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Diahanne Rhiney's picture
Diahanne Rhiney
How to conquer your paranoia

WE ALL worry excessively about something or another throughout our lives.

We now live in an increasingly risk averse culture where we are constantly reminded of rising crime, terrorist threats, attacks on women and even fear of our youth have left us on our guard.

We are continually hyper vigilant, as our anxieties are fuelled by stories and images of violent and aggressive crimes.

In general terms society has conditioned us to become more fearful as we go about our day-to-day lives. This has increased our experiences of suspicious or irrational thoughts that for some have become part of everyday thinking. Studies show that paranoia is the new 21st century fear. From muggers, child abductors to delinquent teenagers, but are we all justified in our thinking? And how do we know when these thoughts and suspicions turn to paranoia?

Of course that depends upon how you define paranoia. Like most human traits, it occurs along a spectrum. Almost everyone is at least a little paranoid, and some people are consumed by overwhelming paranoia. Paranoia is an unfounded or exaggerated belief about one’s safety or vulnerability. It is the belief that others are out to persecute you and cause you harm. These beliefs can range from the irrational to the truly delusional and are often accompanied or instigated by anxiety or fear.

Several factors influence paranoid thinking such as experiencing a traumatic event that lessens a person’s sense of trust and security. Also some people have a higher predisposition towards anxiety or obsessive behaviour. Likewise, living in a chaotic, unreliable, insecure or hostile environment are also factors.

Excessive paranoia can also be counterproductive as individuals may find it difficult to trust organisations or people. They have trouble working with others or fitting in as time is wasted obsessing over conspiracies against them.

Like many personality traits, the paranoid spectrum has a broad range of "healthy" and adaptive in the middle, to extremes where it is reasonable to use the term "disorder" which is associated with psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia.

Paranoia can also be modified by culture and situation where certain environments can make us more likely to be on our guard. For example, a soldier in Iraq may see a young man with a bulky jacket and worry they are concealing an explosive and plan to blow themselves and the soldier up. This is a reasonable rational fear given the situation, however, the same thoughts would be considered paranoid by a person living in a quiet rural town.

Some researchers believe that the general level of paranoia in society is increasing. A UK paranoia expert, psychologist Daniel Freeman, found that 25 per cent of Londoners report regular paranoid thoughts.

This could be due to us all feeling more anxious, which can also positively correlate with paranoia. We can also speculate the financial crisis or constant war on terror and monitoring of the threat level is increasing the general level of anxiety, leading to an increase in paranoia. There is a bit of a taboo against being too paranoid, and people are sometimes embarrassed to express paranoid thoughts.

As discussed, suspicious thoughts from time to time are normal. It's unrealistic to think they will completely stop, but we can improve how we manage these thoughts when they occur.

Firstly, avoid stress and make time for the things you enjoy, as when you are run down or tired is when paranoia is likely to occur.

Secondly, share your fears and confide in someone you trust that can help you rationalise your fears.

Finally, get help, as a variety of conditions can prompt the sort of obsessional thinking described, it is crucial to secure a comprehensive, accurate assessment from a qualified mental health professional. Only when all the facts and circumstances are fully known will you be able to get a better understanding of what is being experienced and the best ways to go about dealing with it.

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