Does “Stress-Induced Psychosis” Exist?

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated August 7, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Feelings of intense stress can be brought on by the many challenging demands of life. Stress can negatively affect our health in a number of ways. From weight gain to depression, chronic stress can bring about a host of problems down the line, and this can lead some to wonder how serious some of the possible effects of stress can truly be. For example, some people wonder whether stress can lead to psychosis. Below, we’ll explore the causes of psychosis, the effects of stress, and evidence-based strategies for addressing stress.

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What Is Psychosis?

The National Institute of Mental Health defines psychosis as commonly "used to describe conditions that affect the mind, where there has been some loss of contact with reality." An individual who is experiencing psychosis may experience delusions and have an overall disconnection with reality. 

Additionally, psychosis is not an illness on its own, but may be a symptom of some disorders or another cause. A few signs and symptoms of psychosis include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Confusing thoughts
  • Social withdrawal
  • Decrease in self-awareness
  • Delusions
  • Other imagined disturbances
  • High levels of stress, fear, and confusion

What Causes Psychosis?

Experts are still exploring how and why psychosis develops, and there may not be a single, specific cause of psychosis, as it can develop for a variety of reasons. Some possible causes include certain mental illnesses (such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder), misuse of alcohol or drugs, sleep deprivation, some prescription medications, and in some cases, a stressful or traumatic event.

Researchers also believe that genetics and physical illness or injury (such as traumatic brain injuries, brain tumors, strokes, and Alzheimer’s disease) may also be contributing factors. 

Stress Induced Psychosis Definition

Is there such a thing as stress-induced psychosis? As one research study published in Psychological Medicine asserts, “exposure to stressful life events increases the risk of developing a psychotic disorder.”

However, as stated above, there are many risk factors for psychosis, such as certain mental illnesses, physical health issues, drug use, and more. With so many risk factors, it can sometimes be challenging to determine which was the main cause of a psychotic episode and which had only a minor role, or if they all factored in equally. Sometimes, it may be a combination of these risk factors that are present in someone who is experiencing psychosis. So, determining that psychosis is caused by stress alone can be complex, but exposure to extreme stress can put an individual more at risk of psychosis.


There is also something called brief psychotic disorder, which is a sudden, short-term psychotic episode brought on by extreme stress or trauma. It tends to be more common in people who are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. It is distinct due to its causes, its short length, and the infrequency of its appearance in individuals. The occurrence of one of these episodes may be singular, and the psychotic symptoms tend to go away on their own in less than a month. 

Diagnosing Stress Induced Psychosis

Psychosis comes in many variations of severity, and some instances can be more subtle. There are psychiatric evaluations that doctors can use to better identify if an individual truly is experiencing stress-induced psychosis and to measure the effects of the symptoms more accurately and objectively.

Other physicals or exams can be used to help identify possible causes of psychosis. Doctors may diagnose stress-induced pschosis in part by observing high levels of stress present in someone's life before and during a psychotic episode.

Reducing Your Risk

Stress is common, and in extreme cases, it can cause or contribute to psychosis. Reducing your stress can be essential for not only lowering the risk of stress-induced psychosis but also staying healthy in general. 

Some options for reducing your stress include:

  • Exercise: Getting regular physical exercise can help to boost mood and combat stress.
  • Meditation: Meditation can be useful for managing stress and difficult situations. Many people turn to meditation for help with improving mental health as well as overall wellness and happiness.
  • A proper diet: Along with exercise, eating a balanced diet is another pillar of health and can be essential to keeping your mind and body working well.
  • Sleep: Getting adequate, high-quality sleep can help keep stress in check. 
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It can be useful to seek professional help if you are feeling overwhelmed with stress so that you are able to address it before it leads to something more serious, such as psychosis.

For someone with stress-induced psychosis, psychotherapy, medication, and supervision may all be needed to work through their psychotic episodes. For stress-induced psychosis specifically, talking to a therapist may help you to address the causes of stress in your life, cultivate effective coping strategies, and find ways to reduce stress moving forward. 

Help Is Available Through Online Therapy

It can be challenging to know where to start looking when searching for professional help with your mental health concerns. If you are feeling stressed, you may feel as though you have very little time to travel to a therapist for an in-person appointment. In these cases, online therapy may feel more convenient, as you can speak with a therapist from wherever you have an internet connection.

Research has shown that online therapy can be effective for people with psychosis. For instance, one research study examined the effectiveness of a web-based cognitive-behavioral therapy program for auditory hallucinations in people with psychosis. The study found that individuals who participated in the program “showed statistically significant reductions from baseline to post-treatment in several measures of auditory hallucinations.”


An individual who is experiencing psychosis may experience delusions and have an overall disconnection with reality. There can be many factors that may contribute to the development of psychosis, including certain mental or physical illnesses, misuse of alcohol or drugs, sleep deprivation, and in some cases, a stressful or traumatic event. If you are experiencing ongoing stress or psychosis, you don’t have to face it alone. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist with experience helping people navigate these challenges. Take the first step and reach out to BetterHelp today.

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