Paranoia is defined as feeling threatened or endangered and often comes with the idea that people are plotting against you in some way. It can be experienced even if the danger isn’t real. If paranoia occurs too often, it can disrupt a person’s life. Paranoia is often a symptom of various mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder, paranoid personality disorder, and schizophrenia.
The Difference Between Anxiety and Paranoid Thoughts
Paranoia and anxiety are closely linked; a paranoid person is likely to experience anxiety. While the two conditions may share overlapping symptoms and can even co-occur, they are not the same. The main difference between paranoia and anxiety is that there are delusional beliefs about persecution, threat, or conspiracy with paranoia. However, with anxiety, these thought processes about others are not present.
What Are the Symptoms of Paranoia?
You may be experiencing paranoia if you experience any of the following:
- Feelings of aggression, defensiveness, and hostility
- Have difficulties letting your guard down or relaxing
- Difficulties with constantly feeling offended, compromising, or accepting criticism
- Difficulties trusting people and forming meaningful relationships
- Reading hidden meaning into other people’s behaviors toward you
What Are the Causes of Paranoia?
Paranoia can have many causes, some of which may include:
Not Getting Enough Sleep
The occasional all-nighter won’t cause a mental health disorder with paranoia symptoms. However, the more often you go without sleep, your ability to think clearly will be compromised. Your thoughts can become distorted over time with chronic lack of sleep, making it difficult to discern what is actually happening around you. In extreme cases, long-term insomnia can lead to hallucinations: seeing or hearing things that aren’t real.
Mounting tension and stress can affect the way you feel about other people or your circumstances. Stress doesn’t have to be negative, like the loss of a job or a loved one. Stress can be triggered even by positive events, like planning a wedding or having a baby. With that stress can come paranoid thoughts and what may or may not happen, even if they are blended with happiness.
Stress can be mitigated by making intentional time to relax. Make space in your day to do something you enjoy, such as reading a book or listening to music. According to Harvard Health Publishing’s article “Exercising to Relax,” exercise can also help clear your mind and provide endorphins, which help reduce short-term stress.
Paranoia is a known side effect of prolonged drug and alcohol use. The various chemicals in certain substances can damage the brain over time, worsening an already-existing mental health disorder. The paranoia may disappear once the substances leave your system.
However, the longer you keep using, the more frequently you may experience paranoid feelings. Alcohol, in particular, can cause someone to lose their inhibition, making it more challenging to control paranoid thoughts. Long-term drug and alcohol abuse can even cause paranoia to develop into hallucinations. Some people also may have mental health disorders triggered by their substance abuse, in which paranoia is one of many symptoms.
Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease cause memory loss, which tends to worsen with age. How these conditions affect the brain can increase suspicious feelings about other people. It can affect your ability to trust the people closest to you, and you may suspect them of having bad intentions. This, unfortunately, is part of the disease. Fortunately, your doctor can help you manage these symptoms.
Treatments for Paranoia
A trained, qualified mental health professional can help you determine whether your anxious, paranoid thoughts are valid or a symptom of something deeper. If you suspect that your thoughts are not grounded in reality, then chances are you are right to seek help. Depending on your circumstances and medical background, your doctor may recommend a variety of treatments or lifestyle changes.
Therapy and Lifestyle Changes
A mental health professional may suggest different therapy approaches and lifestyle changes. These can include behavioral therapies, medication, regular exercise, or eating a more balanced diet. All of these things can affect the state of your mental health and help you live healthier overall.
Learn to Combat Your Thoughts
Another suggestion to help yourself cope with paranoid thoughts is to learn to “talk back” to your paranoid, anxious thoughts. Rather than telling yourself that you’re “crazy,” try telling yourself, “This is highly unlikely to happen” or “This is very unlikely to be true” instead. This way of reframing your thoughts is more productive than telling yourself that something is wrong with you.
Talk to a Professional
Even if your paranoia is not the result of a mental health disorder, it may still be helpful to discuss your feelings with a therapist. Talk therapy can be effective in working through difficult emotions.
Having paranoid feelings now and then isn’t cause for alarm. However, if these feelings are pervasive and affect your ability to have meaningful connections with others or function in daily life, you may want to consider getting help. The compassionate, knowledgeable staff at Crownview Co-Occurring Institute are well-equipped to help you sort out what is real and what is not. Depending on your circumstances and your medical history, we may recommend a combination of treatments to help you live more productively. Sometimes, simply talking with someone in a safe, non-judgmental space can be helpful in re-training your mind on how to perceive the environment around you. With time and practice, you can learn how to redirect anxious, paranoid thoughts so you can focus on what is real in front of you. If you need to talk to someone about paranoid thoughts, call Crownview Co-Occurring Institute at (760) 477-4754.