For many people living with BPD, the festive season may not be a time of excitement and joy. Instead, the idea of family get-togethers and celebrations with friends may be very stressful and even feel like something to dread. The expectation to spend time with difficult friends or family members, to feel and look happy and joyful, might seem like more than you can handle.
But understanding your BPD triggers, acknowledging that it’s OK to feel stressed or anxious, and developing a plan to help you regulate your emotions can help you get through this period and feel a little more in control.
Here are some tips that may help you manage, and maybe even enjoy a little, the festive season.
Set some boundaries
It’s OK to say no. You don’t have to accept every invitation, buy a gift for every person, or stay the whole time for every event. Prioritise your wellness and make choices that meet your needs, not those of everyone else. If the idea of a six-hour lunch with extended family makes you anxious, pop in for a short time only, or arrange to catch up with the people you want to see at another time. Set the boundaries you need to get through this period.
Understand your triggers
Everyone with BPD has triggers that make their symptoms worse. Whether it’s seeing certain people or visiting particular places, feelings of loneliness or isolation, or a fear of abandonment – these triggers can be amplified or hard to avoid over the festive season. And while you may not be able to completely avoid your triggers, understanding what they are can help you prepare for them and work out coping strategies.
Have a plan
Once you know your triggers, you can plan how to deal with them. If it’s an aunt who asks a lot of questions about your life and criticises you and your responses – think through how the conversation will go and how you can respond. If it’s a brother who always seems to start an argument at the table, plan how you can seat yourself away from him. If you feel overwhelmed by the thought of being around all that noise and chaos, think about how you will find yourself some quiet space.
Whatever makes you feel anxious or unsettled, try to imagine the situation beforehand and plan your strategy about how to get out of it. Remember: while you cannot control the reaction and behaviour of others, you can be in control of your own.
Try to avoid alcohol and other substances
You might feel tempted to manage your BPD triggers with the help of alcohol or other substances, but this can actually make your triggers more unbearable and amplify your symptoms. Alcohol will also increase your sensitivity the next day, which means you'll be more easily triggered and more emotional. If you’re worried about being the only one sober, ask a friend if they’re willing to stay alcohol-free with you.
During this period, try as much as possible to stick to your routines. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, find time to move your body, try to eat well and keep up your normal self-care routines. Set aside time for yourself every day to stay centred and keep your stress levels to a minimum. Anything that gives you some time for relaxation is important: go for a walk, write in your journal, meditate, read a couple of pages in a book, take a bath...
When you are at an event, don’t forget to check in on yourself and any feelings or sensations in your body. How is your breathing? Are you tense in your jaw or shoulder area? What emotions are you feeling? If you notice signs of tension or negative feelings, try to remove yourself from the situation, either physically or simply by giving yourself a moment to breathe or be quiet with yourself.
And don’t forget to plan a day to recover and resettle after the event.
Lean into your support crew
While you can (and should) say no to invitations that are likely to be really difficult for you, try to avoid the urge to withdraw completely. This will only amplify any feelings of loneliness, abandonment and rejection. Instead, identify the people who bring out the best in you and who you trust to have your best interests in mind and find opportunities to connect with them.
And don’t trick yourself into believing you’re a burden, either. The people who love and support you want the best for you so don’t be afraid to let them know what you need and how they can best support you.
For family and friends
If you are the friend, partner, or family member of someone living with BPD, reach out and ask them what they need from you to feel supported during this period. Be there to listen to them without judgement and to be the person they can rely on when they feel lost or unsafe. Encourage them to get involved in holiday activities, but also know when to stop pushing. Distract them when emotions threaten to rise to an outburst or run interference if a situation is triggering.
Even with the best planning and strategies in place, you may still find yourself feeling very dysregulated this festive season. Don’t go it alone – reach out for support or professional help.
If you need professional support, please contact your doctor, local health centre or one of the services listed below. Family and friends can also call upon these services for advice and assistance on how to support someone who is struggling with life.
If you are concerned for your safety or the safety of others, seek immediate assistance by calling Triple Zero (000).
Lifeline - 13 11 14. For crisis support and suicide prevention services. Open 24/7