Why Do You Hear Voices In Your Head and How Common Is It?

Hearing Voices In Your Head

Have you ever heard any voices within your head which were not yours? This is medically termed as auditory hallucinations. However, no need to fret, lots of people hear voices in their head and the cause of which is different for everyone.

So, the voices that you hear can sound like your family member, a friend anyone you know and you might be startled for a second when your hear it and look around you too see if they are anywhere near you. Sometimes, the voices can be completely new sounding like a stranger where they are talking to you or commenting about your attire or something like that.

There is no doubt when you hear voices in your head you will feel confused, concerned and even petrified about your mental status. Hearing voices in your head might not be something you want to share with someone and many choose to keep this problem to themselves as these kinds of problems are linked with some severe mental health issues.

One thing to point is the auditory hallucinations or hearing voices in your head are more common than one thinks and can be heard by many people, particularly adolescents and children.(1) Studies have shown that about 10% of people experience voices in their head at some time or the other.(1)

What Does Hearing Voices In Your Head Sound Like?

Auditory hallucinations or hearing voices in your head aren’t same for everyone and different people have different experience with them.

For example, the voices can:

  • Give you a compliment or speak kindly to you.
  • Sound like someone you know, like a friend.
  • Comments about your attire or your activities.
  • The voices can converse about private things that you haven’t told anyone.
  • The voices can criticize you or say unkind things.
  • The voices can force you to do something dangerous.
  • The voices can guide or advise you.

Sometimes, they can be other sounds or music rather than just outright voices.

You can hear these voices in your head with or without any symptoms of mental health problem. Research has shown that people experience auditory hallucinations from a variety of causes and these can even occur without any underlying cause.

Mental health professionals are also urged to not jump to diagnosing any psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, when a patient complains of hearing voices and does not have any other symptoms.(7)

Auditory Hallucinations with Symptoms of Mental Health Disease(2)

Studies have also shown that voices or auditory hallucinations that develop with mental disease can also be:

  • The voices seem to come originate from some external source.
  • The voices can start slowly and then increase and again subside gradually.
  • The voices can last longer.
  • The voices disrupt your everyday life and hinder your daily activities.
  • The voices can contribute to or can be accompanied with delusions.
  • Also the auditory hallucinations occurring with or due to schizophrenia or other mental issues can differ.

STUDIES: A study done in 2015 reveals that a person’s cultural background can also contribute to the type of voices heard.(3)

Are Auditory Hallucinations The Same As Intrusive Thoughts?

If you are wondering if intrusive thoughts are considered as auditory hallucinations, then the answer is often NO.

Intrusive thoughts develop in the mind as separate distinctive thoughts and you can “hear” these thoughts in your head in your own voice just like any other regular thought. When it comes to auditory hallucinations, the voices that you hear belong to someone else.

Why Does One Hear Voices In Their Head?

Some potential causes for auditory hallucinations are:

  • When you are grieving someone you love, you can hear their voices in your head.
  • If you are drinking alcohol or any drugs or going through a withdrawal, then it can also cause auditory hallucinations.
  • After you have lost your hearing, you can experience voices in your head.
  • Experiencing a head injury can also cause voices in the head to occur.
  • If you are under severe stress, then it can also lead to auditory hallucinations.

A person can also develop auditory hallucinations as a symptom of some mental or medical health problem.

Medical Causes for Auditory Hallucinations

Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders: Schizophrenia and its related disorders tend to develop in early adulthood and are characterized by experiencing a disconnection from reality, such as visual or auditory hallucinations. Other symptoms of schizophrenia spectrum disorders are:

  • A tendency or desire to be alone or self-isolation.
  • Difficulty in focusing on one thing.
  • Loss of interest in things which were enjoyable before.
  • Irritability and disorganized speech or thinking.
  • Inability of expressing emotions.
  • Difficulty in sleeping. (insomnia)

Sleep Disorders Can Cause You to Hear Voices in Your Head (6)

Any condition that prevents you from sleeping the right amount of time is considered as a sleep disorder. Sound sleep for 7 to 9 hours is needed for your body and brain to function properly. A person suffering from constant sleep deprivation can have serious health consequences.

You need to seek medical help if:

  • You are having difficulty in falling asleep or are waking up frequently.
  • Have difficulty in breathing when sleeping.
  • Feel fatigued during the day or the need for naps to function.
  • Having difficulty with focusing on daily tasks.
  • Difficulty in following a proper sleep schedule.
  • If you are suffering from daytime irritability, anxiety or depression.
  • If you frequently move or talk in your sleep.

Hearing Voices in Your Head as a result of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Experiencing a traumatic event can also lead to hearing of voices in some people. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition that causes acute emotional and physical distress impacting a person’s daily life. Some of the symptoms of PTSD along with auditory hallucinations are: difficulty focusing; nightmares/flashbacks; irritability; anger; depression; feelings of guilt/blame; uneasiness; anxiety; and disinterest in everything.

Some Of The Other Causative Mental Health Conditions Resulting In Auditory Hallucinations Are:

A person can hear voices in their heads with various mental health problems. However, not everyone suffering from the below conditions necessarily will experience auditory hallucinations.

  • Bipolar disorder is a mental condition where the patient experiences episodes of highs (mania) and episodes of lows (depression).
  • Depression is a mental condition where the patient experiences persistent sadness, low mood, emotional numbness or hopelessness.
  • Dissociative identity disorder is a condition where the patient has two or more different identities. The patient suffers from significant memory gaps and can hear people talking in their head.
  • Borderline personality disorder is a condition where the patient experiences emotional instability and instability in relationships and in oneself. There also may be feelings of emptiness and fears of abandonment.

Nervous System & Brain Disorders Causing Voices in Your Head

Health conditions that involve the nervous system or the brain can also cause auditory hallucinations and these health conditions include: Parkinson’s disease, meningitis, temporal lobe epilepsy, dementia, brain tumor and migraine.

Some of the symptoms of these medical issues are: persistent and abrupt headache; vision changes; tingling and numbness; concentration/memory problems; rigid or muscles; seizures, muscle tremors, vitamin deficiency and difficulty in speaking clearly or slurred speech.

Hallucinations, auditory or otherwise, can also occur as a result of deficiency of vitamins, such as vitamins B12 and D.(4)

Studies: Studies have also shown association between decreased levels of vitamin D and severe symptoms of schizophrenia.(5)

Common Symptoms of vitamin B12 or D or deficiency are: weakness; tingling; numbness; vision changes; mobility changes; depression; mouth ulcers; irritability; pallor; frequent sickness; muscle pain and hair loss.

How Concerned Should You Be If You Are Hearing Voices In Your Head?

Hearing voices or auditory hallucinations, scary as they are to experience, need not always be a cause for concern. There is probably nothing to worry about if:

  • If the auditory hallucinations do not hinder your everyday activities of life.
  • If you do not experience any disconnection from your reality.
  • If the voices in your head do not push you to cause harm to anyone.
  • If you are hearing the voices in your head on rare occasions.
  • If you do not experience other symptoms along with auditory hallucinations.

It can be disturbing if the voices in your head say unkind or cruel things which can cause emotional distress to you. Even though if you are not suffering from any other symptoms other than auditory hallucinations you can seek help from a trained therapist who can guide and support you in a non-judgmental manner.

How to Cope with the Voices in Your Head?

Auditory Hallucinations can be very disturbing, distracting and confusing, more so if the voices say unkind or judgmental things, which cause self-doubt in you. Not knowing the cause of auditory hallucinations also increases the distress and makes it difficult to cope with them.

Some of the coping strategies for auditory hallucinations that may not make the voices go away, but help you nonetheless are:

Talking to Someone: It might feel scary to discuss or talk about the problem of hearing voices in your head with your family or friends; however, talking to someone about what you are going through helps a lot in coping with auditory hallucinations. Seek help and talk to someone who you can trust to not be judgmental and who can offer you support in dealing with your problem. This simple way where you are sharing your problem can greatly help in relieving your distress and give you the comfort of feeling less alone with your problems.

If you are experiencing auditory hallucinations after traumatic episode or when you are feeling stressed; then talking about these triggers gives you lot of comfort and support in dealing and managing your voices and gradually with continuous practice, the voices or auditory hallucinations can subside completely.

If you are not comfortable about talking to other about the voices in your head, then that is also okay. You can always seek out peer support groups, which comprises of people suffering from similar problems including auditory hallucinations.

Journaling: Writing in a journal daily and keeping a log of voices about what they say, when they say can be an effective coping mechanism for people suffering from auditory hallucinations. Writing down how the voices make you feel can help pinpoint the triggers and causes of the auditory hallucinations and help identify any common themes in them, if any. A good example here would be a person can hear voices only when experiencing a specific feeling, such as anger, tiredness or at a specific time of the day. This can help identify the triggers and make the patient better able to deal with and prevent the voices.

If you are seeking help from a therapist regarding your auditory hallucinations, then this information which you have journalled helps immensely in identifying and treating the cause of the voices in head.

Accepting the Voices: Accepting that your problem is not confined to you and there are lot of other people who suffer from auditory hallucinations gives you lot of support in easing your distress about the voices in your head. Not fighting these voices and accepting them as something which is a part of your life that you have to manage can reduce your distress over them and as time goes on, the voices will become less obvious and fade away.

Talking Back To The Voices: There are many people who find that talking back to the voices help in acceptance of the problem and in regaining some control over your life.

Always speak compassionately and calmly even if the voices are rude and critical.

Try adopting the “Thanks, but no thanks” strategy where you are acknowledging what the voices are telling you, but you are refusing to obey to their commands. Doing this and focusing on the task on hand will help you gain control of your actions.

When it comes to auditory hallucinations practicing mindfulness and being more aware of your day-to-day activities of life help a lot. Focusing on the present moment helps in keeping the unwanted thoughts and voices at bay and prevents you from getting distracted easily. Occasional auditory hallucinations also benefit from increased mindfulness which can also make acceptance of the problem easier.

Practicing Self-Care: Indulging in some self-love on a daily basis helps in reducing the stress of auditory hallucinations and also increases a sense of well-being. Some self-care things which you can do for yourself to cope better with the voices in your head are: Exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, soaking up some sun, getting good for 7 to 9 hours, attending social events, having a hobby, spending time with your family and friends; pursuing creative actives, such as music, journaling, reading, getting a massage, soaking in a hot tub. All these things will relax and provide blessed distraction from not only the voices in your head but also other stressors.

Music for some people helps in not only relaxation, but also in tuning the voices out. Not only music, other relaxing sounds also help with the voices in your head, such as ambient or instrumental music; sounds of nature like ocean waves, waterfalls and rain.

Seek Professional Support: There is no shame in seeking medical help if the voices occur frequently or occur with other symptoms such that you are unable to function in your daily life. Discussing with your healthcare professional about the causes and the treatment option will give you comfort and solace that you are actively seeking help deal with the voices in your head.

IMPORTANT: Seek help immediately if the voices are overtly critical or are encouraging you to harm others or yourself.

What a Medical Professional or a Therapist will do is:

  • Help you discuss and examine the voices and its underlying causes and potential triggers.
  • Enquire about other symptoms along with auditory hallucinations to exclude other medical concerns.
  • Help you with the right treatment and coping strategies.

A doctor can help you even more if you are also having physical symptoms along with voices in your head.

Conclusion

Auditory hallucinations or hearing voices in your head can be and is scary as hell, not to mention extremely unsettling for the person experiencing them. However, one should refrain from jumping to conclusion automatically that it is due to a mental health condition, as there are other reasons for these voices and they are more common than one might think.(7)

If you are unable to deal with the voices or are perpetually distracted or petrified from them and if you are not able to tune the voices out, then it is best to seek profession help for support and guidance no matter how much courage it takes for you to talk about them. Speaking up and seeking help is better than just silently suffering.

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