Coping with schizophrenia is possibly about as difficult and challenging as it can get. When this topic is discussed, it is often times glossed over with simple information and advice. People will tell you “learn as much as you can about your symptoms and illness to you know how to respond to it.” Or they may say “Find a support group to attend or build up a social network of people to help you focus on your goals and maintain your recovery.” And the winner for the most annoying advice is “Just relax.”
Of course, we will all be taking part in a treatment plan that includes medication and psychotherapy. Of course we will attempt to relax and be understanding of ourselves and our illness. And yes, we will try to busy ourselves as a distraction and have attainable goals. But what more can we do specifically to cope month to month, day to day, and even hour to hour?
Coping Strategies for Individuals With Schizophrenia
Gaining the skills to cope with schizophrenia is not something that can be strictly obtained from a book or the internet. It is these types of internal and external activities that are personal. What is effective for one person many not be for another. For this reason, coping with schizophrenia is a function of time. It requires an individual level of experience obtained through hardship and perseverance. But one should not ignore the advice of others who have suffered with the same symptoms and the same situations.
Although every individual case is different, there are commonalities among them all, and it is these similarities that can be approached on a group basis. Through shared experience we can all benefit, regardless of the psychological disorder. We are together in this. So what are some of these familiar coping strategies that can be applied across the board?
Moving Beyond Denial – Acceptance of Reality
Denial is natural. It is the first stage of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief. It is a stepping stone on the path to recovery and coping, but it exposes the first fundamental aspect of our illness we must come to terms with, and that is the acceptance of reality. Not only is dealing with a psychological difficulty a trauma, but attempting to accept and reconfigure one’s self image as “sick” is traumatic as well.
Denial, dismissal, evasion, and avoidance… this cannot continue forever. We all want to believe that everything is okay and that there is justice in the world. We want things to make sense for us, which is why we tend to assimilate most experiences into our preconceived mental categories. So when life tosses us a curve ball, it does not always compute immediately.
Unfortunately, schizophrenia also can cause disturbances in the very neurochemistry that regulates our thoughts and perceptions. The challenge is double. We must first see through our own delusions before we can confront the concrete and consensual reality that faces us. Try to remain open-minded about the possibilities regarding yourself. Even if you currently disbelieve the possibility of being schizophrenic, at least entertain the idea. If you can’t take a truthful self-inventory and be honest to yourself, then it will be exceedingly difficult to perceive anything without a filter.
Take Advantage of Medication
Attempting to conquer symptoms and maintain a certain baseline of positive experience can be difficult during the full intensity of our illness. We can trim back the intensity of the expression of our symptoms by taking advantage of the medications available at our current time. We are fortunate to exist at this time and should not avoid the full range of medical help based on our own stigma surrounding medication and illness.
A diabetic will use insulin to balance his or her blood sugar levels. An elderly person will use a cane or walker to help with mobility. And there is no reason we should not bring stability to our neurotransmitter levels using psychiatric medications. Reduce delusional thinking, hallucinations, catatonia, paranoia, or anything else that may be disrupting your normal functioning through whatever means are available. One of the best and most easily accessible ways is through medication.
Note: It is equally important to abstain from the use and abuse of street substances. These can cause relapses and episodes of drug-induced psychosis.
Replaying the Past, Rehearsing the Future
This is something that can seem silly to most all of us. It appears silly, feels silly, and is silly. But if you think about it, we all replay certain episodes of our past in our minds in order to attempt to better ourselves. This mental replaying allows us to integrate what actually happened and practice possibilities for navigating the experience better if we encounter a similar situation again.
None of us enjoyed having our feelings hurt or look forward to the next time. Us as schizophrenics are especially sensitive to aggression, criticism, hostility, sarcasm, and other forms of negativity. Being prepared to internally and behaviorally respond to these experiences can keep our stress, tension, and anxiety to manageable levels. We must be careful to not build these rehearsals beyond the level of coping with schizophrenia into an episode of schizophrenia.
Final Tips for Coping with Schizophrenia
Keep your own emotional expression within a calmer range than you may feel. Try not to be overly dramatic in your expression of sadness, anger, jealousy, or any other emotion. Our actions can influence our feelings and psyche, and our cognitions can affect our feelings and actions, etc. It is all a giant feedback loop, so we should be careful with every aspect of our lives. Keeping stress levels down and excitement down is critical.
Revealing your own story, removing your own fear of stigma and judgement of others and yourself, and supporting others will help you to maintain your recovery and grow your knowledge and experience base. You can be the lead supporter for someone else in a similar predicament and this can give meaning to your suffering and challenges!
Find a support group, be a supporter, remain social with friends and family, observe your own thinking to expose delusions and see clearly, learn as much as you can about schizophrenia, and follow these tips for navigating rough episodes. You can and will succeed if you try! Do not lose hope or faith, and continue persevering and working hard!
These are simply some of the methods that can be used to skillfully handle the symptoms of mental illness. Coping with schizophrenia is particularly challenging, but the aforementioned techniques should increase your ability to make it through the ups and downs of living with this difficulty.