Hearing Voices in Your Head? Is It Normal and What To Do?

Hearing voices in your head—a sensation that can be startling, unsettling, or downright scary. But did you know that it doesn’t always signal a severe mental health problem? 

In fact, auditory hallucinations can be a sign of various underlying causes. In this guide, we’ll explore how to recognize and understand these auditory experiences, their connection to anxiety, and practical advice on how to stop hearing voices without medication. With empathy, care, and professional insights, we’ll walk you through the complex world of auditory hallucinations, offering hope and clarity for those who experience them. Whether for yourself or someone you care about, read on to discover a path toward understanding and healing.

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Hearing voices in your head: Why do people hear voices?

If you wonder, “What is it called when you hear voices? the term auditory hallucinations encapsulates this experience.

Auditory hallucinations are complex phenomena in which people hear sounds or voices others do not hear. This experience can range from hearing simple noises to complex dialogues, such as whispers, shouts, or anything in between.

Although these hallucinations are often associated with severe mental illness, it’s far from a one-size-fits-all diagnosis.

Hearing voices in your head isn’t always a sign of illness. Some studies have indicated that up to 10 percent of the population might experience these phenomena at some point throughout their lifetime. However, not all of these individuals suffer other symptoms of mental illness (1).

Additionally, people with high levels of creativity and those in certain spiritual or cultural practices might describe experiences similar to auditory hallucinations.

However, if these experiences persist, they may signify an underlying issue.

Why am I hearing sounds that aren’t there? Possible causes

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While auditory hallucinations are often linked to mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, not everyone with schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders experiences them.

Other individuals might have auditory hallucinations caused by anxiety. Anxiety disorders can trigger or even worsen hallucinations, sometimes leading to a vicious cycle where the anxiety feeds the hallucinations and vice versa.

High levels of stress can also trigger temporary auditory hallucinations. People under extreme stress may report experiences like hearing a voice but no one there. While these hallucinations are alarming, they are usually transient and tend to resolve as stress levels decrease.

A growing body of research suggests that experiences of childhood trauma might be linked to auditory hallucinations later in life. These complex connections between past experiences and current symptoms contribute to understanding why some people might hear voices (2).

Besides mental health disorders, physical disorders might also cause people to hear sounds that are not real.

One of the most common physical causes of auditory hallucinations is hearing loss. According to one study, approximately 16 percent of individuals with hearing impairment report auditory hallucinations. These often included voices or music and were more common among those with a sudden decrease in hearing ability (3).

Damage to certain parts of the brain, either due to injury or illness, can also cause auditory hallucinations. For example, lesions in areas responsible for auditory processing might misinterpret or generate false signals, leading to the sensation of hearing nonexistent sounds (4).

Moreover, people who suffer from conditions like sleep paralysis or narcolepsy might also experience auditory hallucinations. Even poor sleep quality or lack of sleep might reduce the brain’s ability to filter out irrelevant information, which might cause temporary hallucinations (5).

What do auditory hallucinations sound like? Symptoms and types

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Traditionally, auditory hallucinations fall into two main categories: non-verbal and verbal hallucinations.

 A person with non-verbal hallucinations hears sounds like knocking, ringing, or even melodic tunes.

As for the people experiencing verbal hallucinations, speeches, whispers, and shouting might occur. Some hear their thoughts verbalized, others report “a voice in my head saying bad things, and some even hear familiar voices of friends or family members. These can be further categorized into:

  • Command hallucinations: They involve orders or commands that may be benign or malicious. This can be particularly concerning if the voices in your head urge harmful actions.
  • Commentary hallucinations: These involve continuous comments on an individual’s actions or thoughts.

Auditory hallucinations refer to hearing sounds or conversations that others do not. While these hallucinations are often linked to mental illnesses, not everyone who experiences them has a psychiatric disorder. In fact, up to 10 percent of the population might hear voices at some point during their lifetime. Various causes, including stress, childhood trauma, hearing loss, brain injuries, and conditions like narcolepsy and lack of sleep, can lead to auditory hallucinations. These hallucinations can range from simple noises to voices issuing commands or commenting on one’s actions.

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Myths and misconceptions: Breaking down stigmas

There are plenty of misunderstandings about what it means to hear voices. That’s why it’s hard for some people to talk about their experiences. The stigma associated with this experience can lead to discrimination, which makes seeking support more challenging. Below, we will clear some common misconceptions about auditory hallucination.

Myth 1: Hearing voices equals mental illness

One of the most prevalent myths about auditory hallucinations is the assumption that hearing voices means you have a mental health disorder such as schizophrenia. 

This misunderstanding can create fear and confusion for people who hear voices, as well as for their loved ones. While people who have a diagnosis of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or PTSD may be at higher risk of auditory hallucinations, you can have auditory hallucinations without having a mental health disorder. 

Myth 2: The voices are always threatening or disturbing

Another common misconception is the belief that the voices heard are always threatening or telling the person to do harmful things. In reality, the content and tone of the voices vary widely. For some, the experience of “two voices arguing in my head” might be unsettling, while others report neutral or even comforting voices (6).

Myth 3: Hearing voices is a sign of dangerousness

The notion that someone who hears voices is dangerous or unstable is deeply ingrained in societal attitudes. Portrayals in the media may fuel this stereotype and can lead to harmful discrimination. It’s important to recognize that “a voice in my head saying bad things does not make a person dangerous or violent.

Myth 4: Only adults experience auditory hallucinations

There’s a mistaken belief that auditory hallucinations are exclusive to adults. This overlooks the fact that children and adolescents might also experience these phenomena. Parents, who are alarmed to find that their children hear nonexistent sounds, should seek professional guidance, as these experiences do not necessarily indicate a serious issue (7).

Myth 5: There’s only one way to address auditory hallucinations

The idea that medication is the only treatment for auditory hallucinations is another misleading concept. Therapeutic approaches and lifestyle changes can help people cope with symptoms or reduce them. Sometimes, it is as simple as getting more rest or decreasing stress.

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Auditory hallucinations and anxiety

While we often associate auditory hallucinations with severe mental illnesses, it’s important to note that conditions like anxiety can also contribute.

This connection raises a question that concerns many: Can anxiety make you hear things?

Studies have shown that high anxiety levels can lead to an acute focus on environmental sounds, misinterpretation of these sounds, and eventually, auditory hallucinations (8).

This is why an anxious child may interpret a tree whooshing sound at night as a monster growling.

Although this is a rare occurrence, a case study found that a single person diagnosed with an anxiety disorder had a visual hallucinatory experience (9).

However, the relationship between anxiety and auditory hallucinations is not one-sided. While anxiety might lead to hearing voices, these hallucinations can also increase anxiety, creating a vicious cycle. This can become incredibly distressing if it manifests as a mental illness involving repeated hallucinations which can worsen anxiety, disrupt sleep, and cause distress.

How to stop hearing voices without medication

For many people who experience auditory hallucinations, finding relief can be challenging. While some prefer medication, others might seek alternative methods due to personal preferences, potential side effects, or a desire for complementary approaches. In this section, we’ll discuss various non-drug strategies to address the challenge of how to stop hearing voices without medication.

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Support groups: A community of understanding

Auditory hallucinations, while not uncommon, can still feel incredibly isolating. They can make people question their sanity, feel embarrassed, or withdraw from their community.

For this reason, support groups emerge as an essential resource, providing both a lifeline and a platform for shared understanding and empathy. There are three types of support groups that you can join: local, online, or peer-led support groups.

First, local support groups, such as the Hearing Voices Network, offer a chance to meet others with similar experiences. Through face-to-face interactions, people can share coping strategies, success stories, and challenges in a confidential and non-judgmental environment. These real-world connections often lead to long-lasting friendships and a sense of community.

Next, the digital age has enabled a new way of connection. Online forums provide a space for those who may not have access to local support or prefer the anonymity of virtual interaction. These online platforms can be particularly valuable for those living in remote areas or those who find comfort in connecting with others across the globe.

Furthermore, many support groups are founded by individuals who have experience with auditory hallucinations rather than professionals. This peer-led approach fosters a unique sense of trust and understanding. By sharing personal journeys and practical insights on how to stop voices in your head, peer support groups create a bond that transcends mere sympathy. 

A 2022 meta-analysis revealed that peer-led interventions were as effective, if not more so, than professionally-led interventions in enhancing self-confidence and coping abilities (10).

The shared experience of attending support groups fosters collective resilience. It’s an environment where questions like ‘how to stop hearing voices’ find both empathy and practical answers. 

Lifestyle changes: Small steps, big impact

It is easy to overlook the profound impact of how simple lifestyle changes can help manage auditory hallucinations.

Healthy routines in daily life can be supportive measures, either on their own or alongside therapy and medication. Here, we delve deeper into the lifestyle adjustments you can adopt to make a significant difference.

  1. Sleep hygiene

A night of quality sleep is more than a simple therapeutic process; it is a fundamental pillar of mental well-being. A study published in Scientific Reports has shown a strong correlation between disrupted sleep patterns and increased auditory hallucinations (11).

Having a consistent sleep schedule, creating a calming bedtime routine, and optimizing the sleep environment can be essential steps in reducing the unsettling experience of unwanted voices during the night.

  1. Diet

The scientific community increasingly recognizes the relationship between diet and mental health. Nutrient-dense foods that promote brain health, such as omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, have beneficial effects. Conversely, a diet high in processed foods and sugar can worsen symptoms of psychological disorders (13).

Guidance from a nutritionist or healthcare provider experienced in mental health can pave the way for a tailored dietary plan to support overall well-being.

  1. Exercise

Physical exercise, with its known benefits for mental health, can be vital in managing auditory hallucinations. Regular physical activity like a short walk, yoga, or more intense workouts can release endorphins, the body’s natural stress relievers (14). Research showed that exercise could significantly reduce symptoms in individuals with severe mental illnesses (15, 16).

  1. Mindfulness and meditation

Mindfulness practices like meditation, deep breathing, and guided relaxation exercises can bring a sense of control and tranquility. These techniques teach individuals to center themselves and create a mental space where voices lose power. 

Mindfulness practices can be a gentle yet powerful tool for those exploring how to stop hearing voices without medication. Studies have shown that mindfulness-based interventions can significantly reduce the distress associated with hearing voices (17).

  1. Stress management

Life’s daily pressures can act as triggers for auditory hallucinations. Learning how to manage stress through relaxation techniques, hobbies, or spending time with loved ones can be helpful.

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Therapy options without medication

While some may find support in community groups or lifestyle changes, there are times when professional medical intervention becomes not only beneficial but crucial. Various therapy options are available., and we provide two options that do not include medication below.

  1. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT has been widely recognized as an effective treatment option for auditory hallucinations. Rooted in the understanding that thoughts and behaviors are interrelated, this approach seeks to help people recognize and challenge unhelpful thoughts that may contribute to the distress of hearing voices (18, 19).

A typical CBT session might include reality testing, where the patient and therapist work together to assess the evidence supporting or refuting the voices. Other techniques involve learning coping strategies, managing stress, and understanding triggers. A collaboration between therapist and patient often ensures a supportive and safe environment.

Furthermore, CBT offers personalized treatment plans. Therapy sessions are often designed to meet the person’s unique needs, experiences, and goals, ensuring a more relevant and engaging therapeutic process.

  1. Mindfulness-based therapy

An emerging trend in mental health care, mindfulness-based therapy, emphasizes being fully present and engaged at the moment without judgment. This approach can help individuals experiencing auditory hallucinations observe the voices without reacting emotionally.

Mindfulness practices include meditation, body scanning, and mindful breathing. These techniques teach patients to observe thoughts and sensations without judgment, encouraging a sense of calm and control.

Recent research reported promising results in using mindfulness therapy to reduce the impact of auditory hallucinations, particularly in reducing anxiety and emotional reactions to the voices (20, 21).

There are many treatments for people experiencing auditory hallucinations. One vital approach is joining support groups, whether local, online, or peer-led. Lifestyle changes, like good sleep hygiene, proper diet, regular exercise, mindfulness practices, and stress management, can also significantly impact managing hallucinations. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based therapy offer professional medical intervention without medication. Together, these non-drug strategies can foster collective resilience and provide practical answers on how to stop hearing voices, thus offering support to those struggling with auditory hallucinations.

Seeing people that are not there

In addition to hearing nonexistent sounds, people may sometimes see things that aren’t there.

Visual hallucination is the phenomenon of seeing something that isn’t there. These can range from simple geometric shapes or lights to complex images like faces or animals. In some cases, individuals may see whole scenarios play out before them.

Visual and auditory hallucinations are not isolated phenomena. They often co-occur, sharing some underlying mechanisms:

  • Common in certain disorders: Both auditory and visual hallucinations are common in disorders like schizophrenia. These sensory disturbances may occur simultaneously or separately.
  • Shared neural pathways: Research indicates that shared neural pathways might contribute to auditory and visual hallucinations (22).
  • Stress and anxiety factors: Both types of hallucinations can be caused by stress, anxiety, and other emotional states. Understanding how these emotional triggers work can help address visual and auditory hallucinations.

The methods used for treating visual hallucinations are similar to those used for treating auditory ones.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) involves techniques such as reality testing to manage visual hallucinations, which is similar to the approach for auditory ones. Individualized treatment plans can be crafted to address unique needs and root causes of the hallucinations.

Reducing stress through mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation techniques can be beneficial. Appropriate eye care and treatments can be important if hallucinations stem from eye health issues.

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What should I do if my child hears voices telling them to do things?

If your child hears voices instructing the to do things, you should approach the situation calmly and empathetically. Communicate openly with them about what they’re experiencing without judgment. 

Seek professional guidance from a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, as they can provide the necessary support and treatment. Early intervention is often vital, so acting promptly and compassionately is critical.

How to stop someone from hearing your thoughts?

The belief that someone can hear your thoughts may be a sign of specific mental health conditions rather than a reality. It’s an experience that can be very distressing for the person who believes it’s happening. 

If someone you know expresses this belief, empathize with their feelings and encourage them to speak with a mental health professional. Professionals can explore the underlying causes of these beliefs and provide appropriate therapy and support.

Why are the voices in my head getting louder?

An increase in the intensity or volume of the voices in your head may signal increased stress, emotional changes, or events in your life. It could be connected to a particular event, increased anxiety, or changes in medication or lifestyle. 

Consulting with a mental health professional can help identify the specific triggers or causes and build a custom treatment plan to reduce or manage auditory hallucinations.

How do schizophrenic voices start?

Auditory hallucinations due to schizophrenia don’t have a singular starting point. They may emerge gradually or suddenly, often in late adolescence or early adulthood. Genetic predisposition, environmental stressors, and neurobiological aspects can contribute to the onset of schizophrenia. These voices are subjective and vary significantly among individuals. If you suspect experiencing these symptoms, you must seek immediate professional help.

Do people with schizophrenia know they have it?

Awareness of schizophrenia can be different among individuals. Some may recognize that they have an illness and seek treatment, while others might lack insight into their condition due to the nature of the symptoms. 

This lack of awareness isn’t due to denial but rather a symptom of the illness. In such cases, family, friends, and mental health professionals often play a critical role in recognizing the symptoms and seeking appropriate care and treatment.

Summary

Hearing voices in your head can be a confusing and distressing experience. But remember, auditory hallucinations can stem from various causes such as stress, lack of sleep, or even medical conditions. These hallucinations are not always tied to severe diseases like schizophrenia.

You’re not alone—many resources are available to help you navigate these experiences. Lifestyle changes and Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can offer strategies on how to stop hearing voices without medication.

Remember, understanding is the first step to management while seeking help is the first step toward a more comfortable and controlled reality.

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Amy20MD 1

Medical reviewed by Amy Rogers, MD MPH FACPM

Preventive Medicine, Public Health, Lifestyle Medicine, Pandemic Response, Global Health

Amy20MD 1

Medical reviewed by Amy Rogers, MD MPH FACPM

Preventive Medicine, Public Health, Lifestyle Medicine, Pandemic Response, Global Health

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