People living with schizophrenia often go from periods of psychosis to periods of relative stability. There are many tricks and tools that long-term suffers have learned in order to have the best chance for increasing stability and for avoiding a psychiatric crisis. Avoiding a crisis is a high priority, because it is so disruptive to life and can cause job loss, loss of self-esteem, the loss of a home, and many other negative consequences. Here is a list of seven things that can assist in increasing stability on a daily basis. Of course, these are not meant to replace the recommendations of your doctor or treatment professional.
- Work with a doctor to find a medication (or combination of medications) that works for you.
When someone has a new diagnosis, it can take many trials on different medications to find the right doses and type of medication. Changing medications is a difficult process to go through because of side effects, but it is a process that can be critical to overall health. For many people, medication is the foundation of treatment.
- Put together a treatment team.
Find a primary care doctor, psychiatrist, and therapist whom you trust. If you feel comfortable, bring a family member to your appointments so that someone who sees you on a regular basis can help identify problems if they come up. If you are married, you may consider bringing your spouse to appointments because she or he sees you more than anyone else and can easily identify a change in behavior or an issue of concern if one arises.
- Prepare for a possible crisis.
No one wants to have an episode of psychosis that requires intervention, but preparation is important if hospitalization or intervention is necessary. For preparation, make sure that all professionals on your treatment team have each other’s business cards and contact information in your files. Also, if you have a family member that you feel comfortable including in your treatment team, make sure that you have signed a release of information so that your doctors or therapists are allowed to share information with your family member in an emergency. It is illegal for a professional to share information with a third party without this document. If you wait until you are in crisis, you may be unwilling or unable to sign the necessary paperwork for your family member to stay informed.
- Develop a routine.
Routines can be comforting, and structure can be a guide or framework for mental health. If you follow a routine and that routine breaks down, it can be obvious to someone that you may need to see a doctor, change your medication or some other form of intervention. An inability to follow your normal routine can serve as a warning signal that you are in need of help or assistance.
- Get enough sleep.
For many people with schizophrenia, the loss of or reduced need for sleep is an indicator that an episode of psychosis is developing. Try to go to bed at the same time most nights and wake up at the same time each morning. Sleep, like having a routine, can be an early warning sign that trouble is brewing. Monitoring sleep is one of the easiest things that you can do to make sure your medications are working and that your symptoms are not getting increasingly worse.
- Eat well and exercise.
Eating a balanced diet and getting some exercise most days of the week can help boost your mood. Diet and exercise are particularly important for people on many antipsychotic medications because of the possible side effects of weight gain, fatigue, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar. Make sure to check with your primary care physician before beginning to exercise to make sure you are in good enough health to incorporate an exercise routine into your day.
- Learn your triggers.
For people with schizophrenia, it is common for busy social situations to be a trigger for anxiety. It is also common to have feelings of paranoia around certain people or things. If you can discover what things cause you to develop symptoms, you can either prepare yourself by having an exit plan or avoiding those situations and things completely.
Managing schizophrenia, and making sure you can live the best life possible has much in common with managing a chronic illness of any kind. There are regular doctor appointments, treatment options, diet and exercise, the avoidance of stress (triggers) and making sure you are taking the best care possible to give yourself the best chance at fewer symptoms and possible recovery. It takes effort initially to incorporate these suggestions into your daily routine, but once they become habits, the less you will have to focus on them and the more you can get out and enjoy life.
Doctor and patient photo available from Shutterstock