I have schizophrenia and hear voices. In my experience, it’s difficult to live with something that speaks to you but isn’t really there. They may just be misfirings in my brain, but they talk and act like real people — like they have some sort of agenda, or at least a pattern. My aim is to live better with the voices so they are manageable. I’ve developed many tactics that help me.
If you’re trying these tactics, you may not be able to do all of these techniques at once. Try taking one or two of them a day and practicing them. Then write down what helps you manage the voices, because every instance of hearing voices is different and my list may not have all the answers.
Medication is often times a crap shoot. Each medication can affect someone differently, and finding the right medication can be tricky. If you’re experiencing hallucinations or delusions, medication is often your first and often best bet for recovery. If your medication makes the symptoms worse or side effects become unmanageable, then get help straight away. Call your doctor and see if they can squeeze you in, tell them it is very important. Remember that every medication affects people differently. What works for someone else may not work for you. Some medications may not work over a long period of time. Keep trying different medications and don’t give up. Eventually you will find one or more that suits you. Always take your medication on schedule and try not to miss doses.
2. Avoid Drugs That Aren’t Prescribed
I smoked marijuana while living with schizophrenia and at first it helped. It made my own thoughts louder and more enjoyable, but it also made my mood change constantly and the voices got scarier and louder when I was coming down. Be careful of alcohol use, especially with certain medications. In my experience, even little things like caffeine or nicotine can change how the voices act, so be careful what you put in your system, especially if you’ve never tried it before or don’t know how you will react. Each time you take a drug that isn’t prescribed it’s a risk, so be careful.
Music is an important ally, as music is contrary to the voices. Listen to music you enjoy that gives you a sense of empowerment. Music can say something different than the voices, and makes it feel like it is on your side against the voices. I know some music can be twisted by the voices, but concentrating on the words and tune can bring relief to the never-ending torrent of thought the voices are. Make a playlist of songs you enjoy and listen to it. Singing or playing an instrument also focuses your mind. Singing a simple song or humming can also give you a safeguard against the voices. Even thinking a song in your head can help. I actually like getting songs stuck in my head because of this.
4. Talk Back to the Voices
Talking against them can give you a sense of oneness while the voices are separate. Beating them in an argument is gratifying and gives you control over the voices. Don’t let the voices push you around. Challenge the voices!
Talking with someone takes more concentration, especially if you are interested in what they have to say. If the conversation loses your interest, try focusing on every single word the other person is saying. Focus your mind on every little detail. Remember to talk to real people, don’t get sucked in by the voices in your head. If you are alone, talk to yourself. Saying your thoughts aloud helps you focus your words and thoughts, separating you from the voices. A simple habit, but it may help you find relief when the voices are unbearable.
6. Stay Busy
Staying busy is important. You don’t have to do something 24/7, but being distracted quiets the voices and helps you ignore them. Set plans and follow up on them. Cultivate hobbies. The voices are loudest when it’s quiet and nothing is happening, so try to do something that takes up your energy. Feeling tired after being busy will also help you sleep when the voices are loud.
7. Set Boundaries
Make arrangements with the voices to not talk during specific events. I tell my voices they are not allowed to talk in the car, and sometimes it works. It doesn’t always, but it lets me exert control over the voices. I get distracted by the voices sometimes and I do not want to be distracted while driving.
Sometimes the voices can be negotiated with. Sometimes they will see things your way or you can get them to quiet down certain times. Make deals with the voices, but never give in to them. A time when I negotiated with them was when I got them distracted, or while doing something I enjoyed. The voices conceded that it was pleasurable and enjoyable to be distracted or do something nice. Negotiating with them makes them feel less formidable. Be wary of deals with the voices, however. Always be in the negotiator’s seat. The voices cannot be trusted most of the time. Don’t do something dangerous if the voices make an outlandish deal with you.
9. Don’t Believe the Voices
They’re not real. The voices are hectic and and are sometimes manipulative. Sometimes they’re just confusing, and to believe them is a surefire path to madness. For me, it’s been helpful to remember they are only symptoms and nothing more — not something deep and personal about me. Think of them as a bad cough or just noise. Try to not listen to the voices or talk to them if you’re having trouble with what they’re saying. This is very difficult, but with practice you can get better at it.
10. Classify the Voices as Thoughts
Everyone has irrational thoughts, you choose whether to act on them or not. Thinking of them as thoughts and not actual beings helps take away the voices’ power. Sometimes the voices say what you’re thinking. They are just thoughts. Don’t try to impress them or think of them as real people. Thinking of them as thoughts also helps you establish a sense of normalcy, as everyone has thoughts. Sometimes it is not easy, as the voices talk and act like real people, but taking away their power a little bit at a time helps you regain control.
11. Separate the Voices
Sometimes the voices say good things or bad things, sometimes different voices say different things, or one voice says helpful and unhelpful things. Split them apart into good and bad, light and dark, and — most importantly — as useful and useless. Take what you need from the voices and ignore the rest.
12. Be Open
Let trusted people in your life know what you’re going through. You are not alone. Letting people know what’s happening in your life helps them help you. Don’t be afraid of social stigmas. It may be challenging at first, but getting someone to understand can be a worthwhile victory. Do not fight alone against the voices. Everyone needs a friend. You can also go to support groups where you can meet other people who are going through similar situations. I met a someone with schizophrenia and talking with her has been one of the best parts of my illness. Other people will take the time to understand you.
13. Be Extremely Careful of Your Mood
Watch what you listen to and where you are. Being in the darkness alone can make the voices scarier, while being in the light with someone can make them less frightening. Put good, positive things in your head. Don’t ruminate on unpleasant things, whatever they are to you. The voices will seize on the negative things about you and your surroundings, so take care of your mood.
14. Take Care of Your Body
Clean yourself and your surroundings when you can. Making yourself and your surroundings look nice can be a morale booster. Eat what makes you feel good and try to exercise or move. Doing these little things can make you feel good and increase your mood. Taking care of yourself is important, it gives you accomplishments that the voices cannot take away.
15. Have a Mantra
Praying helps me. It gives me a sense of connection and clears my mind when the voices are rampant. It is like holding a railing near a steep cliff. The railing is there if I need it, and is always the same. Sometimes the voices make fun of me for praying, but it’s important not to give in. That means that saying my mantra upsets them, and is contrary to their will. Having a mantra helps me focus.
16. Have White Noise
Having white noise helps quiet the voices. I sleep with a fan on. It is a simple trick that may help someone who hears voices. The ticking of a clock can also distract you from the voices and help you fall asleep.
Accept that you’re hearing voices. Don’t try to shrug it off. For a while I thought it was just a little thing about me, that it didn’t really matter. I learned later I couldn’t ignore it. Accept that you’re hearing voices, and that they are uniquely yours.
18. Change the Theme
Imagining the voices as a puppy dog or an infant is easier to cope with than imagining them as the devil, which is scary. My grandma taught me this when she said she was hearing voices because she had difficulties hearing. She said she heard choir singing, and it was really annoying, so she would change the theme to make it more bearable. Use your power of imagination to deal with the voices.
Reading takes up more brain power, so the voices don’t usually speak when I’m reading. When my schizophrenia was at its worst, it was hardly bearable to read, so I read aloud. Reading aloud helped me focus on my own words and the words of the book. Reading something about schizophrenia and mental illness may provide more insight into your fight, so learn where you can. Reading and learning something different may distract you from the voices if it piques your interest, so always exercise your mind and learn.
20. Be Mindful and Meditate
Be mindful around the voices. Notice all five senses and take pleasure in them. Do not spend too much energy trying to exert control. Just listen and narrate. Say what you are doing or how something feels. Being mindful helps distract you from the voices, and being mindful of the voices lets you understand yourself and them better. Just let the thoughts and voices pass by in the breeze. Notice them, and let them walk on by. Remember to breathe and take it easy. Try meditating. It is difficult when hearing voices, but it can give you a sense of calm, safe from the storm of voices. It is the peace in the eye of the hurricane.
It will take time to heal. There is no magic solution to schizophrenia. It may take weeks for medication to work completely and years to fully recover. Time heals all wounds, so do things while you are waiting. Don’t let the voices take over your life. It will take time to heal. Don’t spend too much time trying to specifically get better. You will get better in your own time. Remember to do things while you are healing.
22. Therapy and Treatment
Therapy is a good way to spend your time. You may learn more techniques to combat mental illness and talking with someone about your battle really helps. Find a doctor who’s on your side. Find a specialist you can open up to and who understands you. It may take awhile to get to know someone, but liking your therapist or doctor often provides the best results. Take your treatment seriously.
You are in control. The voices will try to sway you and act like they are in control. It’s important not to listen to them! You move your own body and you make your own decisions. You make the final decisions, whatever the voices may say. Whatever happens remember that you are in control. You may not be able to control hearing voices, but you are in control of your own actions. If you ever feel like you can’t control the voices, remember they also can’t control you.
Change the voices’ negativity. Be positive. When they say something negative, change it into something good. An example is when the voices said to me, “You’re a different person,” to me over and over. To combat this, I made a little song about their saying. I go, “You’re a different person, person, person.” It annoys the crap out of the voices. Make jokes about the voices. Use your humor and positivity to deal with the negative voices. Don’t take everything they say so seriously. They’re only voices in your head, after all. Just let it all out and laugh at them.
25. Use Logic
The voices have told me to kill myself plenty of times, but if I really did that, what would happen to the voices? They would be dead just like me. I don’t think they would want to die. They say they are other people to me, but if they are other people, how come they don’t get songs stuck in their head? Why would these other people be so stuck on me and want me to kill myself? Why do I still hear the voices in the middle of the night and how come they never have any new information? The voices only know what I know so they cannot be other people. Use your reason with the voices, and remind yourself they are just voices. Find patterns in their thinking and expose it. I noticed the voices are always talking about or to me. Other people wouldn’t do that if they were telepathic.
26. Be With Your Pets and Loved Ones
Animals give unconditional love easily, so love your cat, dog, lizard, bird or whatever as much as you like. Your loved ones will always be there for you. When you’re going through a hard time sometimes being with someone you love is all you need.
27. Mold the Voices
Mold them into something of your own design. Imprint your thinking with thoughts that you want to think. Warp the voices, make them funny or useful. The voices can be overwhelming. Beat them at their own game and make them your thoughts again. Force the voices to take on forms and emotions you would like. Find a use for the voices. This is very difficult, but you can do it. The important thing is to not fall into the voices’ delusions.
28. Play Word or Mind Games
Think of words that sound alike or are off of one tangent. For an example, say cat, rat, fat, bat, mat, meat, beat, feet, treat, and so on, to help focus your voice and help you concentrate. Another game is to try to remember something (because it is easy to forget what you are thinking of when you are hearing voices) and hook on other things you can remember to that memory and at the end of the game see what you remembered. You’d be surprised at what really goes into your memory at the end of the day.
29. Love the Voices
This is difficult when the voices are mean or spiteful. Give the most negative voices your love. Hate only breeds hate, so treat the voices nicely. The most angry and mean voices you encounter oft times need the most care.
30. Build a Safety Net of Real People and Ideas
Be with the people you care about. Think of them in your darkest hours. Find a way out of negative thoughts by having beliefs and ideas that are uplifting. These tactics and my family and friends are my own safety net. These tactics may be a good starting point for you, and can help you construct a safety net that is unique to you. They have helped me, I hope they help you.
Follow this journey on Eagle on the Cliff.