How to Distinguish Between Paranoia and Anxiety

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Presented by BetterHelp.

Maybe you have heard phrases like ‘you’re just being paranoid’ thrown around in casual conversation, and you’re wondering about what paranoia truly looks like. How does someone know they are experiencing paranoia? Does it differ from anxiety? In this article, we will discuss the meaning of paranoia, how to distinguish between anxiety and paranoia, and what to do if you are experiencing distress due to paranoid or anxious thoughts.

What is Paranoia?

Paranoia involves thoughts or beliefs that one is being mistreated or threatened in some way, even when there is a lack of sufficient evidence to support this. It is characterized by mistrust of others and suspicion. An individual experiencing paranoia might feel that a person or group of people is targeting them or watching them. They may be convinced that someone is talking about them behind their back, getting others to turn on them, trying to steal from them or harm them. 

While someone else may be able to identify that their concerns are unfounded, it’s important to acknowledge the person experiencing paranoia is likely overwhelmed with fear, truly believing they are at risk of harm. Someone experiencing paranoia often feels misunderstood or becomes defensive if others do not believe them, which can drive further distress and isolation.

Paranoia can vary in its severity. It may be ongoing or only emerge in periods of severe stress. If paranoia occurs frequently and is causing significant distress, it may indicate the presence of a mental disorder. Paranoia is a symptom of several mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, delusional disorder, and paranoid personality disorder. For more articles and information about paranoia, visit BetterHelp.

Paranoia vs. Anxiety

While paranoia and anxiety share some similar characteristics, it’s important to note that there is a distinct difference between these two experiences. Paranoia and anxiety can at times play off each other, as paranoid thoughts can increase one’s anxiety. It is also possible for high levels of stress and anxiety to lead to paranoia. In experiencing either paranoia and anxiety, an individual may experience physical symptoms such as racing heartbeat, sweating and gastrointestinal discomfort.

However, it is important to establish that paranoia and anxiety are very different. At the root of paranoia is distrust of other people and their intentions. There is the presence of delusions, which are fixed beliefs that are held firmly even when counter evidence is presented. These types of thoughts and beliefs about being persecuted or threatened are not typically present in the experience of anxiety. Anxiety disorders are characterized by persistent feelings of restlessness or worry, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension and avoidance of feared situations.

Seeking Further Support

If you are experiencing distress, whether due to the presence of paranoia or anxiety, it is crucial to seek support from a mental health professional. They can help you to process what you are experiencing, provide diagnosis and determine what options for treatment might be best for you moving forward. Psychotherapy and/or medication can help individuals experiencing paranoia or anxiety to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

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