Developing tools to cope with schizophrenia can make it much less challenging for those with the condition and their loved ones.

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Having a schizophrenia diagnosis can be a difficult experience for some people.

Living with this condition might mean dealing with symptoms that can leave you feeling detached from reality. Occasionally, you may feel unable to trust your perception or surroundings.

Misconceptions and stigma surrounding schizophrenia may also be more pronounced than other mental heath conditions.

These factors can create a feeling of isolation for people living with the condition.

However, schizophrenia is a treatable condition that can be managed with the right tools and support, such as:

  • coping skills
  • self-care techniques
  • psychiatric treatment

Living a positive, fulfilling life with this condition is entirely possible. Coping with schizophrenia may mean learning new strategies and experimenting with a combination until you find what works for you.

Schizophrenia affects about 1 percent of people in the United States. The illness most commonly develops during the late teens and early 20s for men and during the late 20s and early 30s for women.

Symptoms of schizophrenia exist on a wide spectrum and can be different for everyone.

‘Positive’ and ‘negative’ symptoms

The symptoms of schizophrenia are broadly divided up into two categories: positive and negative. However, this doesn’t mean that some symptoms are “good” and others are “bad.”

Rather, this means that some symptoms are new behaviors that develop with the condition, while others are simply modified or changed behaviors.

Positive symptoms of schizophrenia are behaviors that weren’t there before, such as delusions and hallucinations. Negative symptoms are preexisting behaviors that have become diminished, like a lack of affect, motivation, or speech.

The ‘5 As’ of schizophrenia

The most common negative symptoms are often summarized as “the five A’s” of schizophrenia, which include:

  • Affective flattening: lack of emotional display or responses
  • Alogia: lack of speech
  • Anhedonia: the inability to feel pleasure
  • Asociality: lack of engagement with others
  • Avolition: lack of motivation

Diagnosing schizophrenia

Only doctors and therapists are qualified to diagnose schizophrenia. If you’re experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia, it may be a good idea to talk with your doctor or therapist about being tested.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), a schizophrenia diagnosis requires experiencing two or more symptoms continuously over a period of at least 1 month and must include one of the first three symptoms listed:

  • Delusions: including delusions of influence (i.e., that you’re being controlled), grandeur (i.e., that you’re especially powerful or important), or persecution (i.e., that you’re being followed, monitored, or targeted)
  • Hallucinations: including auditory and visual hallucinations, as well as more rare types involving taste, touch, and smell
  • Disorganized speech: incoherent speech, or speech that’s hard to follow due to moving quickly from one subject to another without clear segues
  • Disorganized or catatonic behavior: problems with motor function, increased agitation, or catatonia (inability to move normally)
  • Negative symptoms: the “five A’s” of schizophrenia

Dealing with schizophrenia in your everyday life can be distressing. If you’re living with schizophrenia, know that you’re not alone.

Schizophrenia is treatable, and many people with this condition go on to live balanced, fulfilling lives. Learning specific coping skills and strategies can help you manage symptoms.

Schizophrenia can be a very isolating illness, in part due to common misconceptions and stigma around this condition. Some symptoms can also make social situations stressful.

With schizophrenia, your perception of the world can impact how you interpret new stimuli and people, which can be overwhelming.

But living with schizophrenia doesn’t have to be lonely.

Establish a support system

Establishing a strong support system can be a powerful way to take on many symptoms of schizophrenia.

However, it can be challenging for people with positive symptoms, like psychosis involving hallucinations and delusions, to accept support from others.

Once positive symptoms are managed with the right medication, support systems can be incredibly beneficial in addressing negative schizophrenia symptoms, such as asociality and avolition.

Your support system can include anyone who you feel safe with, such as:

  • friends
  • family
  • co-workers
  • animal companions and pets
  • other loved ones

Sometimes, all you need is one person who is understanding and empathetic. The first step is often reaching out to them and asking for support.

Support groups

It may also be helpful to look into attending support groups for schizophrenia. In support groups, people with the condition gather — either in person or online — to share their experiences and support each other.

Groups like Schizophrenics Anonymous offer a way to meet others who are living with schizophrenia. You can find more in-person and virtual support groups through the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Managing your own emotions can be a major part of learning how to live well with schizophrenia. As you navigate your symptoms, it’s natural to feel:

  • fear
  • anger
  • sadness

But there are steps you can take to make these emotions feel less overwhelming.

Therapy

Therapy is a highly effective way to process your emotions and combat certain types of negative thinking.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the leading form of psychotherapy for those living with schizophrenia. CBT can help you to check the credibility of your beliefs, as well as learn to tolerate hallucinations and other uncomfortable symptoms.

Self-care

Self-care can also be invaluable when it comes to regulating your emotions. The meaning of self-care may be different for everyone, but it can be as simple as scheduling time to do the things that make you feel nourished and cared for, such as:

  • taking a walk
  • spending time with a pet
  • cooking your favorite meal
  • engaging with creativity, hobbies, and DIY projects
  • talking with a trusted friend or relative
  • reading a great book

People living with schizophrenia may sometimes experience difficulty keeping up with the tasks of everyday life.

Activities of daily living (ADLs) is the official term for skills that are required in order to live an independent life. Just like any other skill, they can be honed with practice. ADLs may include:

  • Personal hygiene: brushing teeth, bathing, washing hair
  • Medical and psychiatric: taking prescribed medication correctly, attending scheduled appointments
  • Diet: eating enough nutritious foods each day to meet your body’s needs
  • General responsibilities: completing errands (like grocery runs, laundry, going to the post office, etc.), cleaning your living space
  • Financial: managing your money, paying bills on time, handling taxes and other paperwork

It can be a good idea to spend a little time thinking about which daily living tasks are the most challenging for you. Recruiting trusted members of your support system may help you manage and complete difficult tasks.

Episodes of psychosis, meaning periods of detachment from reality, can often arise as a symptom of schizophrenia. You may experience and believe things that aren’t real (delusions) or see and hear things that aren’t really there (hallucinations).

Psychosis can be very frightening, particularly because you’re the only person experiencing it. Even if you’re surrounded by supportive people, they can’t always fully understand what you’re going through.

Over time, you may find that you’re able to identify the warning signs of impending psychosis. Once you can spot these signs, you can use a variety of coping strategies to get through each episode and make the experience less intense.

Effective coping strategies may include:

  • Maintaining sleep hygiene: Aiming to go to bed at the same time and getting enough sleep can be beneficial since sleep-deprivation can induce or exacerbate hallucinations.
  • Exercising: Daily physical activity, such as walking, yoga or stretching, can help ground yourself in your body.
  • Spending time outside: Being in nature or just outdoors for some time every day may reduce stress levels.
  • Writing down or drawing what you believe, see, hear or feel: Externalizing your psychosis can make it less overwhelming.
  • Taking your medications correctly: It’s important to take any medications you are prescribed correctly at the appropriate time each day.

Schizophrenia can be a distressing illness, not only for the person living with it, but also for their family and friends.

If you’re supporting someone with schizophrenia, it can be important to make sure you’re also looking out for your own well-being.

Familiarizing yourself with schizophrenia

Learning more about schizophrenia — and especially what your loved one may be experiencing through the many different presentations of the condition — can help you remain empathetic and as prepared as possible.

Support groups for loved ones

You can meet others with similar experiences by joining support groups for loved ones of people with schizophrenia. Support groups exist both in person and online.

NAMI Family Support Group is one example of a peer-led support group, which welcomes anyone with a loved one living with a mental health condition, such as schizophrenia.

Prioritizing self-care

When you’re taking care of someone living with a condition like schizophrenia, it’s easy for your own mental health to take a backseat.

Prioritizing self-care activities — even when you feel depleted — may help counteract this tendency to put yourself second or last. Focusing on self-care can also help balance your energy levels, so you can be prepared and alert the next time your loved one may need extra support.

Whether you’re living with schizophrenia, or supporting someone else who is, you’re not alone. There are numerous ways to cope with the experience and have a positive, fulfilling life that’s not defined by the condition.

For people with schizophrenia, coping skills can include various strategies for:

  • managing difficult symptoms, like psychosis
  • overcoming social challenges
  • addressing difficult emotions
  • living everyday life

Schizophrenia can be challenging for loved ones, as well. Ensuring your reserve of energy is full can be essential to supporting someone with this condition:

  • learning about schizophrenia
  • prioritizing self-care
  • joining a support group

If you need support but aren’t sure where to turn, you can check out Psych Central’s guide to mental health help.