Paranoia is the feeling that you’re being threatened in some way, such as people watching you or acting against you, even though there’s no proof that it’s true. It happens to a lot of people at some point. Even when you know that your concerns aren’t based in reality, they can be troubling if they happen too often.
Paranoid thoughts could also be exaggerated suspicions. For example, someone made a nasty comment about you once, and you believe that they are directing a hate campaign against you.
Clinical paranoia is more severe. It’s a rare mental health condition in which you believe that others are unfair, lying, or actively trying to harm you when there’s no proof. You don’t think you’re paranoid at all because you feel sure it’s true.
What kind of things can you be paranoid about?
Everyone will have a different experience of paranoia. But here are some examples of common types of paranoid thoughts.
You might think that:
• you are being talked about behind your back or watched by people or organisations (either on or offline)
• other people are trying to make you look bad or exclude you
• you are at risk of being physically harmed or killed
• people are using hints and double meanings to secretly threaten you or make you feel bad
• other people are deliberately trying to upset or irritate you
• people are trying to take your money or possessions
• your actions or thoughts are being interfered with by others
• you are being controlled or that the government is targeting you
You might have these thoughts very strongly all the time, or just occasionally when you are in a stressful situation. They might cause you a lot of distress or you might not really mind them too much.
The symptoms of paranoia can include:
• Being defensive, hostile, and aggressive
• Being easily offended
• Believing you are always right and having trouble relaxing or letting your guard down
• Not being able to compromise, forgive, or accept criticism
• Not being able to trust or confide in other people
• Reading hidden meanings into people’s normal behaviors
The exact cause of paranoia isn’t clear. But some of the factors associated with paranoid thoughts or feelings include:
Older adults may be more likely to experience delusional or paranoid thinking as a result of age-related changes to hearing, sight, and other senses.
• Certain medications, or stopping their use
Amphetamines can have many adverse effects, of which paranoia is one. But sometimes paranoia occurs after stopping a medication. Adderall (dextroamphetamine-amphetamine)
is a drug used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, but stopping it suddenly can result in paranoid delusions.
Some research suggests that there may be a genetic component to paranoia.
• Having certain life experiences
Experiencing trauma and/or abuse in childhood or as a young adult, social isolation, or exposure to a major life change (such as losing a job, the sudden death of a loved one, being the victim of a crime, or having a major health crisis) can all contribute to feelings of paranoia.
• Exposure to certain toxins or poisons
Exposure to higher levels of outdoor air pollution accounted for 60% of their psychotic experiences, some of which included paranoid thoughts.
• Infections that can affect the brain
People with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can develop a secondary condition, sometimes referred to as “HIV mania,” which includes psychotic symptoms such as paranoia and auditory or visual hallucinations.
• Sleep deprivation
Going long periods of time without sleep can create a host of negative effects.
• Substance intoxication and withdrawal
Psychosis symptoms are common with substance abuse, and the development of these symptoms is more likely in cases of severe use and addiction.
Your doctor will perform a medical exam and take a complete medical history to help them rule out a physical or medical reason for your symptoms, such as dementia.
If your paranoia is part of a psychiatric issue, your doctor will refer you to a psychiatrist or a psychologist who will perform an evaluation and psychological tests to help them determine your mental status.
If you feel that you’re losing touch with reality, a doctor or mental health professional is the best place to start. Because you can still tell that your thoughts aren’t reasonable, there are things you can do to help.
To start with, it’s important to eat a healthy balanced diet, exercise, and get plenty of sleep. All these things are part of a mental balance that can help keep paranoid thoughts at bay.
After that, it can actually help to talk to yourself about paranoid thoughts. This works only while you can still tell that your thoughts are not reasonable. Keep it realistic. Instead of thinking to yourself “I’m crazy” or “I’m paranoid,” try something like: “I’m worried about something that’s highly unlikely to be true.”
Even if you don’t have a mental illness, if your paranoid or irrational thoughts get in the way of doing things you want to do, talk to a social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Talk therapy or some kind of medication could help you feel better.
Treatment depends on the cause and severity of symptoms and may include medication and psychotherapy. Psychotherapy aims to help people with paranoia:
• accept their vulnerability
• increase their self-esteem
• develop trust in others
• learn to express and handle emotions in a positive manner
Treatment for paranoid personality disorder usually involves psychotherapy to help you develop coping skills to improve socialization and communication. Sometimes, doctors prescribe anti-anxiety medication to treat paranoid personality disorder for people who are often anxious or fearful. Atypical antipsychotic medications may also help.
People with paranoid schizophrenia usually require medication, as they often have lost touch with reality. Initial treatment usually includes antipsychotic medication. Your doctor may also prescribe anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants.
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