to prevent bipolar disorder mood swings over the holidays? Have you thought of what is coming up and how you will deal with the shopping, food and family obligations? It is important that you are ready with your plan before the craziness starts. Here are some tips to help you stay stable:

" Be very careful about sleep changes due to travel. Time changes are triggers of bipolar mood swings and we all have to be careful when we travel. One secret is to start the time change weeks before you actually leave. For example, I knew I would have a two hour time difference here in Texas and I changed my bed time in the weeks before the trip. I still had jet lag when I got here, but I managed to prevent mood swings

" Holiday parties are fun, but they sure are stimulating. There is lot of fun food and alcohol and many people see it as a time to let go. This can be over stimulating for those of us with bipolar disorder. You need to think carefully of what you can and can not do. Start to think now about the checks and balances you can set up in order to stay well. For example, limit the alcohol and junk food, go to the parties but leave early, and ask for help from friends and family.

" Say no. I really mean this. Just say no if you know that something is going to make you ill. Remember, you do not have to explain yourself to anyone and if having a Thanksgiving turkey dinner is too much for you, then just say no. If decorating the house for the holidays is too much, then don't do it. You really do have the final say on what you do and don't do. Take advantage of this power and SAY NO!

" Families! Well, it can be pretty stressful for families during the holidays. Make a decision before you go to any get-together that you absolutely will not get into contentious discussions no matter how hard someone baits you. Picture yourself walking away and then do it if and when things get heated. Another solution is to have a holiday season away from your family

" Spending is such a big issue during the holidays. So I made a decision- I stopped giving presents completely and asked others not to give me presents. The relief was enormous and the holiday time became about family and friends again instead of rushing around in over stimulating shopping malls buying things that no one needed any way. I read a book called "Unplug the Christmas Machine" and stopped celebrating Christmas completely. If you are religious, then this may be a good time to rediscover what the holidays mean to you outside of shopping. Whether is Christmas, Hanukkah or the particular holiday your country celebrates, try to make this year the year you change the focus from things to people. It is a lot less stressful and very few people ever became manic from a family hug!

" Try the daily check in. At a certain time every day, check in and ask yourself how you are on a scale of one to ten. This can help you slow down and see if a mood swing is starting. I often set the beeper on my watch to remind me to do a check in during stressful times

I have had quite a few letters from people who say they are very lonely during the holidays as bipolar disorder has taken most of their friendships. This is often a reality of this illness. As you read in the last newsletter, I too lost most of my friends when I was ill. There are many things you can do to make these holidays less lonely, but over all I still suggest that working on becoming a good friend is the first step in taking care of the problem. Here are some suggestions for making the holidays happy and fun.

" Volunteer to help others on the major holidays. Believe me, people in a homeless shelter, battered women's shelter, youth home, or hospital would love your company. Make it a goal to help others this holiday season and make sure you do the following:

Do not talk about your problems and your illness when you do this work. This puts people off and is a barrier to friendship. Try to get outside of this illness and be the real you. Listen to what others have to say and get interested in something besides your own mood swings.

" If you have the money, go to a singles event for the holidays. Go there with the idea of making friends and being social. Make it a goal to listen to others and hear about their lives. Keep talk of yourself to a minimum

" Get back in touch with any family members you may have alienated when you were ill.

" Make it a goal that by this time next year you will be healthy and stable enough to have strong and loving friendships. Do the work on yourself now so that you do not have to be lonely during the holidays ever again. If I can do it, you can do it.

Hopefully these tips will get you to stop and take a look at yourself today, before the mad rush begins. This is the time of year I tell people with bipolar disorder to watch their stress levels very carefully. It really is ok to say no to people and events if it means you can spend stable quality time with the people you love. Think about the holidays now and create a plan. That is what I am going to do. I know you can do it as well. Make this the time you appreciate what you have and how far you have come, despite bipolar disorder. The holidays are not only about gifts or parties, they are about people. And the best gift you can give anyone is your own health.