Oh, just so you know, these tips aren’t in any particular order, except I did mean to put the first one first. Other than that they are sort of random. On with tip number three:
3) If you have a mental illness, try to reduce the amount of stress in your life. I know you might read this and think “oh yeah, duh,” but sometimes we all forget what a huge role stress can play in our lives. For people with severe mental illnesses having a lot of stress can mean the re-emergence of symptoms which causes more stress and eventually things can spiral out of control. Anyone can fall victim to too much stress, but for the person with a severe illness stress can take over more quickly.
I’m not saying that people with mental illness should just lay down and forget about life for the next 20 years. There is good stress and bad stress. We need some stress just to keep us going and living. Still even things that we consider good and happy in our lives can cause us stress. It all adds up. At this site you will find a little test you can take that is supposed to measure your stress. It may not be completely accurate, but it will give you some indication of the general stress level in your life related to somewhat major events.
So, I say you need to limit your stress, but of course I don’t always follow my own advice. But, let’s just say we are trying to limit our stress, you and I. How can we do that? Well, the first thing that really gets me to even noticing if I’m really stressed out is if symptoms start popping up. Now some people may have more symptoms than other people, so it needs to be based on your own levels. If you start having more symptoms than normal, you might ask yourself what has changed in your life. Are you getting enough sleep? Enough to eat and drink? Getting out and about enough? Or are you getting too much of all of that? Are you stressed out from work, school, volunteering or interpersonal issues? Are you just doing a stressful activity all the time?
If you are recently afflicted with your illness, you might feel a great urge to get back to work or school or your life and go at everything full force like you used to—especially if you feel like proving to yourself and the whole world that you are okay and not mentally ill. Don’t. Take the time to recuperate. If you have just gotten out of the hospital, give yourself a break. Going from the scheduled and cut off world of the hospital right back into a hectic, busy and stressful life will do you no good. You need to find a way to ease back into life and you need people to help you do it. More on people in tip #4 later.
So, find ways to gauge when you are stressed out. Some people wait until they are having panic attacks or until they are sitting with a gun in their hand or a bottle of pills at their side. That is a bad plan. You should NOT wait to deal with your stress at those times. When you are on the edge of hurting yourself you should get immediate help and intervention. So, as you get out of the hospital or even when you’ve been stabilized for years, take the time to notice the stress in your life and how you deal with it. Notice when you get a little short with people. Notice when you start feeling overwhelmed or hopeless. Just start to be aware of your triggers for stress and how you react.
Sometimes for me figuring out if I’m stressed out or not really hinges on how I respond to my cats! Most days I love to cuddle with my cats and I can’t get enough of their little fuzzy faces, paws, tummies and meows. But if I’m under a deadline for something or generally stressed out and my cat keeps meowing at me over and over again I sometimes am shocked to find myself getting mad at him and telling, okay, yelling at him to be quiet. I know, I’m a bad cat mommy. As soon as I stop telling him to be quiet, I realize that it is me who needs to be quiet. What I probably need to do is stop what I’m doing and pick up my cat and hold him for awhile. It will help me and it will help him. It is the same thing if you end up raising your voice at your children for some reason. When it gets to that point we need to take a step back and ask ourselves what we are doing, how we are making others feel and what we are hoping to accomplish, right? Right.
After the onset of a severe mental illness we need to take care of ourselves, probably better than we did before we got sick. Maybe we have to let go and say, you know what, I can’t do all of that anymore or right now. Maybe you used to go to school full time and work full time and juggle kids and family. Or maybe you were an A student in high school and you were involved in tons of activities and volunteered on the side. Maybe your thing was hanging out with friends until all hours of the morning and getting high or doped up and drunk every weekend. Yeah, I know, you think getting high and doped up is relaxing, but no, you can’t be doing that stuff if you want to get better. Trust me, it will only make things ten times worse!
So, if you know you are stressed out. Maybe you are having break through symptoms, what do you do? Well, find a way to eliminate some of the stress for the long term and some for the short term. For me, I can’t go to school and work full time anymore. I just can’t do it. And sometimes I don’t even know if I really should be trying to go to school full-time. Maybe I should be going part-time. I need to work to help pay for things even though I have disability. But, I can really only hold down a part-time job with very kind and flexible bosses who sometimes let me work from home. My problems are mostly sleep issues, but sometimes even now I find myself getting wound a little too tightly.
And, let me tell you, I know thing or two about pressure, stress and overachieving if you are a person like that. I still sometimes stay up all night burning the midnight oil trying to get my work done, but now that happens rarely. I have to either plan my time better (which I still haven’t mastered) or I have to let things go and know that I can’t do it all. Maybe I am not going to get A’s in school. Maybe I’m not going to be the best worker on the job. Maybe I will need to stay home and rest when I need to, even if no one understands why I have to.
Do what you need to do to take care of yourself. If you like soaking in a bathtub or walking around the neighborhood or playing with your cats, do those things. If you like extreme sports or going to the opera or learning a craft or meditating, do that. I like to watch TV and movies, because as long as they aren’t really frightening or emotionally overwhelming, it just distracts me and gets my mind off of everything. I can focus on what I’m watching and forget about everything else. I also like to watch downloaded TV shows or TV on DVD, because the commercials really annoy me (which adds to my stress level of course!). If I can’t download or have a show on DVD, then I like to videotape a show and watch it without commercials by fast forwarding through. Some people have TiVo which I guess does the same thing. I also enjoy watching YouTube videos, because I think they are just great and I find the people to be so interesting. Oh and possibly my favorite activity, if I can manage to concentrate long enough, is reading.
Well, there’s a long list of stuff I like to do, but that doesn’t matter. What do YOU like to do? You know, if you are someone with severe mental illness your life is going to be changed by having the illness. Why don’t you make one thing that changes be the stress in your life? Allow yourself time for pampering. You have a good excuse, why not use it? Tell yourself and anyone else who needs to know that you are taking time to relax, because it will help in your recovery. Be an example to the rest of the people out there in showing them that you know what? Maybe taking a step or two back from the rat race is really okay. Just like people with physical illnesses need to make adjustments for their problems, you and I will need to make adjustments for our problems. It’s okay. It’s okay to say I can’t. I won’t. Not now. Not today. It is okay to tell the people in your life: hey, please step back you are really stressing me out and I can’t deal with that right now and when I get stressed out like this my symptoms get worse.
Well, that’s my long schpeel about stress. I hope the length of this didn’t stress you out! hehe. Bye for now. :)