Mental health conditions come with a serious stigma. That stigma can hold people back from getting treatment, because they're worried they're going to be branded as "crazy." Anxiety is a mental health issue characterized by a lot of unusual symptoms and behavioral changes, and some people worry that they are showing signs of psychotic behavior.
Psychotic Behavior = Anxiety?
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Anxiety is Not Psychotic
The truth is that while anxiety can cause a lot of different changes and behaviors, psychotic behavior is not one of them. Psychosis is characterized by a dangerous loss of reality. Anxiety can cause a break from reality, but that break isn't dangerous and doesn't cause any noticeable, permanent changes.
Extreme anxiety can lead to what's known as "derealization." Take my anxiety test to see how extreme your anxiety its. Derealization is a temporary loss of the feeling of reality. Those that suffer from it during the peak of an anxiety attack feel like the world around them isn't real. But that feeling fades away when the anxiety decreases.
Anxiety can also cause some unusual behaviors and thoughts. In fact, obsessive compulsive disorder can cause a host of "disturbing thoughts" that have some people worried that they may be going crazy. These thoughts include:
- Thoughts about violence against another person.
- Thoughts about extreme sexual acts against another person.
- Thoughts about death or gore.
These thoughts can occur as a result of anxiety.
But none of these are a sign of psychosis. Psychotic behavior may sound similar, but the actual experience is very different.
The difference between psychosis and anxiety is pronounced. The first thing to remember is one of the reasons that you have this fear that you're becoming psychotic is because you have anxiety. Those that are actually struggling with psychosis have no such fear.
- Loss of Reality Those that are struggling with psychosis have no knowledge that they are losing touch with reality. For them, everything is completely normal, because their "normal" has been altered to be very different than the reality that we all share. The fact that you're worried you're losing touch with reality is evidence that you are not, because those that truly are have no way of distinguishing what reality is.
- Disturbing Thoughts It's very similar with disturbing thoughts. Those with psychosis only find their thoughts disturbing if they experience any lucidity. Usually, however, these thoughts are normal for them and they have no concept of why they're disturbing. For those with OCD, these thoughts always cause a significant amount of anxiety and the person doesn't want the thoughts to occur.
With obsessive compulsive disorder (and to a lesser extent, other forms of anxiety), the thoughts are caused by not wanting them. It's a phenomenon known as thought suppression, where the brain causes you to think about things you don't want to think about more often specifically because you try to avoid the thoughts.
But with psychosis, the thoughts simply occur. They do not cause a rush of anxiety and the person doesn't try to push them away. They simply occur like any other thought. The loss of touch with reality tends to make the thought more real and something the person doesn't see a problem with. The person with anxiety doesn't experience that.
How to Tell the Difference Between Anxiety and Psychosis
There are similarities between anxiety and psychosis, and if you're concerned you should see a psychologist. But there are also very clear differences between them. Psychotic behavior is also incredibly rare, and anxiety is incredibly common. The likelihood is you are simply struggling with an extreme level of anxiety.
If you want to learn more about your anxiety and what you can do to stop these psychotic symptoms, take my free anxiety test today. This test will show you what you need to start doing to cure your anxiety.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.