We all experience the occasional paranoid thought. You might wonder if your friend is mad at you if they take forever to text back, for example. Or you might worry that you did something wrong if your boss is super mad. If these thoughts flash in and out of your head, that's one thing. But if it feels like your pesky brain is always blowing things out of proportion, and causing you to constantly assume the worst, it could be a sign that your anxiety is making you paranoid.
Of course, a small dose of paranoia can come in handy. "We all need to be alert and aware of what is going on in our lives," Joshua Klapow, PhD, clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. "However, when being alert transitions to hyper-vigilance and suspicion and a lack of trust, it can take a toll on your mind and body. In crisis situations these frames of mind can help us survive." But in everyday life, it's important to be able to tell the difference between an actual threat — and what's just paranoia caused by anxiety.
By speaking with a therapist, you can get to the bottom of these thoughts, and work on developing coping skills so you don't always assume the worst. (And, if your paranoia is due to something more serious, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, they'll be able to help with that, too.) Here are a few signs from experts that your anxiety might be making you paranoid.
1You Wonder If Everyone's Talking About You
If you have anxiety, you might "find yourself focused on what other people think of you, what they say about you, or what they are doing or saying when you are not there," Dr. Klapow says. And it can definitely feel like paranoia, as you sit around and wonder if everyone's looking at you.
The thing to remember, though, is that most people are focused on their own lives, and thus too busy and distracted to pay that much attention to anyone else. By speaking with a therapist about anxiety, and learning a few coping skills, it'll be easier to keep this in mind.
2You Feel Like Others Are Out To Get You
Anxiety can also make it feel like you're all on your own, or that nobody's on your team — sometimes to a pretty intense degree. "You might fear that others are out to get you, that your coworkers are talking about you and want you to do poorly, that friends are trying to alienate you, and so on," Dr. Klapow says. If you have no real reason to believe this to be true, but still can't shake the feeling, it might be time to talk to a professional.
3You Replay Arguments In Your Head
It's common to feel bad after arguing with a friend, or to worry that your partner might be slightly upset after a disagreement. But anxiety can make this feeling so much worse, to the point where you feel paranoid about what they might do next.
"When you have a disagreement with someone, you are sure they are plotting behind your back," Dr. Klapow says. "You are convinced that the disagreement has led to them saying things about you, making up stories, etc."
However, it's this intensity that shows that anxiety may be getting the best of you. Therapy can help you put things in perspective, and know when you're right to worry and when it just isn't worth it.
4You Wonder About Everyone's Motives
If someone is nice to you — maybe your neighbor drops off your mail, or a coworker seems extra sweet — do you immediately wonder what they really want?
When anxiety is causing paranoia, it's common to second guess everyone's motives. "When someone is nice to you, kind to you, etc. you might think they have ulterior motives," Dr. Klapow says. "You don’t take kindness for what it is, but rather are looking for a motive other than kindness."
5You Get Defensive Easily
In the same vein, anxiety can put you on high alert, and make you react in an overly-sensitive way to others. "The paranoid individual may perceive many everyday things as an attack on them or their character," Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. "Even the most non-threatening instances can be construed as harmful moves," when in reality it's just your anxiety — and the stress associated with it — that's getting the best of you.
6You Struggle With Opening Up To Others
Anxiety can definitely get in the way when it comes to talking to new people. When someone approaches you, you might wonder what they really want, Backe says, or worry about saying too much.
While not everyone is an open book when it comes to sharing their feelings and getting to know others — and that's OK — if you really struggle with opening up to others, therapy may help.
7You Check & Recheck Things
"People with anxiety may experience paranoia in the form of checking (or worrying that they didn't check) to make sure doors are locked, ovens are turned off, etc.," therapist Julie Williamson, LPC, NCC, RPT, of Abundant Life Counseling St. Louis, LLC, tells Bustle.
Checking and rechecking things is a common symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder, which has often been referred to as the "doubter's disease." The fact you can't trust yourself, or stop checking, can make you feel super paranoid. But it's all due to anxiety.
8You Worry That You Offended Someone
It's also common for anxiety sufferers to "worry that something they said/didn't say or did/didn't do offended or hurt someone," Williamson says, which is why you might replay conversations in your head a million times, or wake up in a cold sweat worrying about something you did ten years ago.
You might know, in your heart, that you're being paranoid. But don't beat yourself up. This type of obsessive worry is often a sign of anxiety, and it can be treated.
9You Apologize Profusely
Anxiety can lead to a strong desire to apologize (again and again) to someone you think you may have offended, Williamson says, even when you know, rationally, that you didn't do anything wrong.
If you just can't stop, go ahead and chalk it up to anxiety. And if it continues, get thee to a therapist. Paranoia — and all its underlying causes —can be treated with talk therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. So if you catch yourself rehashing conversations, worrying about what others think, or obsessing over inconsequential things, it may be worth it to get some help.