Anxiety vs Paranoia: All You Need to Know

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of nervousness, apprehension, and discomfort when faced with a situation that is unpleasant. Everyone will experience anxiety at some point in their lives. It can be brought about by many different things, like stress from work, being overwhelmed with school, or facing a fear like public speaking or flying on an airplane. Anxiety affects everyone differently and can feel like a mild irritation to a debilitating sensation.

While everyone has anxiety sometimes there are people who suffer from anxiety on a chronic or consistent basis. These people tend to have diagnosable anxiety disorders. There are many different kinds of anxiety disorders, like generalized anxiety, phobias, social anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Each form of anxiety affects each person differently and everyone has different triggers and symptoms they experience when anxious. Some things people experience when they are anxious are nausea, headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, agitation, sweating, hyperventilating, and even panic attacks, which are episodes in which a person feels faint and may believe that they are dying as a reaction to the intensity of their anxiety symptoms.

Anxiety is caused as a reaction to stress. People who suffer from chronic anxiety tend to see the world differently than those who experience anxiety on a situational basis. People with chronic anxiety have a subjective perception of the world around them in which otherwise mild events and circumstances are amplified in their minds, causing their reaction to be more severe than those who are not anxious. In most cases, this misconception of reality can be modified and controlled with practice, but it also has the potential to cause a great deal of emotional stress and behavioral issues.

What is Paranoia?

Paranoia is an imagined threat to one’s own wellbeing. Paranoia is a scary thing to experience because it causes the belief that one is in danger of being hurt, even though there is no logical reason to feel that way. Paranoia is the result of delusional thinking. A person who is delusional will draw conclusions from innocuous events or situations, causing them to believe they are in danger. From these delusions a paranoid person will believe things that may make sense to them, but do not reflect the reality of their situation. A person who is paranoid will be suspicious, will not trust those around them, will not listen to reason, and will feel undermined or betrayed if confronted with interventional efforts.

How are they related?

Some people who suffer from anxiety will experience paranoia. While it is a bit different than the more severe cases that cause paranoia, anxiety has the potential to cause paranoid thoughts about oneself, others, or the world around them. Anxiety creates a skewed perception within the anxious person and of the world around them. Anxious people tend to think in the negative. They expect the worst to happen and are more critical of themselves and their lives than those who do not suffer from anxiety. Sometimes the negative thoughts can become so intense that the anxious person becomes paranoid. They can feel as though things are not going well, interactions with people are awkward or negative, or they are about to face severe consequences when none exist. They also may even begin to feel like the world is against them, making small mishaps seem devastating. These anxious thoughts are difficult to control because they feel so real that it is difficult for the anxious person to feel comfortable in their own skin.

Paranoia is fueled by anxiety. When a person suffers from anxiety they have irrational thoughts that cause them to believe and be afraid of things that are not always likely to happen. For example, someone in the middle of the night may hear a thump outside the door while lying in bed. An anxious person will quickly jump to conclusions, thinking a stranger is in their home and is going to hurt them. Of course, the chances of this being true are slim, and it is much more likely that the wind knocked the blinds against the window, or maybe the cat knocked over a bottle sitting on the counter. Someone who is anxious may not think to rationalize such events in this way, causing them to have paranoid thoughts. Fortunately, there are ways to cope with paranoia and anxiety. Through therapy, an anxious person can learn coping strategies to restructure their thinking and be less paranoid.

How can you cope with anxiety and paranoia?

Arguably the best form of therapy to combat anxious and paranoid thoughts is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is helpful in managing anxiety because it focuses on restructuring automatic negative thoughts that lead to anxiety and paranoia. With CBT, you can learn how to rationalize. You will learn how to look at things from a logical standpoint, and challenge those automatic negative thoughts with logic. For example, when hearing a thump in the next room, instead of jumping to the conclusion that someone has broken into your home, you will learn how to think critically about this thought, determine it is not rational, and remind yourself that there are other ways a thump sound can be created in the next room. You will be able to work through the fear and paranoia that comes from negative thoughts and form balanced, rational thoughts that are based on the reality of the situation, rather than your anxiety. You will learn how to take control over your anxiety and prevent it from controlling you.

CBT can also help in building confidence. It is important to develop confidence in yourself and your ability to keep yourself well. A lack of confidence contributes greatly to anxiety. Building confidence and self-image is an effective way of combatting anxiety and paranoia because it will teach you to trust yourself. CBT can help by teaching you assertiveness skills to challenge your insecurities and empower you to believe in yourself to live your full potential. In learning how to challenge negative thoughts and rationalize through your insecurities with logic you will see a significant improvement in your ability to manage your own anxiety and paranoia. You will also feel confident in yourself and more positive about the world around you.