It’s common for people with anxiety to feel as though they are “losing their minds”, so to speak. People may then wonder can anxiety cause psychosis.
An anxiety disorder doesn’t directly lead to that, but there is a relationship between the two concerning some symptoms that can make it feel as though one is having psychotic symptoms. We’ll tackle those similarities so that you have a better understanding of the conditions.
Before we get too heavy into the discussion, here are some common questions and answers people may have.
Can stress and anxiety cause psychosis?
Periods of extreme stress and anxiety can lead to someone experiencing psychotic symptoms. However, these are not the same as one suffering from a psychotic disorder.
Can untreated anxiety lead to schizophrenia?
There’s no evidence to show that those with an anxiety disorder can develop schizophrenia. Those with schizophrenia can experience anxiety symptoms, but the anxiety cannot cause the mental illness whether it’s treated or not.
Can anxiety cause you to be delusional?
Severe anxiety can cause delusions and even hallucinations as anxiety and panic attacks can cause one to feel hyper-alert about everything. It can heighten your fear or trigger your fight-or-flight response, leading to delusional thinking.
What are the early warning signs of psychosis?
There are a few early warning signs. This includes isolating oneself, neglecting self-care, overwhelming emotions, feeling nothing at all, trouble concentrating, and more.
Psychosis and Anxiety
These two conditions exist separately, but they do share some similarities to lead to some people wondering can anxiety cause psychosis. To fully wrap your mind about these two conditions, it’s best to understand them individually first.
What is Psychosis?
It is important to note that psychosis isn’t exactly an illnesses in its own right. Instead, it is more of a condition of a larger problem.
This disrupts your thought process and perceptions. It can lead to you losing touch with reality. Many mental illnesses can cause psychotic symptoms, but even without being diagnosed with a mental illness, people may still experience some symptoms under extreme duress or injury.
No one has quite narrowed down an exact cause to the issue. However, there are some risk factors associated with it:
- Mental or Physical Trauma: There are many types of traumas such as an assault or death of a loved one that can lead to developing psychotic symptoms.
- Injury: Severe injury such as a brain injury can lead to symptoms as well.
- Illness: Many illnesses such as brain tumors can cause psychotic symptoms.
- Drugs: Sometimes, people can react negatively to drugs, prescription or otherwise, can cause symptoms. This includes alcohol abuse, amphetamines, LSD, and more.
There’s no sudden start to this condition. Instead, this comes at a gradual rate. These are some things to look out for in the warning stages whether in yourself or in someone you know:
- Drop in performance (school or job)
- Neglecting self-care (personal hygiene, eating, etc.)
- Isolating yourself
- Feeling no emotions
- Feeling overwhelming emotions
- Feeling suspicious or anxious around others
Those are simply warning signs, but there are some early symptoms to look for too:
- Distorted reality (hearing/seeing, tasting things that aren’t there)
- Unable to think clearly
- Drifting away from friends and family
- Clinging to beliefs no matter what
Then there are symptoms of a psychotic episode:
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is your body’s reaction to a perceived or otherwise nonexistent threat. At some point in life, everyone will experience anxiety whether you’re nervous about a presentation, a date, or any other event in your life.
However, an anxiety disorder is when anxiety begins to control your life. People with this disorder have frequent and intense anxious feelings that interfere with your life.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
There are about six different types of disorders:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder: It includes ongoing fear or worry that cuts into your daily activities.
- Phobias (Specific Phobia): This is excessive fear of a specific thing or activity that can cause enough distress to avoid said thing or activity.
- Panic Disorder: This disorder includes recurrent panic attacks that can seemingly come out of nowhere.
- Social Anxiety Disorder: This disorder is when someone feels significant discomfort engaging in social activities, thus causing the person to avoid those situations.
- Separation Anxiety Disorder: Anyone with this disorder can experience significant fear and concern at the idea of being separate from those they are attached to. Although it occurs in children, it becomes more of a disorder when it lasts beyond what’s appropriate.
- Agoraphobia: This is a condition where people feel fear in being caught in situations they can’t escape from such as being on public transportation, in crowds, etc.
Stress and Anxiety
Just as it’s common for everyone to experience anxiety at some point in their lives, everyone will also experience stress. Stress can be placed on the body as well as on the mind.
Because of this, both stress and anxiety can go hand-in-hand. Anxiety can honestly be a reaction to feeling stressed out. The opposite is the same in that issues with your anxiety problems can cause you to experience some overwhelming feelings of stress.
There are many symptoms of anxiety:
- Sleeping problems
- Trouble concentrating
- Increased heartrate
- Nervousness or restlessness
- Sensing impending doom
- Avoidance of triggers
- Difficulty controlling your concerns
It’s best to never self-diagnosis anything, so if you believe you or a loved one are experiencing these symptoms, then you should head to your doctor.
A doctor will offer you a full evaluation from this point. They may even refer you to a mental health specialist instead to get a full diagnosis.
Evaluation includes filling out a complete questionnaire so that the doctor gets a better understanding of your symptoms, how long they have persisted, and even just how severe they are to interfere with your daily life.
They will use the DSM-5 to compare your symptoms to see if they check out.
This evaluation will help them determine if you are just experiencing anxiety symptoms or if you have a full-blown disorder. From there, you can begin working on an exact diagnosis to eventually lead to treatment and management.
As you see from the previous sections, there are some similarities between the two. Both are very serious and require action.
Anxiety-induced psychosis occurs when an anxiety disorder starts to spiral out of control. Severe cases can lead to psychotic symptoms.
When the anxiety gets to the point that it leads to an anxiety attack or a panic attack, some similar psychotic-like symptoms can show up. This includes the following:
- Hallucinations: This can be auditory or visual, and it can occur during an attack.
- Paranoia: Severe anxiety can make you believe as though your worst fears are coming to life.
- Delusions: You can experience beliefs of things that are not real.
Having these symptoms may very well lead to everything feeling that much more intense. The psychotic feelings can exasperate the anxiety, and thus lead to you feeling even more anxious and worsening the symptoms.
It is a terrible cycle to find yourself in, but it is important to note that it is only the anxiety that’s causing these feelings. If you have not been diagnosed with a psychotic disorder even after evaluation from a healthcare professional, then you may take comfort in knowing that these are momentary feelings that can and will go away.
If you’re experiencing extreme reactions and symptoms, making you believe you’ve truly lost control of your mind, rest well in knowing that there are treatment options.
When to Seek Help
It is important to seek help when you notice your symptoms. The earlier you get help, the better.
For those who may be experiencing delusions or hallucinations, you should immediately contact a doctor to ensure that there is no underlying medical condition that could be causing these symptoms.
Psychotic Disorders vs. Anxiety with Psychotic Features
As we wonder about can anxiety cause psychosis, it’s worth noting that there are some differences in treating psychotic disorders and anxiety that has psychotic symptoms.
For one thing, many experts believe that psychotic symptoms triggered in those with anxiety occur because the mind is feeling overwhelmed with the situation at hand. A go-to treatment option is more like management as it encourages those to wait things out.
If it is occurring frequently and completely interfering with your life, then doctors can recommend the likes of talk therapy or medications to combat some of the symptoms. This includes anti-anxiety medications as well as antidepressants.
When it comes to psychotic disorders, there is no one set treatment available. There are several types of psychotic disorders from schizophrenia to delusional disorder. Although exact treatment tends to vary, there is a focus on combining psychotherapy with medications.
This is because in the case of a psychotic disorder, it isn’t curable. Meanwhile, anxiety with psychotic features can lose those specific symptoms over time with proper management and treatment.
To focus more on the specific treatment, anxiety disorders do have unique characteristics that can require distinctive approaches.
Even so, many do well with therapy. It is just the type of therapy and what goes on in it that can vary depending on your specific condition.
For instance, those of you with social anxiety may very well experience exposure therapy where you’re encouraged to go out more in public or perhaps strike up a conversation with a stranger.
In contrast, someone with separation anxiety may be encouraged to distance themselves a bit from the person (or people) they’ve become dependent on and overly attached to.
Therapy is a rather large umbrella in which there are many routes to travel down. A personalized experience is best in coming to terms with your specific condition in order to successfully treat and manage it.
At the first sign of psychotic symptoms, it’s vital that you seek help by bringing it up to a doctor or even a loved one that may lead you to a healthcare professional.
From there, a doctor may recommend a variety of treatments.
Typically, counseling is combined with medication. However, on the notion of pure therapy, psychotherapy is key. This includes cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you come to terms with your condition.
CBT is useful as well in helping you separate reality from fiction. It can even encourage you to stick to a treatment path in terms of attending more therapy sessions as well as taking your medication properly.
There is also supportive psychotherapy. In this type of therapy, you can find ways to learn how to live with your psychotic symptoms so that they don’t completely overrule your life.
For those with a reliable support system, family psychoeducation can help. This can allow those around you to better understand what you’re going through so that they can step in and be supportive as needed during your healing journey.
As stated before, treatment for psychotic symptoms blends in medicine and therapy. This is because such a serious condition requires as much treatment as possible.
One of the main medications you will see prescribed in this case are antipsychotics. They are a type of psychiatric medication only available via prescription.
The type of condition you have will determine exactly what type of antipsychotic you will be prescribed as these are also used to treat various psychotic disorders.
Something that a doctor will strongly suggest is that you don’t consume alcohol or illegal drugs while taking the medication. This is because drugs and alcohol, as we touched on before, can cause psychotic symptoms.
As such, taking them while consuming medication can make the symptoms worse in the end.
It is important to note that although there are treatment options available, those alone may not work for everyone. Some people may feel their symptoms worsening or simply not getting better.
If so, don’t quit. There are self-management techniques that you can do to try to improve your overall lifestyle. The condition may not go away and you may experience psychotic symptoms from time to time, but with certain techniques, you can feel more in control.
A good thing people can do is keep a diary. This diary can help you write down all the thoughts you may not wish to share in therapy sessions or with loved ones. Also, it is a good way to address whether or not you’ve been having hallucinations or delusions, thus recognizing them for what they are whenever they show up again.
A diary can also help you become aware of any triggers. Maybe your latest psychotic episode was due to fatigue from staying up too late every day in the past week or so. Or perhaps it came up after you spoke to a certain someone in your life.
When we recognize triggers, we can recognize the warning signs that come up before we have an episode.
If you don’t want to keep a diary, then you can always use your phone or another online tool.
Other self-management tools include taking up meditation to better center yourself, focus on deep breathing techniques, and perhaps some dietary changes and adding more exercise into your life to feel better overall.
In the various ways you can approach treatment, it helps to have a good support system in place. Family and friends can go a long way in simply being there to listen to the individual suffering from the symptoms.
Besides that, loved ones can ask questions as to what they can do to help, giving the person with the condition full control on how they want their support.
Another good support system is a self-help group. There are groups that exist in-person and online as well.
Typically, these don’t involve professionals. Rather, they are just people that feel similar symptoms and want to get together to share their experiences.
These are a good way to gain support in a way that allows those with the condition to feel less alone.
Many people can go through their life with anxiety without ever experiencing severe symptoms, but even so, there’s always a concern over can anxiety cause psychosis.
The two are different conditions, but they do share a relationship with each other. Severe bouts of anxiety can lead to psychotic symptoms. When this happens, it is important for the individual to seek help.
Psychotic symptoms are nothing to play around with as they can lead to people getting hurt. Hallucinations and delusions can cause harm to the one suffering from them as well as those around them.
There are several treatment options, however, that can help you begin feeling better and managing your symptoms in a way that they don’t interfere with your life anymore.
Still, it all starts with seeking help. So, don’t be afraid to bring it up with your doctor the topic of can anxiety cause psychosis. Talking it out can help them understand your symptoms more so they can put you on the right path to feeling better and more in control.
- About antipsychotics. (n.d.). Mind, the mental health charity – help for mental health problems. [online, retrieved March 9, 2022]
- Anxiety disorders – Symptoms and causes. (2018, May 4). Mayo Clinic. [online, retrieved March 9, 2022]
- Anxiety. (2021, May 12). Trusted Health Advice | healthdirect. [online, retrieved March 9, 2022]
- Psychosis and psychotic episodes. (2015, December 28). WebMD. [online, retrieved March 9, 2022]