Anxiety Hallucinations

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Vitaly Liashko, MD, FRCPS(C).
Last updated December 19, 2021

anxiety hallucinations

Auditory, visual, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, somatic, and verbal hallucinations can be symptoms of anxiety disorder, including anxiety and panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

While hallucinations aren’t as common as other anxiety disorder symptoms, many anxious people have hallucinations as part of their symptom mix.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and hallucinations.

Anxiety Hallucination Symptoms

Common descriptions of anxiety hallucinations include:

  • You see or hear something that isn’t real.
  • You were initially convinced you saw or heard something, but upon closer investigation, what you saw or heard didn’t occur.
  • You have a taste of a particular food, yet you didn’t eat anything that would cause that taste.
  • You have a strong smell of something, but nothing around you created that smell.
  • You feel a strong physical sensation, but there isn’t anything around you to cause it.
  • You hear voices in your head, but you know they aren’t yours or concepts you’d normally think to yourself.

Examples include:

  • Hearing someone call your name when no one did.
  • Seeing someone or something pass behind or to the side of you when no one or nothing did.
  • Seeing something that didn’t occur, but it was so real you firmly believe you saw it.
  • Seeing something out of the corner of your eye, yet there is nothing there.
  • Hearing sounds that no one else can hear.
  • Having experiences you firmly believe occurred, but no one else with you experienced them.
  • Seeing things no one else can see.
  • Hearing voices no one else can hear.
  • Having what can seem like real experiences when drifting off to or waking up from sleep.
  • You have a specific taste in your mouth, yet you have nothing in your mouth to cause that taste.
  • Feel like someone touched your arm when there is no one around.
  • Feeling a cool breeze on your face when there is no breeze.
  • Smelling a strong smell when nothing is causing it.

To name a few.

Hallucinations can affect any of our senses. Sometimes, two or more senses are affected at the same time.

Hallucinations can occur rarely, occasionally, or frequently.

Anxiety hallucinations can occur at any time, including with other anxiety symptoms or by themselves.

They can also precede, accompany, or follow a period of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and stress, or occur "out of the blue" and for no apparent reason.

They can also range in intensity from slightly noticeable to blatantly obvious.

They can also change from hallucination to hallucination.

All the above combinations and variations are common.

---------- Advertisement - Article Continues Below ----------


---------- Advertisement Ends ----------

Types

There are many types of hallucination, including:

  • Auditory hallucinations: When you hear something that’s not real.
  • Visual hallucinations: When you see something that’s not real.
  • Olfactory hallucinations: When you smell something that’s not real.
  • Gustatory hallucinations: When you taste something you didn’t eat.
  • Tactile hallucinations: When you feel something that didn’t occur.
  • Somatic hallucinations: When you have a bodily sensation that isn’t caused by something real.
  • Verbal hallucinations: When you hear something in your mind that you didn’t cause.[1]

NOTE: Hallucinations are not always an indication of a psychotic disorder. They occur across a wide spectrum of mental disorders and can be caused by reasons unrelated to a mental disorder.

For instance, it's estimated that in child and adolescent psychiatric clients who present with hallucinations, approximately 70% are of a non-psychotic nature.

To see if anxiety might be playing a role in your symptoms, rate your level of anxiety using our free one-minute instant results Anxiety Test, Anxiety Disorder Test, or Hyperstimulation Test.

The higher the rating, the more likely anxiety could be contributing to or causing your anxiety symptoms, including feeling like impending doom symptoms.

Follow us on YouTube

We regularly post helpful and informative videos. Subscribe now!
Subscribe

Causes

Medical Advisory

Talk to your doctor about all new, changing, persistent, and returning symptoms as some medical conditions and medications can cause anxiety-like symptoms.

Click the link for Additional Medical Advisory Information.

While this symptom isn’t as common as other anxiety symptoms, many anxious, stressed, and depressed people experience hallucinations. They are more common than most people think.

Some studies show they occur in approximately 7 – 12.7 percent of the population.[2][3]

There are many reasons why anxiety can cause hallucinations. Here are some of the most common:

1. Stress

Anxiety activates the stress response. The stress response prepares the body for emergency action – to fight or flee, which is the reason this survival reaction is often referred to as the fight or flight response.[4][5]

Visit our “Stress Response” article for more information about its many changes.

Three of these changes include:

  • Heightens most of the body’s senses to be more keenly aware of and reactive to danger.
  • Heightens nervous system activity, which includes the brain, so that it’s more sensitive and reactive to danger.
  • Changes brain function so that our attention is solely focused on the threat and away from unimportant distractions.

The higher the degree of the stress response, the more dramatic the changes.

Since stress responses push the body beyond its balance point, stress responses stress the body. A body that becomes stressed can exhibit symptoms.

Acute stress, such as from a sudden stress response, can cause hallucinations for some people.[6] The higher the degree of stress, the more likely it is to hallucinate.

Many anxious and overly stressed people report having hallucinations.

Moreover, since high degree anxiety can be traumatic, some people dissociate from traumatic experiences to protect themselves psychologically and emotionally. Dissociation can cause many anxiety and anxiety-like symptoms, including hallucinations.

Visit the “Dissociation” anxiety disorder symptom for more information about this common symptom.

2. Chronic stress (hyperstimulation)

When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly from the many stress response changes.

When stress responses occur too often, such as from overly anxious behavior, the body can become chronically stressed, which we call “hyperstimulated” since stress hormones are powerful stimulants.[7][8]

Visit our “Hyperstimulation” article for more information about the many ways hyperstimulation can affect the body and mind.

Hyperstimulation can cause intermittent and chronic symptoms, including hallucinations.

Many people with high to very high degree hyperstimulation have hallucinations because of how hyperstimulation affects the body and mind.

Recovery Support members can get a more technical explanation about how hyperstimulation can cause hallucinations.

3. Sleep deprivation and fatigue

Sleep deprivation and fatigue can also cause hallucinations.[9] The incidences of hyperstimulation increase as the body becomes more sleep-deprived and fatigued.

Sleep deprivation and fatigue are common causes of hallucinations.

4. Hypnagogic and hypnopompic experiences

Hypnagogic and hypnopompic experiences are hallucinations that occur while drifting off to or waking up from sleep.[10]

Hypnagogic hallucinations typically occur during the transition from wakefulness to sleep, and hypnopompic hallucinations typically occur during the transition from sleep to wakefulness.

Hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations can last from a few seconds to minutes. People who get these types of hallucinations are generally aware of what’s happening, but because the hallucination is so real, they aren’t sure whether it’s a dream or reality.

Vivid images, sounds, tastes, physical sensations, and smells are all common hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations.

While these hallucinations might seem real or threatening, they are common and harmless. It’s estimated that most people have hypnagogic or hypnopompic hallucinations at some point in their life, whether they realize it or not.

It’s also common for a hallucination to seamlessly transition into a dream, making reality and the dream seem like a real-life experience, even to the point of it becoming a significant conscious memory.

These hallucinations become more prevalent when the body is stressed due to the increased difficulty transitioning from wakefulness to sleep and back. Consequently, anxious people often have hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations.

5. Dissociation

Dissociation – when a person mentally and emotionally separates themself from an experience due to extreme fear or trauma – is a common cause of hallucinations.[11][12]

The greater the degree of dissociation, the more likely hallucinations will occur.

Dissociation is a common cause of hallucinations.

I (Jim Folk) had many incidences of hallucinations when I was struggling with anxiety disorder, and I had all types.

Initially, they scared the daylights out of me because I thought they indicated serious and irreversible mental health problems, such as schizophrenia.

But as I had more and more of them, I realized they were just another symptom of anxiety and hyperstimulation. Eventually, I laughed at hallucinations when they occurred.

There were times when I asked other people if they heard, saw, or smelled what I was sensing to be sure it was a hallucination because they were so real.

As I recovered from anxiety disorder and hyperstimulation, my hallucinations subsided with the rest of my symptoms.

I occasionally experience hallucinations when I work too long and my sleep becomes disrupted. But reducing stress and getting good sleep eliminates them.

Overall, anxiety- and hyperstimulation-caused hallucinations are common symptoms. As such, they needn’t be a cause for concern.

---------- Advertisement - Article Continues Below ----------


---------- Advertisement Ends ----------

6. Other Factors

Other factors can stress the body, causing and contributing to this symptom, such as:

Medication

Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can mimic, cause, and aggravate anxiety symptoms.

Talk with your doctor and pharmacist about your medication if you aren't sure if it's playing a role in your symptoms, including causing hallucinations.

Visit our Medication article for more information.

Recreational Drugs

Many recreational drugs can cause and aggravate anxiety symptoms, especially those that affect the nervous system. Recreational drugs are also commonly associated with hallucinations.

Visit our Recreational Drugs article for more information.

Stimulants

Stimulants bring about their stimulating effect by secreting stress hormones.

Increasing the body’s stimulation can cause and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Stimulants article for more information.

Hyper and Hypoventilation

Over and under breathing can also cause anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing symptoms.

Visit our Hyper And Hypoventilation article for more information.

Low Blood Sugar

Low blood sugar, even within the normal range, can cause anxiety-like symptoms. Low blood sugar can also aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Low Blood Sugar article for more information.

Nutritional Deficiency

Nutritional deficiencies, such as low vitamin B and D, can cause anxiety-like symptoms. Nutritional deficiencies can also aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Nutritional Deficiency article for more information.

Dehydration

Dehydration can also cause anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms, such as:

To name a few.

Visit our Dehydration article for more information.

Hormone Changes

Hormones affect the body in many ways and can affect each other. Hormone changes can cause anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Hormone Changes article for more information.

Pain

Pain stresses the body, especially chronic pain. If the pain is in the high degree range, it can cause and aggravate hyperstimulation.

If you are anxious, hyperstimulated, and symptomatic, pain can aggravate them all.

Visit our Pain article for more information.

---------- Advertisement - Article Continues Below ----------


---------- Advertisement Ends ----------

Treatment

When other factors cause or aggravate this symptom, addressing the specific factors can reduce and end this symptom.

When an active stress response causes this symptom, ending the active stress response will end this symptom.

Keep in mind that it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. But this is normal and needn’t be a cause for concern.

When hallucinations are caused by hyperstimulation (chronic stress), eliminating hyperstimulation will end this symptom.

You can eliminate hyperstimulation by:

  • Reducing stress.
  • Containing anxious behavior (since anxiety creates stress).
  • Regular deep relaxation.
  • Avoiding stimulants.
  • Regular light to moderate exercise.
  • Eating a healthy diet of whole and natural foods.
  • Passively accepting your symptoms until they subside.
  • Being patient as your body recovers.

Visit our “60 Natural Ways To Reduce Stress” article for more ways to reduce stress.

Recovery Support members can view chapters 5, 6, 7, 14 and more for more detailed information about how to recover from hyperstimulation and anxiety disorder.

As the body recovers from hyperstimulation, it stops sending symptoms, including this one.

But eliminating hyperstimulation can take much longer than most people think, causing symptoms to linger as long as the body is even slightly hyperstimulated. This is why perseverance and patience are required.

Even so, since this is a symptom of chronic stress (hyperstimulation), it's harmless and needn't cause concern.

---------- Advertisement - Article Continues Below ----------


---------- Advertisement Ends ----------

Short-term strategies

Since stress, including anxiety-caused stress, is a common cause of hallucinations, reducing stress can reduce the incidences of hallucinations.

As the body’s overall level of stress diminishes, episodes of stress-caused hallucinations will diminish as well.

Therapy

Unidentified and unaddressed underlying factors cause issues with anxiety. As such, they are the primary reason why anxiety symptoms persist.[13][14][15]

Addressing your underlying factors (Level Two recovery) is most important if you want lasting success.

Addressing Level Two recovery can help you:

  • Contain anxious behavior.
  • Become unafraid of anxiety symptoms and the strong feelings of anxiety.
  • End anxiety symptoms.
  • Successfully address the underlying factors that so often cause issues with anxiety.
  • End what can feel like out-of-control worry.

All our recommended anxiety therapists have had anxiety disorder and overcame it. Their personal experience with anxiety disorder and their Master's Degree and above professional training gives them insight other therapists don't have.

If you want to achieve lasting success over anxiety disorder, any one of our recommended therapists would be a good choice.

Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to treat anxiety disorder.

In many cases, working with an experienced therapist is the only way to overcome stubborn anxiety.

---------- Advertisement - Article Continues Below ----------


---------- Advertisement Ends ----------

FAQ

Can severe anxiety cause you to hear voices?

Yes, severe anxiety can cause a person to hear voices. It’s not that severe anxiety can lead to psychosis, but that severe anxiety stresses the body, and stress can cause psychosis-like sensory symptoms, such as hearing voices that aren’t real.

Can anxiety cause visual hallucinations?

Yes, anxiety can cause visual hallucinations. Anxiety, especially in the high degree ranges, can affect vision, causing seeing things that aren’t real. Because visual hallucinations are symptoms of stress, we don’t have to fear them. They will subside as stress is reduced.

Can anxiety make you see things that aren’t there?

Yes, anxiety can cause a person to see things that aren’t real. Anxiety, especially in the high degree ranges, can affect vision, causing seeing things that aren’t real. All anxiety symptoms subside as you contain your anxiety and reduce stress, including visual disturbances and hallucinations.

Can anxiety cause hallucinations at night?

Since anxiety creates stress, and stress can cause hallucinations, they can occur anytime, including at night. Furthermore, stress can cause problems with sleep. Sleep problems can cause hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations – hallucinations when transitioning from wakefulness to sleep and from sleep to wakefulness.

Can anxiety make your eyes play tricks?

Anxiety, and the stress it causes, affects all our senses, including sight. Consequently, anxiety can make your eyes play tricks, such as seeing stars, shadows, narrowed vision, things moving passed you at the side of your vision, and things that aren’t real.

Can anxiety cause auditory hallucinations?

Anxiety stresses the body. Stress can cause hallucination symptoms. Since the stress caused by anxiety can affect all our senses, including hearing, yes, anxiety can cause auditory hallucinations, including hearing things that aren’t real. This is especially true with intense anxiety.

Can anxiety cause you to feel things that aren’t real?

Anxiety stresses the body, and stress can cause hallucinations. Hallucinations can affect any of our senses, including the sense of touch. So, yes, anxiety can cause you to feel things that aren’t real, such as a crawly skin feeling, feeling like someone touched you when no one did, burning, itching, etc.

Visit our “Anxiety Skin Symptoms” article for more information.

Are anxiety hallucinations serious?

No, anxiety hallucinations aren’t serious. While they can be unsettling when they first occur, they are merely symptoms of stress. They will subside when stress is reduced and the body has sufficient time to recover from the adverse effects of stress.

Are anxiety hallucinations dangerous?

No, anxiety hallucinations aren’t dangerous. They are merely indications of elevated stress, including the stress caused by overly anxious behavior. They will subside when stress is reduced, and the body has sufficient time to recover from the adverse effects of stress.

Are hallucinations normal with anxiety?

Anxiety hallucinations are common symptoms of anxiety. Over one-third of anxious people experience hallucinations due to their anxiety. Like all anxiety symptoms, anxiety hallucinations subside when stress is reduced, and the body has sufficient time to recover.

Which anxiety disorder can cause hallucinations?

All anxiety disorders, including anxiety and panic attacks, social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety, and phobias can cause hallucinations. Since stress can cause hallucinations, and all forms of anxiety create stress, all anxiety disorders can cause hallucinations. Hallucinations are more common with intense anxiety.

Can stress cause hallucinations?

Yes, stress can cause hallucinations because of how stress affects the mind and body. It’s the stress caused by anxiety that causes anxiety to have hallucination symptoms. Any major stressor and chronic stress can cause hallucination symptoms.

Can anxiety insomnia cause hallucinations?

Yes, anxiety insomnia can cause hallucination symptoms. Since sleep deprivation, such as with insomnia, can cause hallucinations, and since anxiety often causes problems with sleep, anxiety-caused insomnia is a common cause of hallucinations.

Can hallucinations be caused by anxiety?

Yes, hallucinations can be caused by anxiety and anxiety disorder. Since anxiety stresses the body, and stress can cause hallucinations, hallucinations are a common anxiety symptom. Many anxious people have hallucinations as part of their symptom mix.

Can anxiety and stress cause hallucinations?

Yes, stress is a common cause of hallucinations because of how stress affects the nervous system, sensory systems, and brain function. Since anxiety stresses the body, anxiety can also cause hallucinations. Many anxious and stressed people hallucinate, including auditory, visual, and olfactory hallucinations.

Can hallucinations cause anxiety?

Hallucinations can be unnerving when they first occur. If you are worried about hallucinating, that worry creates anxiety, since worry is an example of apprehensive behavior that creates anxiety. Since hallucinations can be symptoms of stress, you don’t have to worry about them. They will subside when stress is reduced.

---------- Advertisement - Article Continues Below ----------


---------- Advertisement Ends ----------

Prevalence

In an online poll we conducted, 38 percent of respondents said they experienced hallucinations due to anxiety.

---------- Advertisement - Article Continues Below ----------


---------- Advertisement Ends ----------

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our anxiety disorders signs and symptoms page.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including hallucination anxiety symptoms.

References

1. Krakvik, Bodil, et al. "Prevalence of auditory verbal hallucinations in a general population: A group comparison study." Scandinavian Journal Of Psychology, Oct 2015.

2. Temmingh, Henk, et al. "The prevalence and correlates of hallucinations in a general population sample: Findings from the South African Stress and Health Study." African Journal of Psychiatry (Johannesburg), July 2011.

3. Ratcliffe, Matthew, and Wilkinson, Sam. "How anxiety induces verbal hallucinations." Consciousness And Cognition, Jan 2016.

4. Berczi, Istvan. “Walter Cannon's ‘Fight or Flight Response’ - ‘Acute Stress Response.’” Walter Cannon's "Fight or Flight Response"  - "Acute Stress Response", 2017.

5. Godoy, Livea, et al. "A Comprehensive Overview on Stress Neurobiology: Basic Concepts and Clinical Implications." Frontiers In Behavioral Neuroscience, 3, July 2018.

6. Crowe, S.F., et al. "The effect of caffeine and stress on auditory hallucinations in a non-clinical sample." ScienceDirect, April 2011.

7. Elbers, Jorina, et al. "Wired for Threat: Clinical Features of Nervous System Dysregulation in 80 Children." Pediatric Neurology, Dec 2018.

8. Teixeira, Renata Roland, et al. “Chronic Stress Induces a Hyporeactivity of the Autonomic Nervous System in Response to Acute Mental Stressor and Impairs Cognitive Performance in Business Executives.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015.

9. Waters, Flavie, et al. "Severe Sleep Deprivation Causes Hallucinations and a Gradual Progression Toward Psychosis With Increasing Time Awake." Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10 July 2018.

10. Waters, Flavie, et al. "What Is the Link Between Hallucinations, Dreams, and Hypnagogic–Hypnopompic Experiences?" Schizophrenia Bulletin, Sep 2016.

11. Şar, Vedat. “The Many Faces of Dissociation: Opportunities for Innovative Research in Psychiatry.” Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience, Korean College of Neuropsychopharmacology, Dec. 2014.

12. Muenzenmaler, Kristina, et al. "Cumulative Effects of Stressful Childhood Experiences on Delusions and Hallucinations." Journal Of Trauma & Dissociation, July 2015.

13. Hofmann, Stefan G., et al. “The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-Analyses.” Cognitive Therapy and Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Oct. 2012.

14. Leichsenring, Falk. “Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy the Gold Standard for Psychotherapy?” JAMA, American Medical Association, 10 Oct. 2017.

15. DISCLAIMER: Because each body is somewhat chemically unique, and because each person will have a unique mix of symptoms and underlying factors, recovery results may vary. Variances can occur for many reasons, including due to the severity of the condition, the ability of the person to apply the recovery concepts, and the commitment to making behavioral change.