If you experience auditory hallucinations tips like distracting yourself or deep breathing can help you manage your symptoms. You’re not alone.

Have you ever heard a voice, a sound, or music that wasn’t really there? Perhaps you’ve experienced the perplexing sensation of someone speaking to you, only to realize that nobody was around.

Auditory hallucinations involve the sensory experience of hearing sounds or voices when there’s no external source for these sounds. They can occur in both psychiatric and non-psychiatric conditions.

Understanding the potential causes and triggers of auditory hallucinations can help you identify the underlying condition and implement effective strategies to manage the symptoms.

When experiencing auditory hallucinations, it can be helpful to have immediate coping strategies to manage the distress in the moment.

When you seek support from a healthcare professional, medication may be offered. In many cases, medication can help eliminate hallucinations.

But while you waiting for your medication to take effect, or if you don’t notice changes in your symptoms yet, consider using the following techniques:

  • Grounding techniques: Focus on your immediate surroundings to anchor yourself in reality. Name objects you see, touch different textures, or listen to calming sounds in your environment.
  • Deep breathing: Take slow, deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. This can help you relax and redirect your attention away from the voices.
  • Distract yourself: Engage in activities that divert your attention from the hallucinations. Listen to music, watch a favorite TV show or movie, read a book, or engage in a hobby you enjoy.
  • Positive self-talk: Remind yourself that the voices are a symptom of your condition and not a reflection of reality. Use affirmations or positive statements to counteract negative thoughts or messages from the voices.
  • Seek support: If possible, reach out to a trusted person who understands your situation. They can provide reassurance and help you stay grounded during the episode. Consider having a safety plan in place with someone you trust to contact during difficult moments.
  • Keep a diary: By documenting your auditory hallucinations in a diary, you gain a better understanding of their frequency, intensity, triggers, and patterns. This increased awareness can help you identify potential factors that contribute to the voices and develop strategies to manage them.

Auditory hallucinations can occur in a variety of conditions, including psychiatric and non-psychiatric disorders.

Psychiatric auditory hallucinations are typically associated with mental health disorders such as:

When these hallucinations involve hearing voices, they’re typically referred to as auditory verbal hallucinations.

2023 research shows that auditory hallucinations are seen in:

  • 75% of individuals with schizophrenia
  • 20% to 50% of individuals with bipolar disorder
  • 10% of individuals with major depression
  • 40% of individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

On the other hand, nonpsychiatric auditory hallucinations can occur in individuals without a diagnosed mental health disorder.

Non-psychiatric auditory hallucinations may be associated with various factors, including the following:

  • substance use or withdrawal
  • sleep disorders
  • sensory deprivation
  • neurological conditions
  • medical conditions such as brain tumors or epilepsy
  • extreme stress, grief, or trauma
  • childhood conduct disorder, migraine, and anxiety

What are hypnagogic hallucinations?

Hypnagogic hallucinations are vivid and often dream-like hallucinations that occur during the transition from wakefulness to sleep. They can involve visual, auditory, or sensory experiences and are typically characterized by a sense of reality.

The exact cause of hypnagogic hallucinations isn’t fully understood, but several factors may contribute to their occurrence. One possible explanation is the disruption of the sleep-wake cycle.

During this transition period, the brain can exhibit mixed features of wakefulness and sleep, leading to a blend of dream-like experiences with elements from the surrounding environment.

Other factors that can contribute to hypnagogic hallucinations include:

  • sleep deprivation
  • irregular sleep schedules
  • stress
  • anxiety
  • certain medications

Additionally, individuals with sleep disorders such as narcolepsy or sleep apnea may be more prone to experiencing these hallucinations.

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The exact mechanism behind auditory hallucinations remains unclear. But researchers have proposed several possibilities.

Dopamine (D2) and serotonin (5HT2a) receptors are believed to play a crucial role in auditory hallucinations.

Neuroimaging studies show increased D2 receptor activity in the striatal system (associated with movement and reward), and increased 5HT2a receptor activity in the caudate nucleus (linked to movement and decision-making).

A neurocognitive model called the VOICE proposes that auditory hallucinations occur due to a mismatch between an overactive emotional system and an underactive inhibitory system in the brain. This imbalance leads to the spontaneous firing of sensory neurons without proper inhibition, causing the hallucinations.

In individuals with schizophrenia, imaging studies using PET and fMRI have shown increased activity in certain brain regions, including:

  • striatum
  • thalamus
  • paralimbic areas
  • hypothalamus

Additionally, research from 2017 has observed deficits in the functioning of the left temporal lobe.

Another important aspect is the role of abnormal glutamate signaling, which aligns with the hypothesis that dysfunction in glutamate receptors may contribute to the development of psychosis.

Finally, fMRI findings have shown spontaneous activation of the auditory network, consisting of the left superior temporal gyrus, transverse temporal gyri (Heschl’s gyri), and the left temporal lobe.

Types of auditory hallucinations

Auditory hallucinations can manifest in different forms, including:

  • Simple hallucinations: These involve hearing sounds, such as buzzing, ringing, or hissing noises.
  • Complex hallucinations: These are more elaborate and involve hearing voices or other distinct sounds, often with intelligible speech.
  • Command hallucinations: These are a specific type of auditory hallucination where the individual hears voices commanding them to perform certain actions, which can be quite distressing.
  • Commentary hallucinations: In this type, individuals hear voices that provide a running commentary on their thoughts, actions, or behaviors.
  • Conversational hallucinations: These involve hearing voices engaging in a conversation with each other, as if multiple individuals are talking.

If you’re experiencing auditory hallucinations, reach out to a healthcare professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, who can evaluate the situation and provide guidance.

Psychological support, like therapy or counseling, can help you cope and develop strategies to manage the hallucinations.

Support groups, both online and in-person, can also provide a safe space to connect with others who have similar experiences. Seeking support is crucial, and it’s important to not hesitate to reach out for assistance.