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Can anxiety cause hallucinations

Can Anxiety Cause Hallucinations? Uncovering the Hidden Correlation

Writen By: Huma Khan
Reviewed By: Huma Khan
Publish Date: June 12, 2024

In the world of mental health, anxiety stands out as a mighty foe that can have a significant impact on a person’s feelings, thoughts, and actions. 

Although worry, nervousness, and apprehension are frequently linked to it, anxiety is more than just psychological discomfort. Anxiety can show up in more complicated ways for some people, even causing perceptual distortions like hallucinations. 

If you are here, then you might be someone who is suffering or someone curious about knowing: Can anxiety cause hallucinations?

To find the answer to this query, you do not need to worry about it because we have got you covered. The short answer to the question is that “Not many people experience hallucinations as a symptom of anxiety disorders. Still, they can occur to those who suffer from various forms of anxiety.” 

So, continue reading this guide until the end to learn in detail about the connection between anxiety and hallucinations, using research studies to provide a comprehensive answer. We’ll explore how anxiety can trigger them and offer practical strategies for managing anxiety-induced hallucinations. Finally, we’ll recommend life changing self-help books to support your journey towards overcoming both anxiety and hallucinations.

So, let’s dive deeper and find out: Can anxiety cause hallucinations?

What is Anxiety?

Before moving on to our main topic, “Can anxiety cause hallucinations?” Let’s first have a look at the term anxiety. 

Anxiety is a common phrase in everyday speech for a light case of fear or nervousness. In the context of mental health, this term can be used to describe a variety of illnesses that fall under the general heading of anxiety disorders.

While each kind of anxiety disorder may have its own distinct symptoms and triggers, they are all characterized by excessive and ongoing worry or fear that has a substantial negative impact on the lives of the affected individuals.

Anxiety can cause symptoms that are physical, emotional, or psychological. 

Anxiety symptoms

Based on the research of National Institute of mental health, anxiety is the most prevalent mental health problem, affecting up to 20% of adults annually, as well as 1 in 4 children between the ages of 13 and 18.

What are Hallucinations?

The second thing that all of you are wondering about after being aware of the term anxiety is hallucinations. In response to the query, “Can anxiety cause hallucinations?” it is important to understand the precise nature of hallucinations.

Seeing something that is not accurate may give rise to hallucinations. Put more simply, hallucinations are perceiving objects that aren’t present in the immediate surroundings. 

When you experience a hallucination, you think that what you are seeing is real, but in reality, your mind is the source of the hallucination. 

According to a 2015 study by the NIH conducted in Europe, 7.3% of participants reported hearing voices that were not real in their lifetime. Another study by NIH in South Africa found that the general population’s rate of hallucinations is higher, at 12.7%

Any of the five senses—sight (visual), sound (auditory), smell (olfactory), taste (gustatory), and touch (tactile)—can experience hallucinations, though the most frequently reported types are auditory and visual.

Types of hallucinations

Can Anxiety Cause Hallucinations?

Now that you are familiar with anxiety and the various kinds of hallucinations, let’s return to our primary question, “Can anxiety cause hallucinations?” In common, hallucinations are not generally part of anxiety disorders. Still, several sources have claimed that hallucinations can result from anxiety.  

An investigation published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition in January 2016 found a link between auditory hallucinations and anxiety. According to this study, verbal hallucinations—a subtype of auditory hallucinations that involve hearing voices—may be brought on by anxiety.

According to a 2016 study by Ratcliffe and Wilkinson, anxiety can cause verbal hallucinations and affect what they seem like. The study found that when people are anxious, their thoughts can feel strange and like they’re coming from outside, even though they’re not. This helps explain how anxiety can make people hear things that aren’t there.

Additionally, according to a case report by the NIH, a 36-year-old man with severe anxiety disorders, including Social Phobia and Agoraphobia with Panic Attacks, experienced distressing visual hallucinations. Treatment with sertraline, clonazepam, and propranolol resolved both his anxiety and hallucinations within a month. This case highlights that hallucinations can occur in anxiety disorders and treating the underlying anxiety can eliminate the hallucinations without needing antipsychotic medication.

According to another case report from 2023, a 10-year-old boy with long-term anxiety experienced visual and auditory hallucinations, seeing a figure called “shadow man” and hearing voices. The boy’s anxiety worsened his hallucinations, but when treated with sertraline, both his anxiety and hallucinations decreased. This case highlights how severe anxiety in children can lead to psychotic symptoms, reinforcing the link between anxiety and hallucinations.

Furthermore,  a 2018 study published in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin suggests that anxiety and psychotic symptoms are related. This study involved 3000 teenagers and young adults. They discovered that psychotic symptoms (“hallucinations and delusions”) were present in 27% of the subjects who suffered from anxiety or depression. Of those without depression or anxiety, 14% exhibited at least one psychotic symptom. That means individuals with anxiety or depression are more vulnerable to hallucinations.

Although there is no conclusive evidence that anxiety directly causes hallucinations, some reports suggest that anxiety may be a contributing factor. Despite this uncertainty, it is important to acknowledge that hallucinations are a genuine experience and can potentially occur in individuals who suffer from anxiety.

How can anxiety cause hallucinations?

It’s essential to remember that hallucinations caused by anxiety are comparatively rare and usually happen in severe cases. Anxiety can cause hallucinations through a variety of mechanisms. The following particular factors could be useful to explain how can anxiety cause hallucinations:

  1. Hyperactive Stress Response System: The body’s stress response system, which includes the release of stress hormones like cortisol, can become hyperactive during episodes of extreme anxiety. This heightened state of arousal can disrupt normal sensory processing, leading to hallucinations or perceptual distortions.
  1. Over sensitized Perception: Individuals with anxiety disorders can become hyperaware of their surroundings, leading to an over sensitized perception of sights and sounds. This increased sensitivity occasionally presents as hallucinations, particularly in high-stress or anxiety-inducing circumstances.
  1. Fixation on Threats: Heightened alertness and intrusive thoughts are two common symptoms of anxiety. Anxious people may become overly fixated on possible threats, which may affect their senses or perception and cause hallucinations.
  1. Disconnection: During panic attacks, some people feel their brain “shut down” and lose touch with reality. This disconnection can cause them to believe they are hearing noises or seeing things until they regain their sense of reality.
  1. Sleep Deprivation: Severe anxiety can lead to sleep disturbances or insomnia. Lack of sleep can significantly affect cognitive and sensory functions, potentially causing hallucinations.
  1. Distraction: Anxiety can make you so distracted that you can’t focus on the world around you. This overload can make it hard to process normal information, leading to seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t actually there.

These factors show a connection between anxiety and hallucinations, indicating how severe anxiety can indirectly lead to hallucinations. However, research is ongoing, and the exact mechanisms aren’t fully understood. While anxiety can create conditions for hallucinations, they are not typical symptoms of most anxiety disorders. If you experience hallucinations, seek professional medical advice for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Other Causes Of Hallucinations

According to the research by the  NIH, there are several underlying medical conditions, including mental illnesses, neurological diseases, substance abuse, and other conditions that can cause hallucinations. These are a few of the main reasons why people get hallucinations:

  1. Schizophrenia.
  2. Psychotic disorder.
  3. Depression.
  4. Migraine.
  5. Substance abuse
  6. Withdrawal from alcohol.
  7. Epilepsy.
  8. Insomnia (a disorder of sleep).
  9. Disorders of the senses.
  10. Stress and trauma.
  11. Electrolyte imbalances or deficiencies in certain vitamins (like B12)
  12. Brain Tumors 
  13. Severe head injuries

Understanding the root cause of hallucinations is essential for proper management and treatment. A medical evaluation by a healthcare professional is essential To determine the cause and create a successful treatment plan adapted to the patient’s requirements.

How to overcome Anxiety Hallucinations?

Now, after knowing “can anxiety cause hallucinations”, let’s proceed to discuss how to treat anxiety-induced hallucinations. It’s important to understand that anxiety-induced hallucinations are uncommon and anxiety might not be the sole cause of the hallucinations. That’s why it’s important to seek professional help for proper diagnosis and treatment. A mental health professional can accurately diagnose the underlying condition and recommend the best course of action.

However, if someone is experiencing hallucinations due to severe anxiety then effective management typically involves a combination of medication and therapy.

Treatment options for Anxiety-related Hallucinations:

  • Therapy can be helpful For those who suffer from anxiety, hallucinations, or both. For this purpose, different therapeutic interventions may be utilized. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy that can help manage anxiety and the underlying thought patterns that might contribute to misinterpretations or a sense of unreality. Mindfulness-based therapy can also be used to manage anxiety and reduce stress, thus reducing the probability of hallucinations.
  • In some cases, medications are also prescribed along with therapy to help individuals overcome anxiety and hallucinations. SSRIs and SNRIs are prescribed to help manage anxiety symptoms. In severe cases where hallucinations are prominent along with anxiety then antipsychotics might be prescribed.

Keep in mind that dealing with anxiety-induced hallucinations is a process that might call for patience, persistence, and time. Prioritizing self-care, following treatment guidelines, and getting professional assistance when required are all essential in dealing with anxiety-related hallucinations. 

Coping Tips for Anxiety and Hallucination

  1. Grounding Activities:
  • The 5-4-3-2-1 method (identify 5 things you can see, 4 things you can “touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste)
  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  1. Relaxation Techniques:
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Practice yoga or tai chi
  • Use aromatherapy with calming scents like lavender or chamomile
  • Take warm baths or use a hot tub to relax muscles
  1. Distraction Techniques:
  • Engage in activities like reading books
  • Watch TV or play your favorite game
  • Listen to music or podcasts
  • Engage in hobbies like painting, cooking, or gardening
  1. Seek Support:
  • Talk to loved ones and ask for their support
  • Have positive conversations and request resources that can help
  • Join a support group or online community for people with similar experiences
  1. Healthy Lifestyle:
  • Exercise or go for a walk
  • Maintain a balanced diet
  • Ensure you get enough sleep
  • Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs
  • Stay hydrated
  1. Journaling:
  • Write down your thoughts and feelings 
  • Keep a gratitude journal to focus on positive aspects of your life

By regularly putting these strategies into practice, anxiety can be controlled and the likelihood of hallucinations can be decreased. Finding what works best for you is crucial. Also, seek professional healthcare providers for better treatment and support.

Empower Yourself with These Reads

Here are a few self-help books about Anxiety and Hallucinations. You might find the answer to the question “Can anxiety cause hallucinations?” in these books.

Jennifer L. Abel wrote this book. It includes 65 activities, worksheets, and coping mechanisms to help let go of and deal with depression and anxiety.

If you want to discover how to manage your anxiety on your own as well as how to support a local person experiencing a similar issue, then this book is for you.

This book provides practical strategies and insights for understanding, treating, and managing hallucinations. It is an essential resource for both professionals and individuals seeking effective solutions.

Organizations that provided therapy

These are a few online resources that offer support and therapy to help you get over your anxiety and hallucinations. 

An organization titled HelpGuide offers beneficial tools and information to promote psychological wellness and health.

Nami is an organization for people with mental disorders. To help all people and families affected by mental illness lead better lives, NAMI offers advocacy, information, support, and public awareness.

Better Help is a subscription-based platform. BetterHelp’s goal is to increase the accessibility and affordability of professional therapy and mental health services so that more people can receive the care they require and desire. 


To sum it up, Can anxiety cause hallucinations? Hallucinations are not generally associated with anxiety disorders. However, several sources claim that anxiety can cause hallucinations.

Anxiety disorders can cause extreme stress and fear, which can overpower the brain and cause perceptual variations like auditory or visual hallucinations. These are usually temporary experiences associated with alertness and heightened emotions brought on by anxiety. 

To decrease the effect of and control your anxiety on your general well-being, you need to understand the relationship between anxiety and hallucinations and use helpful ways to cope.

Our blog has covered all the factors that will help you cope with and treat your anxiety and hallucinations. 

Individuals can improve their general mental health and quality of life by managing their anxiety and reducing the frequency of hallucinations with the support of comprehensive care that combines psychological, medical, and lifestyle interventions.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are some of the factors that lead to hallucinations caused by anxiety?

Anxiety-related hallucinations are caused by a variety of factors, such as neurotransmitter system disruptions, increased perceptual biases, cognitive distortions, genetic predispositions, traumatic experiences in the past, and co-occurring mental health disorders.

  • What are pseudo-hallucinations?

Perceptual experiences known as pseudo-hallucinations bear similarities to real hallucinations, but they usually don’t have the same vividness, intensity, or duration as hallucinations associated with psychotic disorders. People who have pseudo-hallucinations typically continue to recognize that what they are experiencing is not accurate.

  • What’s the difference between anxiety and hallucinations?
It involves strong emotions of nervousness, fear, or unease.Hallucinations are sensory experiences that arise naturally without outside influences.
It is usually associated with stress or perceived dangers.It has an impact on the five senses: taste, smell, touch, sound, and sight.
It can result in bodily symptoms such as tense muscles, sweating, and a rapid heart rate.Although they are based on fiction, the person experiencing them may find them real.
  • How to tell if a hallucination is real?

To determine if a hallucination is real, check if others can perceive the same thing. Look for physical evidence and consider factors like stress, sleep deprivation, or mental health conditions that might cause hallucinations. Conduct reality checks by interacting with the experience and assessing your mental state. If hallucinations are frequent or disturbing, seek professional help.

  • How do I know if I have anxiety or psychosis?

To know if you are having anxiety or psychosis first understand the difference between anxiety and psychosis

Anxiety Pyschosis
It involves physical symptoms such as an irregular heartbeat, excessive worry, restlessness, and fear of particular or general events.

Anxious people frequently realize that their worries and fears are unjustified or heightened.

Stress has been known to cause symptoms, which are frequently persistent but vary in severity.
It includes delusions (strong beliefs in things that aren’t real), hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there), and confused thought patterns.

People suffering from psychosis might not be aware that their delusions or hallucinations are false.

In psychosis, symptoms appear suddenly or gradually, persist, or occur in episodes, sometimes without apparent external triggers.

For an accurate diagnosis and suitable treatment, it’s essential to speak with a healthcare professional if you believe you are experiencing symptoms of either psychosis or anxiety.