Anxiety vs. Paranoia

As we work toward destigmatizing mental illness, many people are now learning basic psychological terms for the first time. Where once it might have been challenging to find words to describe your mental health experiences, terms such as anxiety, depression, and paranoia are becoming fairly commonplace. But what do these words actually mean and how they can affect your life?

If you suffer from anxiety, there is a good chance that you may also suffer from paranoia. If you suffer from paranoia, there is a good chance that you may also suffer from anxiety. However, just because you have one, does not necessarily mean that you have the other. While they can go hand-in-hand, it is not always the case. However, before you can understand in which ways paranoia and anxiety are similar, you must first understand why there are also quite different.

What Is Paranoia?

Paranoia is characterized by intense, fearful feelings and is often related to thoughts of conspiracy, persecution, and threats. While often occurring in many different mental disorders, paranoia is often not present in several psychotic disorders. With paranoia, irrational beliefs and paranoid thoughts are made out to be real and absolutely nothing—not even factual evidence disproving the belief is able to convince you that you are wrong. When you have delusions or paranoia without other symptoms, you may have something known as a delusional disorder—and could ultimately lead to a nervous breakdown. As only your thoughts would be impacted with a delusional disorder, you will still be able to function and work in your everyday life. Outside of work, however, your life could be isolated and extremely limited.

Signs of Paranoia

Some of the symptoms you can expect to see if you are suffering from paranoia include an intense and even irrational lack of trust or even suspicion about something or someone. This lack of trust or suspicion has the potential to bring you a sense of betrayal, fear, and anger. In fact, if you suffer from paranoia, you may show symptoms such as:

  • Mistrust
  • Difficulty in forgiving
  • Fear of being taken advantage of
  • Hypervigilance
  • Defensiveness toward imagined criticism
  • Thoughts that everyone is out to get you
  • The inability to relax
  • Argumentative
  • Preoccupation

Paranoia is caused by a breakdown of different emotional and mental functions. Those functions involve both assigned meanings as well as reasoning. While there is no real reason known for the breakdowns, they are extremely varied and uncertain. At the same time, there are also several symptoms of paranoia that are related to denied, projected, or repressed feelings. What is known about the cause of paranoia, however, is that it is often the feelings and thoughts which are related to relationships or certain events in your life that cause the problem. Since these events are typically more personal, this is often the reason why those who suffer from paranoia prefer to be isolated and have increasing difficulty when it comes to getting help.

What Is Anxiety?

For most of us, anxiety is considered more of a general term that covers multiple disorders that cause fear, worry, nervousness, and apprehension. All of these anxiety-related disorders affect how we behave, think, and feel and can eventually lead to physical symptoms as well. While a mild case of anxiety can be unsettling and vague, a more severe case of anxiety can be so serious as to affect your everyday life.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the exact definition of anxiety is “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.”

With that being said of the varying degrees of anxiety, it is very important to identify the differences between the feelings of normal anxiety compared to a full-on anxiety disorder that requires some type of medical attention.

When you are faced with a potentially worrying or harmful trigger, this is when feelings of anxiety are felt. They are not just normal but are actually required for your survival. You see, ever since the beginning of humanity, certain situations have set off alarms within the human brain letting us know that we need to carry out evasive action. These “alarms” come in the form of sweating, a heightened awareness of surroundings, and an increased heart rate. This is known as the “fight or flight response.”

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