How to stop paranoia
Around the age of 18, I developed a habit that brought nearly all of the functions of my life to a halt. It went a little something like this, I would receive an opportunity, (usually one where I would have to be in front of or among a lot of people) I would begin preparing, but as the time to capitalize came close, I began visualizing the absolute worst outcomes of the scenario and either panic and mess it up, or get discouraged and stay in my bed for the next 4000 years.
“Feelings are something you have; not something you are.” – Shannon L. Alder
This went on for roughly a year and a half, by the end of which my world was not looking good. My self-esteem and confidence were in shambles, relationships ruined due to feeling lack of self-worth, career prospects were bleak, and life felt like it was running on a poorly programmed auto-pilot. Around this time, I knew I had to learn how to stop paranoia, or I will be heading down a path of total chaos.
What is paranoia?
Paranoia is a kind of thinking that is influenced by fear and anxiety to the point that the thoughts may not even be realistic or factually correct. These thoughts usually revolve around the worst assumption of other people’s intent or simply visualizing the worst-case scenario of every uncertain situation that you may be placed in. This can have a crippling effect on your day to day functioning, just like it did on mine.
While there are some extreme cases of paranoia out there that require professional help, that isn’t the case for most of us. When I initially realized that I had grown paranoid, I naturally assumed this meant some frequent visits to the therapist. However, I quickly found out that I could tackle this problem without lying on a couch for an hour a day if I can just understand it and in doing so, understand myself.
In that time of distress, I resorted to the internet much like you are probably doing right now if you choose to read through this. The internet is a reasonably vast space with a lot of information, so naturally, I surfed through the web for quite a while trying to find all the necessary information. To save you the trouble of having to go to those lengths, I will try to bring you up-to-date with all the tips and tricks you might need to go through this journey yourself and learn how to stop being paranoid.
My experience with paranoia involved assumed criticism from others and the certainty that I will wreck every opportunity I get in a stunningly embarrassing fashion (which often I did when I attempted my given task amidst the panic). However, it is not limited to these particular findings. Your paranoia can reveal itself in many other fashions.
If you think you are dealing with paranoia you might want to look for characteristics such as mistrust, hypervigilance, fear of being used, obsession with unseen motives of other people, inability to relax, defensive responses to imagined criticism (something I did quite often), being very argumentative with everyone or simply jumping to the worst possible conclusion of every uncertain path when you try to step on it. All of these usually result in you becoming socially isolated. Hence if you notice any of these behaviors in yourself, you might be dealing with a case of paranoia.
Mental notes for dealing with paranoia
Paranoia is basically fear and anxiety-driven thought process, as I’ve mentioned above. To stop paranoia, the most straightforward path is to replace it with a healthier thought process. This is though the process can be developed over time by applying some simple tips and tricks that I’m about to mention here.
Recognition of catastrophizing
Catastrophizing is the process where you immediately jump to the worst outcome of any situation. If you are suffering from paranoia, this is something you will do without even realizing it, and that’s precisely where the paranoia gets the best of you. If you can simply catch yourself in the act of catastrophizing, you have won half the game.
When you recognize that your mind is tilting towards a negative outcome the next time simply ask yourself questions like, is this the only possible outcome? What other outcomes are there? How many positive and negative ones? Which has a logical implication? Which one is more likely? Through these questions, you can get to the bottom of your fear. This will help you realize whether your fear is rational or irrational.
Even if it turns out that a negative outcome is more likely now, your fear and defensive measures will be rational and logical rather than just paranoid behavior. In this way, you will be in control of your thought process rather than your paranoia, and you can direct it in any direction you choose.
Visualization is a very powerful tool. Positive mental imagery that constantly plays itself in your mind will influence your behavior and habits significantly and bring about positive changes in your life. In this respect, positive visualization is the exact opposite of what paranoia is. A paranoid thought process not only plays the worst-case scenarios in your mind, but it does so consistently, clouding your mind every chance it gets.
When I suffered from paranoia, I would imagine myself failing exams that I knew perfectly well I could ace, or I imagined that I was a burden on people who consistently made efforts to make me happy and they would soon grow tired of me. These negative visualizations are the root of paranoia.
You start incorporating positive visualizations into your life during the times when anxiety and paranoia do not have a firm hold on your mind. Start with small and easy tasks, and picture yourself accomplishing each step of that task perfectly. Starting off with easy task will provide a positive reaffirmation of your visualization when you actually accomplish that task. In this way, your mind will learn to relate to positive imagery.
Benefits of journaling are endless when it comes to dealing with any form of mental difficulty. Your mind is a complex structure, and it holds a lot of information, from the price of your favorite ice cream to your bank account number and everything in between. Writing down your thoughts on paper is a process of organizing your mind (which is no small feat). This can help your paranoia as well.
First and foremost, it provides you with a way to unload your thoughts. This is something I found very useful because as I mentioned, I kept getting worried that I was a burden on my friends and could not open up to them anymore out of this fear. I desperately needed an outlet for all of the paranoid thoughts banging at the side of my skull, and in that time of distress, my journal became my best friend.
Secondly, a journal allows you to look at your thoughts from an outsider’s perspective. Often times, you will read your own thoughts and automatically realize how unnecessary and uncalled for your fears were. Other times this can help you attain affirmation. Suppose you had a fear that something will happen on a specific date and you write it down. When that date passes and nothing happens, the journal will act as evidence that your fear was unfounded and in this way you can start to identify and intercept your paranoia.
The fear of “what are they thinking” is one of the common ones for paranoid people. The simplest way to beat this is by just not paying too much mind to be accepted by everyone. The world population is roughly 4 billion, and if you are hoping that all of them will like and accept you, then I am afraid you are on the wrong planet (not that we know if aliens are any better). Constantly trying to become what everyone likes will leave you completely drained and losing your individuality in the process.
The best way to work around this is to ask yourself if you met yourself, would you like you? If yes, great! You do not need to care what anyone thinks. If no, even better! You now have a path to walk on and know what you need to change in yourself. When making yourself happy becomes your primary concern, the need to impress others will automatically fade into the background. However, by turning yourself into the best version of yourself, you will naturally attract a lot of admirers.
Healthy lifestyle to cure paranoia
While learning about defeating my paranoia, I realized that the causes for my paranoia not only lay in my thought process but also my lifestyle. Your mental health is much like your physical health in that a poor daily routine can weaken it over time leading to difficulties such as depression, anxiety, and of course, paranoia. Here are some of the things that you can do daily to help your mind become stronger so that you can deal with your paranoia better than before.
Get more sleep
A slight lapse in sleep can result in some paranoid thinking, but frequent losses in rest can give your paranoid thoughts a lot of power. Your ability to think logically is hindered, and usual occurrences might start to appear suspicious to you. As logical thinking is your number 1 weapon against irrational fears, sleeping to give your mind the necessary rest is crucial to fighting paranoia.
Stress is another thing that can rid your mind of the ability to think clearly and give rise to paranoid thinking. Stress not only comes from negative blows but can also stem from just an overload of work. Even arranging a wedding or any other big event, which is a positive occasion can stress you out and induce paranoid thoughts.
If you suffer from paranoid thought processes, then it might be a good idea to lay off the drinks until you figure this out. Alcohol prevents the mind from being able to think logically and also heightens the feelings associated with paranoia.
Anxiety and paranoia
Anxiety and paranoia are often confused with each other, but the two are very separate entities. However, anxiety is known for inducing paranoid thoughts and behaviors into people. If you feel that your paranoid thinking stems from anxiety, then you might want to deal with the anxiety at the root rather than the paranoia. Here’s how you can deal with anxiety by yourself.
If you are experiencing anxiety, at the moment, the first thing you can do is take control of your breathing, which in my experience is pretty fast during an attack. Learn deep breathing exercises to beat that feeling of losing control of your body and mind.
Ask yourself logical questions just like explained above to deal with your situation logically. Is what you are dealing with really that big? Is it entirely beyond help? If not, then what steps can you take right now?
Make a plan for the attacks
If you have reoccurring anxiety than have a plan of action for when you start to feel the attack coming, this can involve talking to a friend or performing meditation. Just having a plan of action will give you a sense of comfort, to begin with.
“ Paranoia plays into all of us. Trust is a terrifying idea of not knowing who we can rely on” – Eric Christian Olsen
Paranoia can be difficult to identify as you don’t really recognize when you’re completely taken over by it, your mind is a bit occupied with the irrational fears. However, once you identify it and get to the bottom of it, you don’t find much, as the very definition of paranoia points to baseless fears. Hence defeating paranoia can really be as simple as identifying it. However, if you feel like your paranoia is not something that is within your control, there is nothing wrong with seeking some professional help.