Afraid or Paranoid?

Fear and paranoia can be very distressing at times. If the people you care about don’t believe you or take you seriously, it can feel even worse. It can make you feel like you are trapped in a scary situation all on your own.

As horrible as being afraid can feel – fear is a normal human emotion. It’s there for a reason and can sometimes protect us from harm. The problem is that, as with anxiety, when fear goes into overdrive it can affect the way you life your life. This can sometimes become paranoia.

When people feel paranoid, they might worry that people are trying to harm them in some way. They might feel that they’re being talked about, watched or followed. If someone is really distressed, they can worry that people are trying to poison them or that there’s a big conspiracy that only they know about. It can be scary stuff.

As bad as it feels, some degree of paranoia is a very common experience. It tends to get worse when people are going through a rough time. In people who hear voices, paranoid thoughts can often trigger these (or vice versa). It can become a loop, where each experience sets off the other.

Many people find coping strategies that can help both with paranoia and the voices that may accompany it.

These include:

  • Distracting yourself
  • Chilling Out
  • Longer term strategies

Distracting Yourself

One way of getting some space from paranoid thoughts is by using a distraction technique. Worries and paranoia takes up a lot of the mind’s energy. Doing something else that needs your focus you can really help make you feel less stressed and overwhelmed by it.

The best types of distractions for paranoia are things that really need you to concentrate and use all of your mind’s attention. You could try:

  • Music: Making it, listening to it or watching it.
  • Talking to someone: Paranoid thoughts can get worse if you’re on your own. If this happens to you, try and be around people you trust.
  • Computer games: Anything that keeps your mind occupied
  • Thinking games: Remembering all the fruits you can think of in alphabetical order; Counting back from 100 in 3s; Speaking the alphabet backwards; Naming everything you can see beginning with B; Writing down all the colours you can think of
  • Reading: Whether it’s a comic or something a bit more hefty, choose something that’s a real page turner and that keeps you engaged.
  • Getting active: Go to the gym, play a sport, so some kick ups with a football or shoot some hoops

The most important thing if for you to choose something that suits you. Don’t be afraid to experiment. People often find that certain types of distractions work for certain types of feelings/situations.

If you’d like some more ideas, check out our Distraction Techniques in our worried/anxious out section.

Things to Help You Feel Calmer

Feelings of paranoia and fear often get worse when people are stressed out. It can become a cycle. The worry causes the paranoia which causes the worry which causes the paranoia …

One way of breaking this cycle is to deal with the feelings of anxiety, worry and overwhelm. If you’re feeling really afraid, this can feel like an impossible task. Don’t lose heart, though. Even feeling a little bit calmer can make paranoia easier to deal with.

Since learning Tai Chi I’ve really started getting a handle on my paranoia. When I feel people messing with my brain I just go through the form. It really helps.

You might try:

  • Having a relaxing bubble bath
  • Going for a slow walk in a near by park or down a relatively quiet street.
  • Paying attention to your breathing: breathing in and keeping your mind on your breath and breathing out and letting go of any tension.
  • Singing or dancing along to a favourite song, it sounds a bit cheesy but can really help change your mood.
  • Doing something familiar (playing scales, practicing tai chi, making a cup of hot chocolate)
  • Creating something (drawing, painting, writing or making something else)
  • Tidying or organising something (your CDs, books, clothes or even doing the washing up!)

Again, what you choose is up to you. Try and think what usually helps you feel more chilled out. If you need some more ideas, check out our Feeling Worried section.

Finding or creating a safe space

Paranoia often happens when we feel unsafe or insecure about ourselves. There may be certain places or certain people that trigger these feelings in you and make you feel isolated, powerless or afraid.

Finding, or making, a safe space can really help when you feel afraid or paranoid. The type of space that works best is specific to you. As a starting point, think about places that you find comforting. It might be being at home with your family, or it might be being outside in your favourite park or sitting under your favourite tree. Choose somewhere that really suits you.

If you can’t think of a place you know you’ll feel safe in, you can create your own. Choose somewhere you know (a corner of your room or a place in your back garden) and decorate your space with things that you find reassuring (posters, toys, cushions, blankets, photos or things that you like).

Sometimes you might not be able to go to one of your safe places – if you’re sitting in a lesson, for example, or if it’s in the middle of the night. At times like these it can help to re-create this space in the back of your mind.

Use your imagination to think about what it looks like, feels like, smells like and sounds like. Be as detailed as you can. Imagine how you feel when you’re there (do you feel safe, protected, secure, free or something else?).

If you want to, it can help to keep something with you that helps you to feel safe. It could be a favourite item of clothing, toy, piece of material, stone, token or talisman. You could choose something that reminds you of your safe space. If you find yourself feeling frightened, this can help you to focus on feeling safe and protected.

Mostly, when I get overwhelmed by paranoia in a certain place or situation I get away from that space to a space that I feel safer in. I usually need to find some space or time so that I can view the events that led to me becoming paranoid in a different way