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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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How To Deal With Being Dumped?

When your significant other ends the relationship, it can be a painful, lonely experience that makes you feel worthless and leaves you with a broken heart. Though it may not feel like you can get through this heartache, there are ways to cope that will see you through to the other side with a different perspective.

  1. Don’t hold out hope for a reunion. The sooner you accept that it is over, the faster you can heal. By hoping that your significant other will want you back, you are basically elongating the grief and setting yourself up for more disappointment. Too many times, a person will hold out for a reconciliation, only to find out that her significant other has started dating someone else. This type of situation only causes more pain and grief.
  2. Allow yourself to get emotional. It is never good for you to bottle up your emotions. If you are upset, have a good cry. If you are angry about the breakup, then show it (but don’t let your anger get the best of you by hurting yourself or others; instead, just scream or punch your pillow). You’d be surprised by how much better you can feel by releasing these emotions. Designate a time and place for this — but don’t let yourself emote 24/7 because you don’t want to end up drained either.
  3. Get rid of things that belong to or remind you of your ex. By doing this, you eliminate those things in your life that only make you think about your ex. The more you think about him/her, the more likely you are to think about the breakup and dwell on the pain you are feeling. If you can’t bear to part with these items — then put them into storage.
  4. Avoid contact with your ex. This basically falls on the same lines as getting rid of things that remind you of your ex. If after you have broken up you constantly call, talk to, or see your ex, it will only serve as a reminder of the failed relationship and cause you undue grief. So, try to have as little contact as possible with your ex. It may help you get over the loss.
  5. Make a list of things you didn’t like about your ex. This is a helpful method for folks who are finding it difficult to get over the end of a relationship. Jot down aspects about your ex that you didn’t like; such as habits, physical attributes, or personality features. The idea is to focus on the things you didn’t like and no longer have to deal with in order to better cope with the breakup. You may find that you feel a bit relieved that your ex is no longer around.
  6. Hang out with and talk to your friends. Your friends can be a wealth of moral support and can help you take your mind off the breakup. Have a powwow with some buddies and talk about your relationship woes. Round up some of your friends and go do something fun. You can have dinner, go on a shopping spree, take a weekend road trip, or whatever you consider a fun distraction.
  7. Stay busy. While you should deal with the issue, dwelling on the breakup may only just make you feel worse about the situation. If you find yourself thinking about it, then do something that will focus your mind on something else. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to turn into a workaholic. Simply putting a little extra effort into your work or taking up a new hobby should suffice.
  8. Go on a couple of dates when you’re ready. A common misconception when a person has been dumped is that they feel as though they won’t find someone else, which just isn’t true. Go on some dates. Not only can this prove to you that you can eventually find someone new, but it can also help you get over your ex and boost your ego. Just make sure that the dates remain casual for companionship only at this time.
  9. Don’t jump into another relationship. If you haven’t fully healed from the breakup, you may find yourself in an even worse relationship than the last. Rebound relationships hold a higher risk of someone getting hurt. Examples of such would be finding out that you aren’t as interested in the new person while he/she is completely into you, or being dumped again because you constantly talk about or compare the new person to your ex because you haven’t fully gotten over the breakup.
  10. Build up your ego. Being dumped can be a hit to the ego. You may begin to think that you were dumped because of something about you (e.g., I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t pretty enough). Much of the time this is an incorrect assumption, so take the time to do activities that make you feel better about yourself and boost your ego. Go out and talk with some folks, start exercising or learn something new.
  11. It’s not uncommon for people to stop taking care of themselves after a relationship has ended. You may find that you aren’t sleeping as much or eating enough. Some folks may even start becoming more self-destructive by drinking alcohol more frequently, overeating or engaging in careless sexual activity. By doing these things, you may find your health declining, hurt yourself or others, or find yourself in a world of regret. Always make sure that you take care of yourself. Just because you are no longer in a relationship doesn’t mean you are any less important.

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How To Make Your Break Up Easier?

What distinguishes strong, attractive, accomplished people in any area of life from the rest? One of these things is their ability to accept losses with grace and dignity. Dating and romantic relationships are not an exception to this rule. It’s easy to enjoy love when it’s reciprocated and everything is great in your relationship with whoever you are dating, but too many people act in not so honorable ways to their partners and to themselves when things get rough in that relationship. It is of course understandable how someone who has problems with or loses a person who they love, care and had long-term plans to be with would be angry and frustrated after their lover unexpectedly leaves them or even worse – leaves them for someone else, but it is very important to your emotional health and to your proper recovery after the break-up to not make certain mistakes motivated by that anger. It might sound counter-intuitive to you now, but the sooner you learn how to forgive or at least how to rise above the break-up and any associated drama that better you will feel about yourself and about the whole thing. Here is a short but important list of do’s and don’t’s for that difficult time in your life, shortly after you broke up with someone you really care about:

Dont’s.

* Don’t disparage your ex to your friends or co-workers or her friends or co-workers. Don’t blame him/her for the break up and don’t get into the details of why things didn’t work out when you talk about your relationship with anyone except perhaps your closest friends, if you really feel like you have to confide to them. It will not benefit you at all to say anything bad about your former partner, and it certainly won’t help you if your ex starts spreading bad rumors about you in reaction to what you say about them. You will sound especially silly if you were praising your partner throughout your entire relationship and you started criticizing him/her only now, when you are no longer together, as this will make you sound less than objective, to put it mildly.

* Resist the urge to contact your ex and check if there is any chance in the world that you can get back together if your ex was the one who broke up with you. The reason a reason why he/she left you and if anyone decides to make a move in the direction off getting back together, it should be the same person who initiated the decision to not be together anymore.

* Don’t waste any time “licking your wounds.” Do not try to imagine how many things you could have done together and how great it would if you could spend the coming weekend, week, month or year with your ex. It’s not going to happen, so why even bother and allow your rich imagination go in that direction. There is no need to go through your stuff and look for gifts, pictures and other items that might remind you of your ex. Stay away from those things for a while, and when you feel better and less angry, gather all that stuff and put it in a separate box. There is no need to return them and there is no need to destroy them, as you might just enjoy having these things months or years later. After all, these things that you want to throw away now are part of your life and your history. Whether it ended badly or not, you had some great times with your partner, while the relationship lasted, and those memories will likely stay with you for much longer than any anger or sadness associated with the break-up.

* Stop telling yourself that you are never going to meet anyone like that again. The undeniable truth is that everyone is special in their own way, and even though you will not meet your ex’s twin in the future, you will likely meet quite a few more people that will move you emotionally in different but equally potent ways. Surely they are not going to make you feel exactly the same like your ex did, but they will be special in their own way.

* Don’t hate your partner for hurting your feelings. No matter what happened, the reason that your partner didn’t want to be with you any longer is not because he/she wanted to intentionally hurt you, but because of their own selfish reasons. They did not feel like you were a good match from their perspective. Whether it’s good news or bad news for you has no bearing on how they feel about it, so they don’t deserve to be hated, but they probably deserve your good faith effort to understand them.

* Don’t keep talking about your split. Sharing news about your recent break-up and how you feel about it with the closest friends once and getting their perspective and support is very important, but there is no reason for you to do it more than once and to keep analyzing and over-analyzing what happened and why you weren’t able to make your relationship work. Tell your story one time and move on. It won’t make your day or your friend’s day to keep going over the same thing, and it certainly won’t restore your relationship.

Do’s.

* Stay busy and entertained. This is a common but true advice. It’s the wrong time to be alone and feel sorry for yourself. This is the time to connect with your friends, to perhaps share your problems and then let your social circle help you forget about your break-up and make it easier for you to move on by occupying your time and mind. Of course, this should be the right circle of friends – people who are positive and supportive and who “infect” you with strength and hope, rather than despair due to their own endless relationship and other problems. Being busy is not going to make the pain go away in an instant, but it is one factor that should help distract you and take your mind off your break-up at least to some extent.

* Meet other people. Some people believe that it’s important to fully recover after the break-up before meeting new people. However, the opposite is often true. Talking to others and going out on casual dates might just be one important element of taking your mind off of your recent break-up. You are likely not going to be able to madly fall in love with someone new right away, but that’s okay. Being swept off your feet is not your goal at this point. Entertaining yourself and keeping your mind open to meeting and getting to know other people is what you will be trying to accomplish. This also doesn’t mean that you have to go on a “rebound” and have sex with random strangers or that you have to use others by misleading them into believing that you are more interested in them than you really are. You can make small steps that won’t hurt anyone but would be fun and helpful to you.

* Use your recent relationship and the break-up as a valuable lesson. Step aside and look at your recent relationship and the break-up as objectively as you can as an outsider. It’s not easy, but it’s worth the effort to try to apply logic and reason to what happened. Were there any mistakes on your part? Or perhaps you weren’t a good match in the first place, but you refused to recognize it and waiting till your partner made a move? What else could you have done or could have avoided doing that would have made your relationship work out better? These are very important questions, as your answers will directly and necessarily affect your future romantic relationships. That important lesson that you learn might be laying right in front of you, but you have to make that move and take the time to learn it carefully.

Break-ups are tough and painful, and, of course, the more special your ex was to you, the more difficult it will be getting over them. But it is your right and your duty to yourself to get the most good out of the seeming negative situation so that you become stronger, wiser and more attractive to your future partners, that will be undoubtedly coming into your life.

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