Paranoid thoughts may be an everyday affair. But some people appear more apt to have them than others, says Daniel Freeman, a clinical psychologist at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, and one of the world's leading paranoia researchers. Those who ruminate on problems are more prone to feel paranoid than those who don't, for example, as are those who tend to be anxious, who often jump to conclusions, or who suffer from low self-esteem.
People who experience perceptual anomalies, such as seeing things too vividly or hearing sounds too loudly, are also prone to paranoid feelings. The same is true for insomniacs, as Freeman recently reported in the journal Schizophrenia Research, since sleep deprivation spawns irritability, anxiety, depression, and perceptual anomalies, all conditions in which paranoia thrives, he says.
If you suffer from irrational fears, try these tips from Freeman and others. They may help keep your suspicions in check:
1. Try not to dwell. "Worry and rumination always lead to us thinking about the worst outcomes and increases our distress," says Freeman. "It gets us stuck in pessimistic thinking." If a paranoid thought arises, brush it off. But if you feel you must fret, he advises, limit worries to a 20-minute daily maximum.
2 . Get perspective. Share the thoughts with trustworthy confidants. Get their feedback. Doing so may offer some relief and help you to examine your problems from different angles, says Freeman. "Levels of paranoid thinking are higher in people who don't like to share their feelings with other people," he notes.
3 . Examine the evidence. Devise a way to check out your suspicions to see if they're valid, recommends Dennis Combs, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Tyler. A paranoid's pitfall is that he rarely endeavors to see if his fears are justified. "You need to examine those beliefs," he says. Combs offers this example: Do you suspect that your neighbor hates you because he neglects to say "Hi" when he comes home from work? Check it out. Does he have a legitimate reason to dislike you, or could it be that he's just tired from a hard day's work? Ask other neighbors if they've ever heard him say something negative about you. Better yet, rouse the courage to ask your neighbor if you did anything to make him mad. If he has no idea what you're talking about, you were likely wrong. Remember: Thoughts aren't facts, says Freeman—always try to think of alternative explanations for events.
4 . Think kindly of thys elf. "Paranoid thoughts often build upon our own insecurities," Freeman explains. They make us dwell on our negative traits and overlook the positive aspects of who we are. "So break this cycle," he says, "by spending time noticing the good things in yourself."
5 . Sleep, eat, and exercise regularly. Again, lack of sleep, Freeman has found, is associated with paranoia. But it's not just sleep that counts. "A healthy lifestyle does wonders for our mood and hence reduces the occurrence of fearful thoughts," he says. "The world looks better when we're happy and well."