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Mental Illness Guide: Care, Support, and Education
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How to reduce your relative’s stress by making a daily routine

People with mental illness are very sensitive to stress. If they feel too much stress, they may get sick.  It is important for a family and a person with mental illness to reduce stress in the home.  How can you reduce stress in your home?

Make a daily routine

Schedule daily routines that can be counted on, such as meals, bedtimes, kitchen clean-up after dinner, taking out the garbage.  Set a time when each of these activities will happen.  Write the schedule on a sheet of paper and post it on the refrigerator.

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Be aware that the person with mental illness might need some time alone, or quiet time, each day.  Perhaps he/her would prefer to listen to the radio in his/her room for an hour after dinner.

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Plan non-stressful, low-key regular activities, such as taking a walk or listening to music.

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Plan very few “big events,” such as going to a movie, or the mall, or family parties.

Be consistent 

Develop house rules together as a family.  Once your house rules have been set, stick with them.  Do not make it okay to smoke in the house today, and then not okay tomorrow.  People with mental illness will have less stress if they have a good idea of where things stand.  It is a good idea to learn how to make rules as a family.  

Be calm at home

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Do not get too excited.

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Do not yell.

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When the family member with mental illness is there, try to speak one at a time.

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Do not speak fast.

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Use short sentences.

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Avoid arguing.  State your point of view and be willing to listen to your relative’s point of view.

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Do not argue about delusions (your relative’s false beliefs).  For example, if your relative says something that seems wrong or strange, you could say, “I know how frightening it must be for you to hear voices, even though I do not hear them.”

Help the person with mental illness take small steps forward 

People with mental illness may need a lot of encouragement to do things and develop skills and interests.  They may also want to try new things, but should work up to them very slowly.  Begin by giving them relatively easy, personal tasks, like brushing their teeth or getting dressed.  Then gradually move on to easy household chores, such as washing the dishes or vacuuming.  Next, it might be going to the store or the post office. 

If goals are too high, or someone is nagging, the resulting stress can make things worse, and you will undo the progress that has been made.

Working together to deal with family stress

Learn how to deal with stress together.  Try to be prepared for the ups and downs of life.  Your relative with mental illness needs to learn to deal with stress.  You can help by being a good role model:

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Stay organized.

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Keep a schedule.

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Keep calm.

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Try to avoid arguing.

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Do not give orders or make demands.  Instead, state clearly what you expect to have happen and why.  “Please do not smoke in here.  You know it is a house rule.”

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Express anger quietly.  We all know how to express our displeasure about something without shouting.  Think about how you might talk to your grandmother or your boss!

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Avoid being too emotional and having emotional outbursts.

Sometimes just recognizing and talking about something in advance that might be stressful can also help.  That way you can avoid the situation before it happens.