Why Do I Feel Paranoid?
So-called “paranoid” thoughts can be normal. But they could point to a mental health symptom if you lose the ability to judge whether they are or aren’t likely to be true.
Here are the common causes and what you can do to ease your mind.
Penny Frese, PhD, was studying fine arts at Ohio University when she met her future husband. They saw each other for several months, and she noticed he avoided talking about anything personal. “We took a walk in a park, and it was toward the end of summer — a gorgeous, beautiful day. I confronted him about not being totally honest … and he said he had had a ‘schizophrenic break.'”
For some couples, that might have been the end. Frese went to the library and read up on schizophrenia. She learned…
Are other people talking about me?
Was I just lied to?
Is someone watching me?
Everyone has thoughts like these from time to time. You might think of them as “paranoid.” But “you’re probably really having an anxious thought,” says Thomas Rodebaugh, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis.
Most people use the word “paranoid” to describe occasional suspicions or fears that they know aren’t rational or realistic. But experts define it as an ongoing way of thinking. It involves truly believing that others are mean, lying, unfair, and “out to get you.”
It’s pretty rare. Even so, “worries or concerns you might describe as ‘paranoid’ can be troubling,” says Simon Rego, PsyD, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center-Albert Einstein College.
But in many cases, you can take steps to have fewer of these thoughts or avoid them altogether.
Reasons You Might Feel Paranoid
Too Little Sleep
One restless night probably won’t trigger paranoid thoughts.
“But regular sleep deprivation can make it hard for you to think clearly. If you go without sleep long enough, you can actually hallucinate,” Rego says.
If you’re really tired, you’re more likely to get into arguments and have misunderstandings with others, too. And that may make you think other people are saying, thinking, or doing things that aren’t in your best interest.
That’s why it’s smart to aim for at least 7 hours of shut-eye a night. See your doctor if you’re sleeping that much but still feel tired or paranoid.
“Intense stress can increase the odds you feel suspicious or somewhat paranoid,” Rego says.
It’s not clear why, but experts do know tension causes a rise in chemical and cellular changes that keep your brain from working its best.