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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 Improve Your Bad Habits & Develop Healthier Habits?

To develop healthier habits you must improve on your bad habits. Bad eating habits, or lack of exercise can revolt into bad health. Also just cutting out bad habits in your daily life, to improve your mental health is important as well. Bad habits can have it’s way of effecting your entire life. Sometimes we just get lazy, and that can contribute to bad habits. Having a set plan and following through it as a routine can help break bad habits. That way you can habituate healthy habits.

I think one way to help eliminate bad habits, is giving yourself rewards. However, finding the motivation and keeping it can help you develop better habits into your daily life.

1. Develop better eating habits.

Eat healthier foods and get a balanced nutrition into your diet. This is so difficult, because sometimes finding healthy foods to satisfy our taste buds can be difficult. Don’t eat foods high in saturated fats. I’ve heard that eating foods high in saturated fats convince your body to eat more. Developing healthy eating habits takes time. Try to substitute bad eating habits, with better ones. However, still allow yourself the occasional snacks, just keep them limited. Or when you do eat something that isn’t exactly healthy, you compliment it with foods that have good sources of proteins, vitamins and antioxidants in them.

2. Welcome daily exercise into your life.

Making a habit of exercising is one of the better ways to develop healthier habits. It’s not just about losing weight, or getting into better shape. It can just help you develop a better mindset. Working out is extremely healthy for your entire body. Make exercise a routine, not just a phase. You don’t have to do it everyday, but it should be weekly.

3. Change your routines.

The same routines can often cause bad habits. Doing the exact same thing can trigger your subconscious into the exact same scenarios. Whether it’s eating, lack of exercise, or just the way you manage your time. Too much of one thing can be bad. Being able to adapt to new routines will help you embrace new habits, and break your old habits. It will take an adjustment and willingness to do these things.

4. Eliminate alcohol use.

Drinking a lot of alcohol is one of the better ways to cause bad habits in your daily life. Alcohol in general is bad for your mental stability. Alcohol is often linked to depression, which can explain a lot of bad habits a person obtains in their life. Cut back on usage of alcohol, and give yourself specific rules when drinking it frequently. If you can’t manage your drinking, then you have a problem. Go to AA and don’t be afraid to get the help needed.

5. Bring more joy and pleasure into your life.

Just simply enjoying life more can allow you to feel more motivated to improve your bad habits. A good mindset is obviously needed if you’re going to break bad habits and develop healthier ones. So to do that, take time to experience new things or try to do things you enjoy. If your bad habits are the things you enjoy, then try new things. Find other ways you can enjoy yourself, that aren’t becoming bad habits. For example, bad habits might be something as simple as watching too much TV. It’s easy for something to become a bad habit, even if it’s not extremely harmful to begin with. Try picking up a book instead. It’s not healthy to be so involved into one, or two things all the time.

6. Make a list of the daily things to improve on and give yourself set rules to follow.

Make a list of your bad habits, and then develop goals to improve on. It’s good to make yourself a schedule to follow. It’s easier when you have a set plan, and rules you give yourself. Keeping your bad habits organized, and making a blueprint on improving will help you out. Sometimes one has so many bad habits, it’s hard to keep track of them. Develop a methodical approach. Let there be self rewards you give yourself, that gives yourself satisfaction when breaking through on your bad habits and developing better ones.

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