In ordinary times if a friend took a couple of days to text us back, we’d probably expect that they’d got pulled into a Schitts Creek marathon and think nothing more of it.
But in the COVID era, not getting an immediate response leaves us riddled with paranoia about why they’re not getting back to us.
Getting a slightly curt reply from a work colleague can illicit a similar feelings of unease, which can spiral to thinking we’re on the verge of getting our P45.
So what’s going on? Could our crisis of confidence be fuelled by the coronavirus pandemic and the resultant lockdowns?
According to Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of My Online Therapy, the uncertainty and upheaval we’ve all faced this year can cause emotions to run high and can make people feel vulnerable.
“When we’re feeling stressed, anxious or on edge we’re more likely to be reactive, and not see the full picture,” she explains.
“Depending on personal circumstances, the events of this past year might have also had a knock on impact on our self-esteem. Perhaps our job’s teetering on edge, our relationship has hit rocky ground… these kinds of changes are all likely to leave us feeling more vulnerable.
“Anxiety itself is defined by a feeling of vulnerability in the world, and this is something many of us can relate to right now.”
Read more: Pandemic anxiety leading to rise in jaw-clenching, teeth-grinding and facial pain, study suggests
This vulnerability can dent your confidence and can lead you to question things you wouldn’t normally feel worried about – such as seemingly distant friends.
Mental health charity MIND describes paranoia as feelings of being threatened or insecure even when there is little evidence to support these thoughts.
While many of us may experience mild paranoia from time to time, 2020 certainly seems to have upped the ante on these unsettling thoughts.
Watch: Kelly Brook drank apple cider vinegar to help ease lockdown anxiety.
According to psychologist Jivan Dempsey these thoughts and feelings are exaggerations causing us to “over-interpret” or “read into” things too much.
“For example, interpreting emails or comments from colleagues as a personal attack,” she explains. “Sadly, these thoughts and feelings, if left unchecked, can undermine confidence.”
Read more: Why we’re turning to nostalgia to get us through lockdown 2.0
The change in the circumstances in which we’re conducting our friendships and work relationships is feeding into these feelings of paranoia right now.
“Body language is an important mode of communication and in video calls with friends or Zoom meetings, we miss a lot of these small cues,” explains Dr Touroni.
“This can make it easier to misinterpret what someone’s saying which can be especially problematic if we’re someone who’s already prone to anxiety.”
The uncertainty of what will happen next during the pandemic could also be a trigger for feelings of paranoia.
“Ambiguity can have a significant impact on the way we feel, particularly if we’re someone who’s prone to anxiety,” explains Dr Touroni.
“When things are ‘up in the air’ and we don’t know where we stand, we’re likely to feel more on edge.”
Read more: People are putting up their Christmas decorations early and experts say it could boost wellbeing
So what can we do about it? How do we get passed these feelings of paranoia and rediscover our confidence?
The psychologists suggest the following:
“Take time to relax as this will help to reduce the feelings of stress and anxiety you maybe experiencing,” advises Dempsey.
Dr Touroni suggests practicing a daily 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation.
“Mindfulness allows us to become more aware of our thoughts and feelings and to see how we can become entangled in them in ways that are not necessarily helpful,” she explains.
Learn to identify unhelpful thoughts
According to Dr Touroni ‘thinking traps’ are patterns of thought – usually with a negative swing – which prevent us from seeing things as they really are.
“They can make us easily jump to conclusions and prevent us from seeing the bigger picture,” she explains. “Get better at identifying these unhelpful thoughts when they appear, and call them out.
“Remind yourself that thoughts aren’t facts. Check for evidence, and ask yourself, ‘is this thought I’m having a fact or is it an opinion?’”
Challenge your feelings
Once you’re aware of your thoughts and feelings of paranoia, make sure you challenge them. “Ask yourself how realistic they are and whether they are an exaggeration? What motivation could there be?” says Dempsey.
Don’t keep your thoughts to yourself
Get a reality check by discussing your feelings with a family member or trusted friend. “They may help you to frame these thoughts and feelings and provide reassurance,” Dempsey advises.
Document your feelings
Dempsey says keeping a record of your feelings will help you to see if there any recurring patterns or triggers you can identify.
Try talking therapies
“These are a safe space where you’re given the time and opportunity to talk things out and make sense of them and find constructive ways forward,” Dempsey explains.
Where to go for help
If you’re struggling with feelings of paranoia or are concerned about your mental health contact your GP.
You can also visit mental health charity Mind or Tel: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)
Samaritans also offer confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair. Tel: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline).