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Stress & Schizophrenia: How To Help Your Loved One & Yourself?

A common cause of relapse in schizophrenia is “difficulty managing high levels of stress,” according to Susan Gingerich, MSW, a psychotherapist who works with individuals with schizophrenia and their families.

Learning to manage stress isn’t just important for preventing relapse; it’s also important because stress is an inevitable part of facing new challenges and working to accomplish personal goals — “what recovery is all about,” write Gingerich and clinical psychologist Kim T. Mueser, Ph.D, in their book The Complete Family Guide to Schizophrenia.

Learning to navigate stress healthfully is key for family and friends, too. Having a loved one with schizophrenia can be stressful. Taking care of yourself enhances your well-being and daily functioning. And it means you’re in a better, healthier place to help your loved one.

In their comprehensive book, Mueser and Gingerich share excellent tips for helping your loved one and yourself cope with stress (along with valuable information on schizophrenia and how you can support your loved one).

Here are those suggestions and insights on managing and alleviating stress.

Recognizing Stress Signs

What one person finds enjoyable, another can find stressful. In the same way, how people respond to stress will differ. For instance, one person might exhibit changes in mood, such as becoming depressed and anxious, while another person will show physical signs, such as experiencing headaches and a heightened heart rate.

So it’s important to talk to your loved about their individual signs of stress. Talk about your personal signs, as well. Create separate lists for each of your reactions to stress.

Reducing Sources of Stress
The authors suggest thinking about what situations were stressful for your loved one in the past. Then try to avoid that situation or modify it. If your loved one had a tough time at Thanksgiving last year, it might help to shorten their stay or not go next year.

It’s also helpful to support your loved one in creating a stimulating environment with reasonable expectations. For instance, rather than attend a day program three times a week, one man preferred volunteering twice a week delivering meals to housebound seniors.

Plus, it’s important that you take care of yourself. Eat nutrient-rich foods, get enough sleep, participate in physical activities and engage in fun hobbies. Help your loved one identify what kinds of activities they’d like to do, too.

As the authors point out, because of the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, individuals can have a hard time thinking of enjoyable activities. Talk with them about the activities they’ve enjoyed in the past.

Be sure to give yourself and your loved one credit. (Being self-critical just spikes your stress.)

Mueser and Gingerich note how one father acknowledges the positive things that happen on a daily basis: “I’m proud of how persistent my daughter has been in pursuing her art career in spite of the many difficulties she’s encountered. We both have a lot to learn about coping with this illness, but we’ve also come a long way.”

Learning to Cope with Stress

Emphasize the importance of your loved one communicating with others when they’re feeling stressed, since “these feelings can be an early warning sign of relapse,” according to the authors. Make sure you, too, are able to turn to individuals who understand your situation.

Have family meetings to talk openly about the stressor and brainstorm potential solutions. Learn to use relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and visualization (such as imagining a serene beach scene).

Self-defeating thoughts only bolster stress for both of you. Try to practice positive self-talk and teach your loved one to do the same.

Mueser and Gingerich share the example of a father helping his daughter reframe her hospitalization, which made her feel like a failure: “I’m sorry you had to go through that, but I’m proud of you for getting help when you needed it and for being so strong in dealing with this illness. You’re a survivor.”

Don’t underestimate the power of humor. Try to find the lighter side of a stressful situation, according to the authors. It’s not always – or usually – easy, but it helps with stress. Plus, you and your loved one can enjoy a funny film or sitcom to lessen stress.

For some people, religious services and prayer can be very helpful. For others being in nature may feel like a spiritual experience and shrink stress.

Again, regular exercise — around three times a week — that you enjoy is important for both of you. Journaling can provide a great source of stress relief. “Many people with schizophrenia say that writing down what they experience, think, and feel is an important outlet.”

See if your loved one is interested in listening to music or making music themselves, such as singing or taking lessons; visiting art exhibits or creating their own art; playing games with family and friends, and pursuing other hobbies.

As the authors emphasize, people with schizophrenia are “more sensitive to the effects of stress because it can trigger symptom relapses and rehospitalizations.” Helping your loved one deal with stress in a healthy way helps them pursue their personal goals and improves their life.

Plus, working together to develop healthy coping strategies can strengthen your relationship and gives you plenty of opportunities for savoring quality time.

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10 Easy Tips For A Healthier Life

Everyone of us wants to be fit, healthy, and live a long active life. Right? But what do you do for it?

Well, we all know, that a healthy person doesn’t smoke, is at a healthy weight, exercises and eats healthy. Sounds simple, but those who have tried changing their habits know how difficult it could be. Some people decide to make drastic changes, but when they face the difficulties, they just lack motivation and give up.

The secret to healthy living is making small changes: glass of water in the morning, more physical activity, optimistic point of view – these are just a few simple ways to improve your lifestyle. Small changes lead to big results!

1. Drink a glass of water in the morning.

Wake up in the morning and drink one glass of room temperature water first off. You can put a slice of lemon or lime in the water, if you don’t like it’s natural taste. Water helps to clear our system, bring on metabolism rate and flush out the toxins. Some people even say, that it helps to reduce weight!

2. Sleep enough.

Lack of sleep makes you feel tired and angry, you can’t concentrate your attention. Lack of sleep can damage your physical health (especially heart) as well. Some studies have shown that 8 hours of sleep per 24-hour period is the average requirement for adults. But all people are different and need for sleep can range from 6 to 10 hours. If you feel sleepy during 4 pm and 6 pm, you probably do not get enough rest.

3. Stretch in the morning.

Instead of snoozing in the morning, you can use your time more wisely. Stretch your back, your legs, your neck. It will wake your body from sleep. Stretching in the morning increases blood flow to your muscles providing an extra shot of oxygen and preparing them for a new day.

4. Snack the healthy way.

Potato chips, salted nuts, candies, cookies and other tasty stuff are definitely unhealthy for your body. They contain lots of fat, salt, sugar. Choose raw nuts, fresh fruits or berries instead, they are rich in vitamins and minerals.

5. Eat breakfast!

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially for you weight loss seekers. If you skip it, you’ll get hungry long before lunch and will start snacking on foods that are high in fat and sugar, but low in vitamins. Researchers at the 2003 American Heart Association conference reported that breakfast eaters are significantly less likely to be obese and get diabetes compared with non-breakfast eaters.

6. Take a daily walk.

We all know about the advantages of physical activity, but most of us have neither time, nor desire to exercise. Use the stairs as often as possible instead of the elevator, take a walk with your friends, walk your dog a bit longer, than usually – use any possibility to be more physically active. Researchers say, that people only need to walk up to 12 miles per week or for about 125 to 200 minutes per week to improve their heart health.

7. Make social connections.

It is said that lonely people are more likely to become ill and die younger. People who have no friends are more stressed, depressed and often less physically active. Moreover, experts say that how socially connected a person tends to be is one of the most important ways of predicting his health and independence in later years.

8. Study ingredient lists of your favorite products.

Product’s ingredient list is very important as it shows you whether the food you’re about to buy contains unnatural and unhealthy ingredients. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of unhealthy ingredients on the market and it is almost impossible to remember all of them. Luckily, you can find a lot of information on the Internet about them, so study all of your favorite and most common foods, cosmetics and other products you buy. Harmful ingredients may cause various diseases, allergic reactions and even cancer.

9. Find new activities.

Pick up a new activity involving the whole family and friends such as hiking, group sports, skiing or riding a bicycle. Finding a hobby can give you the enjoyment and reduce stress. You’ll also start meeting people who have the same interests as you and may make some new friends (remember the #7 advise). Enjoy your new hobby and remember – happy people live longer!

10. Love your life!

Relax! Don’t get nervous and angry because of the trivial things. Don’t be too serious. Smile, love others, and always look on the bright side of life!

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Depression: Recognizing The Physical Symptoms

Most of us know about the emotional symptoms of depression. But you may not know that depression can be associated with many physical symptoms, too.

In fact, many people with depression suffer from chronic pain or other physical symptoms. These include:

• Headaches.
These are fairly common in people with depression. If you already had migraine headaches, they may seem worse if you’re depressed.

• Back pain.
If you already suffer with back pain, it may be worse if you become depressed.

• Muscle aches and joint pain.
Depression can make any kind of chronic pain worse.

• Chest pain.
Obviously, it’s very important to get chest pain checked out by an expert right away. It can be a sign of serious heart problems. But depression can contribute to the discomfort associated with chest pain.

• Digestive problems.
You might feel queasy or nauseous. You might have diarrhea or become chronically constipated.

• Exhaustion and fatigue.
No matter how much you sleep, you may still feel tired or worn out. Getting out of the bed in the morning may seem very hard, even impossible.

• Sleeping problems.
Many people with depression can’t sleep well anymore. They wake up too early or can’t fall asleep when they go to bed. Others sleep much more than normal.

• Change in appetite or weight.
Some people with depression lose their appetite and lose weight. Others find they crave certain foods — like carbohydrates — and weigh more.

• Dizziness or lightheadedness.

Because these symptoms occur with many conditions, many depressed people never get help, because they don’t know that their physical symptoms might be caused by depression. A lot of doctors miss the symptoms, too.

These physical symptoms aren’t “all in your head.” Depression can cause real changes in your body. For instance, it can slow down your digestion, which can result in stomach problems.

Depression seems to be related to an imbalance of certain chemicals in your brain. Some of these same chemicals play an important role in how you feel pain. So many experts think that depression can make you feel pain differently than other people.

Treating Physical Symptoms:

In some cases, treating your depression — with therapy or medicine or both — will resolve your physical symptoms.

But make sure to tell your health care provider about any physical symptoms. Don’t assume they’ll go away on their own. They may need additional treatment. For instance, your doctor may suggest an antianxiety medicine if you have insomnia. Those drugs help you relax and may allow you to sleep better.

Since pain and depression can sometimes go together, easing your pain may help with your depression.

Other treatments can also help with painful symptoms. Certain types of focused therapy — like cognitive behavioral — can teach you ways to cope better with the pain.

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