Psychosis Spectrum Disorders & Managing Stress during the COVID-19 Pandemic

  • Stick to your treatment plan
  • Practice coping skills and relaxation
  • Stay connected

Psychosis refers to the experience of perceiving or interpreting reality in a different way than others. You may “lose touch” with reality during a psychotic experience (e.g., hallucinations, delusions). If you experience psychosis, you may be given a psychiatric diagnosis (e.g., schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, depression).

Importantly, stress can affect psychosis and people who experience psychosis can be particularly sensitive to stress. Both the uncertainty and the disruption in our daily routines associated with the COVID-19 pandemic are stressful and can make coping with symptoms difficult. We recommend three tips to help manage psychosis and stress during this time.

1)    Stick to your treatment plan

When we are stressed, it’s easier to fall out of healthy habits that we worked so hard to achieve over the course of treatment. However, maintaining these healthy habits, schedules, and treatment goals as much as possible can put us in a better position to manage stress. That’s why it’s a good idea to talk with your provider to review your treatment plan and come up with strategies to help you stick with your plan. You can discuss how to keep your appointments by scheduling online or phone meetings in lieu of in-person meetings. And how to make sure you have refills of your medications. Also, ask your family and/or close friends if they can assist you with your treatment plan. If your symptoms worsen, contact your provider. If a crisis emerges, contact emergency services.

2)    Practice coping skills and relaxation

Part of sticking with your treatment plan likely includes continued efforts to practice your healthy coping skills (if not, it’s a good idea to add this). We know that psychosis can come with ‘stress sensitivity,’ where even ‘minor’ stressors are disruptive. Regularly practicing a wide range of coping and relaxation skills can help manage stress. These include taking a walk (while practicing social distancing), mindful breathing, and engaging in activities that you enjoy (e.g., reading, taking a bath). Practicing these skills does not have to be a “big production.” Even just looking out the window and observing nature for a few minutes counts as a mindful moment and excellent use of your skills!

3)    Stay connected

With social distancing recommendations in place, we are physically staying away from others. This can mean fewer interactions with friends and family. But we know that social connections can be important for our well-being and health. So it’s good to establish a “check-in” buddy, a person you talk to by phone or online every day. You can also schedule times to “virtually” hang-out and watch TV shows with friends and family. Online support groups are also available if you’d like to connect with others who share similar experiences. If internet access is a concern, many internet providers are currently offering discounts or free services during the pandemic. Trying to maintain connections and/or reaching out to others will help to reduce the feeling of isolation that everyone experiences while practicing social distancing. This may also be a great opportunity to reach out to friends or family members who live far away or you have not spoken to for a while! 

Above all, follow the CDC guidelines (try to avoid sensationalistic news feeds) so that you and your loved ones can stay healthy and safe!