Can Anxiety Cause Schizophrenia?

Anxiety and schizophrenia are two distinct chronic brain disorders with risk factors, some of which are the same — genetics, for example. However, when exclusively talking about the two, can anxiety cause schizophrenia? If so, what are the symptoms, and what are the triggers?

Anxiety and Schizophrenia Risk Factors

People who have relatives with anxiety or schizophrenia may be predisposed. Genetics, as the only contributing factor, only happens about 50% of the time, even in twins. The environment in which you live, misusing alcohol or drugs, and early trauma are a few factors that play a role in developing a mental illness.

Several studies show childhood stress, even prenatal stress, is a risk factor for schizophrenia. Prenatal stressors can occur when the mother does not gain enough weight during pregnancy. Other factors include emotional, sexual, or physical abuse and lack of nurturing from their parent or caregiver. Also, if the pregnant mother experiences a sudden loss, financial issues, arguments with their spouse, unstable housing, or other traumatic events.

The use of alcohol and drugs is another risk factor because they alter the brain’s structure and chemical balances. It’s important to note that having the genes associated with schizophrenia or anxiety does not guarantee you will get the disorder. The same is true for the other risk factors. Having one or all the risk factors doesn’t mean you will automatically develop schizophrenia.

Anxiety Symptoms

Anxiety refers to the various feelings someone has, such as excessive worry, dread, and fear. These feelings lead to restlessness, irritability, sleep disturbances, and muscle tension. Anxiety disorders can range from mild to severe and may develop into sub-categories like panic disorder and phobias.

There are some symptoms you may ignore, thinking they result from everyday work, home, and social issues. For example:

  • Headaches
  • Stomach aches
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble concentrating

To be diagnosed with anxiety, you must meet the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association. One criterion is that you have excessive worry or fear for at least six months. You have difficulty controlling anxiety and worry, which must be accompanied by specific symptoms from the list above.

Anxiety is common and affects over 40 million Americans, unlike schizophrenia which only affects a small percentage of the population.

Schizophrenia Symptoms

Someone with schizophrenia can have a distorted view of reality and may seem detached from reality. What is happening is they cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is not. Symptoms typically interfere with a person’s ability to function. Symptoms of schizophrenia include:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorganized speech and thoughts
  • Abnormal or bizarre behaviors
  • Lack of emotions

Symptoms and their severity will vary among those diagnosed with the disorder. Some early signs that someone may mistake for less severe conditions include the following:

  • Avoids eye contact
  • Poor hygiene
  • Monotone speaking
  • Social withdrawal

To be diagnosed with schizophrenia, you must have either delusions, hallucinations, or disorganized speech and thoughts. You must also have one other symptom from the lists above. Let’s take a closer look at the three criteria that must be present.

Hallucinations vs. Delusions vs. Disorganized Speech and Thoughts

Your sense of touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing help you navigate the world. When you sense something, a message is sent to your brain, which searches your memories to determine if you have sensed it before. Once recognized, the brain sends a message to the rest of the body, telling it how to react.

With hallucinations, your brain engages your senses in the same way. The problem is that what the brain senses does not exist. Examples of hallucinations include hearing voices or seeing things that are not there.

Delusions are exaggerated beliefs that are untrue and sometimes not even possible. For example, someone tells you to only whisper to them because aliens spy on them. Or someone tells you they are the President of the United States working undercover.

Disorganized thoughts lead to disorganized speech. One person may exhibit repetitive speech or take long pauses while talking. Others may substitute inappropriate words or change how they pronounce a word. They may also find it hard to think of words to say, or just the opposite, excessive speech.

Can Anxiety Cause Schizophrenia?

So far, there is no evidence showing anxiety can cause schizophrenia. There is evidence anxiety can trigger schizophrenia, however. Schizophrenia is associated with psychosis, and one report states that 27% of people with anxiety showed at least one sign of psychosis.

It can sometimes seem like they are caught in a vicious cycle of experiencing severe anxiety, which triggers psychosis, which increases anxiety. Each condition makes the other worse. This can sometimes make it challenging for doctors to determine if the core problem is schizophrenia or an anxiety disorder.

You may wonder how to tell the difference between schizophrenia and an anxiety disorder with features of psychosis. Here are some tips:

  • Schizophrenia symptoms develop over time, starting in the late teens and gradually worsening. Schizophrenic episodes triggered by anxiety happen quickly, leave quickly, and usually follow severe stress like a panic attack.
  • Someone with schizophrenia may lose touch with reality, but they are unaware it is happening. Someone with anxiety can also lose touch with reality but know they are detaching.
  • Schizophrenia and anxiety-induced schizophrenia are treated using different methods since they are different disorders. When the anxiety is treated, psychosis symptoms will fade. Treating schizophrenia requires medication created explicitly for the disorder.

Treatment for Anxiety and Schizophrenia

Both anxiety and schizophrenia can be treated successfully using medications, cognitive behavioral therapies, holistic therapies, peer support, and family therapies. The disorders are not treated using the same methods, though.

Someone with schizophrenia should prepare for long-term treatment with antipsychotic medication, as it is not curable. They may need life-long treatment. On the other hand, anxiety disorders can be overcome in a matter of months, depending on the severity of the diagnosis.

The first step is to get an accurate diagnosis from a psychiatrist or psychologist in your area. We are happy to help you make that connection at the Mental Health Center. Give us a call or contact us today.