Anxiety vs. Paranoia

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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.”




In today’s day and age, this same fight or flight response doesn’t come from dangerous predators, but rather money, work, health, family life, and myriad other issues that demand your attention.

For example, the nervous feeling we have all experienced at some point in our lives is essentially brought on by a difficult situation such as a first date, or other important event. This nervous feeling could emerge right before giving a speech in front of 1,500 peers, the day of your wedding, or even crossing a busy road getting the feeling that you are going to be hit by a car.

Anxiety Disorders

An anxiety disorder is essentially when the symptoms, duration, and severity of your anxious feelings are blown out of proportion. An anxiety disorder can actually lead to several physical symptoms such as nausea and high blood pressure. If these physical symptoms are observed, it is no longer considered anxiety, but an anxiety disorder. An anxiety disorder occurs when you have a reaction that is out of proportion to what is considered normal within a certain situation.

There are several different types of anxiety disorders that include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Phobia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Some common eating disorders, such as bulimia nervosa, are also linked to anxiety. It is also possible to have one or more anxiety disorders at the same time. While anxiety and paranoia are two separate conditions, certain anxiety symptoms can include and will lead to paranoia. If you have paranoia, the chances are that you got to that point in your life by having more severe degrees of anxiety.

Other Causes of Anxiety

Although many mental illnesses can cause anxiety, one does not have to be mentally ill to experience it. Mental health is more than just being “sick” or “healthy” and there are many complex factors that can cause otherwise unafflicted people to experience certain symptoms without warranting an official diagnosis. Here are some reasons—other than mental illness—as to why one may experience anxiety:

  • Substance use
  • Extreme stress at work, school or in personal relationships
  • Financial hardships
  • Physical health conditions such as thyroid disorders
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain due to health circumstances including blood clots and high-altitude sickness
  • Side effects of certain medications

It is important to understand that your mental health is always important. It is not “just” stress from a busy schedule or a workplace conflict. If anxiety from personal circumstances is interfering with your life, you should reach out for help and talk to your doctor about getting the help that you need.

Who Experiences Anxiety and Paranoia?

The short answer is that anyone could be experiencing anxiety, paranoia or both. These conditions do not discriminate based on physical health, income, age or any other factors. That being said, there are certain people who are particularly vulnerable. Here are some groups of people who are most at risk for anxiety:

  • Adults under 35
  • Those with chronic diseases
  • Immigrants
  • Low-income people
  • Racial minorities
  • Drug users
  • Women are nearly twice as likely to develop anxiety than men
  • North Americans are more likely to develop anxiety than other populations

Many of these groups, such as drug users, are also generally more vulnerable to paranoia. Given the fact that paranoia is rarer than anxiety, it is important also to look at one’s genetic history, and whether there are past instances of paranoia and psychosis in the family tree.