Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on December 20, 2021
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Caregiving Also Means Self-Care

When you care for someone with schizophrenia and are wrapped up in their day-to-day needs, it’s easy to forget yourself. But to be an effective caregiver, you need to take care of yourself, too. This means taking time to stay not only physically healthy, but also emotionally fit. The more you protect your well-being, the better you can navigate the ups and downs of your loved one’s illness.

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Let Education Empower You

Fear of the unknown adds to stress. Learning more about schizophrenia can help ease your fears. A mental health professional or an online course can teach you what to expect and how to better prepare. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, for instance, offers a free online education program. It's led by family members of people with schizophrenia. 

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Recharge Daily to Fight Burnout

Some 78% of people caring for someone with a condition like schizophrenia have at least one major sign of burnout, like emotional exhaustion or feeling detached from the world. You might think time for yourself is out of the question. But to avoid burnout, step out of the caregiver mindset for at least a few minutes each day. Do whatever you most enjoy, whether that's a hobby, meditation, or just having lunch with a friend.

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Re-Engage With Friends

Social support boosts your mood and reminds you that you’re part of a world beyond caregiving. Sometimes caregivers shy away from others. They might feel their caregiving duties take most of their time and energy, or worry about the stigma of mental illness. But strengthening friendly relationships helps you care for yourself. It keeps you from feeling like you're defined by your loved one’s illness.

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Enlist Some Help

Maybe you think you need to shoulder all the responsibility for your loved one. You might even see it as a sign of weakness to ask for help. But it’s better for both of you if you can tap into family support. If you don’t have anyone nearby, check out respite services in your community. You can look for information online through the U.S. Administration on Aging's Eldercare Locator or the National Respite Network.

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Don't Neglect Physical Self-Care

Caregiving stress can lead to a triple whammy of trouble. You might:

  • Get run-down and weaken your immune system
  • Turn to unhealthy habits like smoking
  • Neglect your own health needs, like doctor visits

Daily exercise can help wipe that negative slate clean. Any type you find fun will work. And keep your energy up with a diet focused on unprocessed foods like whole grains, vegetables, and fruit.

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Reach Out for Support

Join a support group to gain insights from fellow caregivers of people with schizophrenia. This especially helps when you’re new to caregiving and need advice on juggling those responsibilities with a job and other family needs. Your loved one's health- care team is also a good source of information. They can guide you on practical care and connect you with organizations to help meet your needs.

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Assess Your Stress

It helps to understand how stress affects you. Do you feel stomach cramps, lose sleep, or get a headache or body aches? If you can recognize your unique signs of stress as soon as they start to build, you can take action to limit their effects. Use a journal to identify situations that ramp up your stress. You’ll know when to tap into one of your coping strategies to ease it.

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Get Over Guilt

You might feel guilty about taking time for yourself or feel you're not doing enough for your loved one. But guilt only adds to your stress. Try to notice your feelings without passing judgment on yourself. It may help to get respite care for your loved one at home or an adult care center. They can engage with health care professionals who'll tend to their needs. And you have needed personal time without worry.

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Check In on Your Own Mental Health

Anxiety, social withdrawal, and insomnia are three of the top problems caregivers for people with mental illness have. It’s common to feel helpless and have low self-esteem. Any of these can harm your psyche as well as your caregiving abilities. Counseling from a therapist who understands how a loved one’s schizophrenia affects the whole family can help you heal.

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Give Yourself a Pat on the Back

Studies show that when you feel negative about caregiving, you feel bad in general. Yes, it’s hard to be cheery when a loved one is in pain. But it will help you emotionally to remind yourself about the upside of caregiving and the good you’re doing. A positive view will give you a sense of personal growth and ease your distress.

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SOURCES:

Journal of Medical Internet Research: “Feasibility of a Web-Based Psychoeducation Course and Experiences of Caregivers Living With a Person With Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorder: Mixed Methods Study.”

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: “Caring for Patients with Psychosis: Mental Health Professionals’ Views on Informal Caregivers’ Needs.”

NAMI: “NAMI Family to Family,” “Taking Care of Yourself.”

BMJ Open: “Effects of brief family psychoeducation for caregivers of people with schizophrenia in Japan provided by visiting nurses: protocol for a cluster randomised controlled trial.”

Early Intervention in Psychiatry: “Burnout in early course psychosis caregivers: the role of illness beliefs and coping styles.”

Psychiatric Services: “Psychological Distress Among Caregivers of Individuals With a Diagnosis of Schizophrenia or Schizoaffective Disorder.”

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Get Support If You’re a Caregiver.”

Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing: “Facilitating pathways to care: A qualitative study of the self-reported needs and coping skills of caregivers of young adults diagnosed with early psychosis.”

International Journal of Nursing Sciences: “Coping strategies of family caregivers of patients with schizophrenia in Iran: A cross-sectional survey.”

Mindful.org: “Stressing Out? S.T.O.P.”

Mayo Clinic: “Caregiver stress: Tips for taking care of yourself.”

Frontiers in Psychiatry: “Caregiver Burdens Associated With Treatment-Resistant Schizophrenia: A Quantitative Caregiver Survey of Experiences, Attitudes, and Perceptions.”

Internal Medicine Journal: “Stress and burden faced by family caregivers of people with schizophrenia and early psychosis in Hong Kong.”

Mental Health America: “Being An Effective Caregiver.”