How to handle paranoid thoughts

by Antonella Trotta: Complete Post through this link…

Feel like you’re being watched, judged or talked about? These exercises will help you assess the situation and calm your mind.

After a stressful morning at work, Jamie enters the canteen for lunch and looks around for colleagues. Across the room, two women begin to whisper. Although Jamie can’t hear what the women are saying, she has a strong feeling that it’s about her.

B and their partner L are invited to celebrate a friend’s birthday. At the party, B feels uncomfortable that L is chatting with other people sitting next to them. Once at home, B sits in silence and looks angry. L asks what is going on, and a verbal conflict ensues.

‘Are you looking at me?’ Sam asks another passenger on the bus. Sam is frightened and thinks the person is spying on him.

Paranoia has a variety of causes and risk factors

Both nature and nurture seem to influence a person’s predisposition to experiencing paranoia. Bullying, trauma and adverse life experiences such as neglect and abuse are all factors associated with paranoia throughout development. According to the stress-vulnerability model, life events such as violence or bullying may, for some, trigger the anticipation of danger and threat beliefs underlying paranoia. This might result in the development of an internal schema about the self, such as I am vulnerable, others are dangerous, and lead to the recurring states of elevated arousal and the search for hidden meaning (eg, hostile intent) that characterise paranoid thoughts. Social isolation, lack of sleep, drinking alcohol, and the use of cannabis or tobacco may also make paranoid thoughts more likely to occur.

Some researchers have suggested that paranoia reflects a person’s emotional concerns, particularly anxieties and worries about relationships. Social anxiety is significantly associated with paranoid thoughts. The stronger the anxiety one experiences in the presence of others, the more likely one is to avoid facing those situations that feel threatening. For example, fear of rejection or of feeling vulnerable might lead some people to think that others are talking negatively about them. If they increasingly avoid social situations, that threat belief goes unchallenged and is more likely to persist.

Through years of clinical practice, I have noticed that when the overall level of anxiety a person feels is heightened – perhaps due to a stressful life event such as a job loss or a relationship breakdown – paranoid thoughts can become more likely. Paranoia can also exacerbate depressive feelings, and vice versa, leading to a negative spiral.

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