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5 Ways I Protect Myself From Stress-Induced Psychosis

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I have schizoaffective disorder, and some of my symptoms include various forms of hallucinations that tend to increase during times of stress. When I am hallucinating, I often feel and see bugs crawling on me, I see figures watching me or running across the room, and I hallucinate seeing animals coming at me.  I have also experienced more bizarre hallucinations, such as seeing a floating cluster of eyeballs staring at me, which sent me into a fit of panic.

I often get nervous for the holidays because I know there will be more stress, such as seeing certain people who I do not see often, which triggers my social anxiety. I also experience stress around food due to my eating disorder and being around food in so many situations during the holidays is very scary for me. I find that I hallucinate more during the holiday season because of the frequent stress I am experiencing, but I do have some protective tactics in place to help me manage my stress, and in turn, my hallucinations.  The following are five coping skills that I use to protect myself from stress, and I hope that they will bring you some guidance and relief as well.

1. I always have something that I can do to keep my hands busy

I am often antsy and on edge due to my anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations; but having something to keep my hands busy with me always is incredibly helpful. I use fidget toys, putty, play dough, as well as crochet, knitting, cross-stitch and embroidery. When I have something to do with my hands, I feel that I can ease my anxiety and stress, which lessens my hallucinations, and allows me to be more present in various situations.   

2. Making time to be alone

I am an introvert, and with my mental illnesses I need a lot of alone time to recharge and manage my stress levels. I try to ensure that I have some time each day to be by myself, and I let others know that this time is just self-care time for me. Even if I have only a few minutes to myself, I find this helps me to better manage my symptoms while providing me with mental energy to participate in holiday activities.

3. Setting boundaries

Through therapy, I am learning that I have the option of saying no to activities I do not want to do, or activities that I do not see as being safe for me. This concept is important for me when I am setting boundaries. If I am not feeling up to certain activities this holiday season, I plan on letting individuals know why I can not attend certain events, and I plan on setting boundaries around my time and my freedom to choose who, where and what I want to attend or be a part of. I am working on not feeling guilty about setting boundaries, and this includes also considering when and where I need to be present to connect with loved ones.

4. Surrounding myself with those who know me and can help me if stress begins to impact my hallucinations

Choosing to be around those who know me, my mental illnesses and can provide support is paramount. This way I will know that if I need extra support during an event, I will have people who understand and can support me.

5. Practicing crisis skills

Crisis skills, including dunking my face in a bowl of icy water or holding an icepack to my chest, help me a lot when I am hallucinating and am experiencing intense anxiety. Focusing on breathing and grounding techniques are also important. These coping skills goes along with being around people who know me and how to support me, because I can have individuals who can help guide me through my crisis skills if I need them.

Living with schizoaffective disorder is not easy. I find that I am often putting all of my energy on battling my hallucinations, anxiety, paranoia and associated depression, and the holidays tend to increase all of these due to the stress I experience. However, the above skills have helped me in social situations where I am more prone to stress, and I hope they may bring you some relief as well. No matter how you feel about the holidays, you deserve to feel safe and comfortable, and understanding your needs is a big step in ensuring you have a more peaceful holiday season.

Getty image by nadia bormotova

Originally published: November 15, 2021
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