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How to Limit Stress When You Have a Mental Illness

stressed-1459487Stress is a killer, it contributes to heart problems, mental problems and myriad other conditions and it can take a toll on work life, relationships and overall happiness.

I’ve been on the receiving end of stress for a long time in numerous little iterations.

I’ve also lived with schizophrenia for almost ten years and I know that stress is the veritable light switch between stability and falling into paranoia and delusions like the thought that people are making fun of you, or that they’re out to get you by assaulting you with accusations and judgment.

This is a constant worry of mine, that people are making fun of me and it’s caused me some serious heartache.

The dangerous thing is, once that paranoia comes on from a limited amount of stress, you only get more stressed out and that can lead to some behavior that may be advised against.

I can remember sitting at dinner one night enjoying a beer with friends and I could hear laughter from the table behind us. In my heart I knew that laughter was not about me but my brain was saying that it might be and then it was saying that it definitely is and I had no choice but to leave the table and go sit in my car to try to calm down. If I hadn’t done that I would have yelled “shut up!” or confronted the table but thankfully I didn’t.

I was pretty certain that the laughter wasn’t about me but the voice in my head was telling my already insecure self that the people at the other table saw something about me that they thought was hilarious and they proceeded to make me the subject of ridicule. Normally I’d trust people to be kind but there was also alcohol involved and I’m well aware of how the tongue has a tendency to loosen when alcohol is involved.

Suffice it to say I was terrified and I think the thing that caused it was that I was stressed about a writing project that I was working on that kept getting rejected. I hadn’t taken the time to fully absorb and accept the stress of having my work rejected and it fueled an already dormant feeling that I wasn’t good enough.

The point of all this is to say that it’s important to limit stress with a mental illness because one small instance can slowly snowball into a momentary breakdown.

The thing that works best for me is taking the time I need to wrap my head around something that’s causing me stress. If this means writing in my journal for an hour or two on end just to purge, vegging out on the couch or taking a walk and a shower while thinking about the problem then it’s what I have to do. Some say meditiation works but my meditation comes in the quiet moments I take to myself to fully accept the things that are happening in my day to day life.

Acceptance is powerful and knowing you don’t have to involve yourself in and cause yourself stress over an instance that caused you discomfort is key.

The main thing I’m trying to get at is that we can’t control the things happen to us, we all have to try to get by in a world filled with uncertainty and a level of chaos and there are some things we just have to let go of. This is an especially important skill when you’re dealing with a mental illness and though it may be hard to do, taking the time you need to decompress, or analyze, or purge your feelings and the things you are thinking is as important as food, shelter and water.

Sometimes we just have to step away and that’s perfectly ok.

How to Limit Stress When You Have a Mental Illness

Michael Hedrick

Michael Hedrick is a writer and photographer who has lived with schizophrenia since he was 20. His work has been featured in Salon, The Week, Scientific American and The New York Times. You can purchase his book 'Connections' here or Follow his blog on Living with Schizophrenia here.

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APA Reference
Hedrick, M. (2015). How to Limit Stress When You Have a Mental Illness. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 8, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Oct 2015
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