Can Stress Cause Hallucinations? Should You Be Worried?

If someone you care about is experiencing hallucinations, uncovering the cause of these psychotic symptoms will open the door to treatment. While stress can play a role in hallucination episodes, it’s critical to identify the underlying mental illness that will continue to cause distress if left untreated. There are very effective treatments for hallucinations and other features of psychosis regardless of the root cause, and you can help someone connect with life-changing support today.

Hal always said that he didn’t have a particularly hard life. He never had to worry about finances, his family was intact and close-knit, and he could always find new ways to make life interesting. So, what reason was there to be having a nervous breakdown? At least, that was the question he asked himself. He had started to hear noises that sounded like footsteps and knocking and to see lights as if from flashlights outside. And his wife and kids insisted that they couldn’t see or hear the same. This happened repeatedly over the course of weeks, and they were never willing to agree that there was someone outside the house looking in.

Around the time that these hallucinations first occurred, Hal’s father passed away, and he poured more of his attention into work so as not to face his emotional burden. These hallucinations that he experienced served to further distract him from his pain, but they also brought their own level of stress. And the more stressed out he became, the frequency and intensity of these hallucinations intensified too.

His wife didn’t want to believe that Hal could have a serious illness. She wondered whether stress can cause hallucinations and if they would simply go away when his stress decreased. But a family friend encouraged her to take these symptoms seriously, and she contacted a psychiatrist. It turned out that Hal was experiencing psychotic episodes related to schizophrenia. While that news was alarming for him and his wife to hear, the doctor explained that it was positive that they caught the disorder early. They could start treatment right away and develop strategies for Hal to manage his stress, triggers, and underlying grief. They could take a step back and, in a stress-free and supportive setting, build a new path for the future.

What Causes Hallucinations?

Hallucinations can be caused by a range of psychological and medical conditions, as well as by substance use in some cases. The consequences of hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms are very distressing regardless of the cause. But identifying that cause is the route to treatment and recovery for an individual who suffers. If psychosis is left to continue, untreated, further serious cognitive and emotional damage can result.

Possible causes of psychotic episodes include:

The only way to determine the exact cause of someone’s hallucinations is with a thorough, professional diagnosis. And, considering the serious risks to one’s well-being associated with psychosis, urgent clinical attention is necessary in any case. Fortunately, with an accurate diagnosis, the possibilities for treatment and the management of psychotic symptoms are very promising. Early attention typically improves one’s prognosis and can prevent devastating mental and emotional decline.

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How Can Stress Cause Hallucinations?

Experts would not consider stress to be an original cause of hallucinations, but that doesn’t mean stress can’t play a role. In fact, the triggers that someone encounters often provoke the symptoms of an underlying mental illness. And the complicated relationship with those triggers can be characterized as stress.

Stress can exacerbate the symptoms of psychotic, mood, anxiety, and trauma disorders. And when these disorders are at a severe level is when the risk of psychosis is heightened. So, in a way, stress can indirectly cause hallucinations. But it would be insufficient to address the stress without focusing primarily on the underlying psychological and emotional imbalances.

What Is the Treatment for Hallucinations?

Hallucinations can include hearing voices and other sounds, seeing things that aren’t there in reality, smelling phantom scents, and even feeling things on one’s skin or in one’s body that aren’t really there. When a person can’t even trust their own senses or they seem to be misled by their senses, it can be incredibly frightening and confusing. Beyond the distress psychosis brings, it can also impose real cognitive and emotional damage if left untreated.

Different types of psychosis call for different approaches to treatment. Psychotic depression is significantly different from drug-induced psychosis, which is entirely different from schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders. And clinicians will design unique treatment plans for each individual once the cause of their hallucinations is identified, as well as any co-occurring disorders that can complicate symptoms and solutions.

Typically, the ideal treatment path will include a combination of medication, psychotherapy, holistic support, and life skills support. Comprehensive recovery goes beyond just treating the symptoms to also consider the stressors and triggers in life that contribute to a person’s hallucinations. And an important part of this integrative path is also support for medication and treatment adherence because diverting from this positive course could mean serious risks to someone’s mental health and overall well-being. The best setting for these effective strategies to take hold is a long-term residential treatment center. Here, stress is minimized, and the diverse forms of compassionate, knowledgeable support are maximized. Here, clients are empowered to manage their mental health rather than to feel overwhelmed and controlled by it.

BrightQuest is a long-term residential treatment center for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned San Diego-area program and how we can help you or your loved one begin the journey toward recovery.