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People Often Feel That They are Being Watched or Followed. Here's The Surprising Reason Behind it

Studies show that media consumption and mental ailments cause humans to feel like they are being followed
PUBLISHED JUN 3, 2024
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | Engin Akyurt
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | Engin Akyurt

While walking alone at night or even in an empty space, several people have an unsettling feeling that they are being followed. Most of the time, their senses are responsible for these feelings, as reported by WebMD. This phenomenon is known as paranoia and several studies have been published to understand the root cause of this fear in humans. Charlotte Huff in her study published on APA, shared how media consumption plays a huge role when it comes to a person's mental health. The kind of content people consume affects how they feel in the days that follow. Hence, watching scary movies makes people feel uneasy with their surroundings, after the fact. Leslie Dobson, in her interview with Liv Science, points out brain ailment as one of the reasons behind individuals thinking they are being constantly followed. 

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Daniel Reche
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Daniel Reche

Human senses are developed in such a way that they can pick up on danger. Harriet Dempsey-Jones, a postdoctoral research fellow in cognitive neurosciences at The University of Queensland in Australia in her article explained how a neural network in the human brain is completely dedicated to processing gaze. The network's function is to understand how the other party looks at the individual. If the analysis points out, that a particular human is dangerous, the body will react accordingly. The focus will be on that person, and if they follow, it will be easily deciphered by the nervous mechanism.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Tima Miroshnichenko
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Tima Miroshnichenko

In many cases even when no one is 'looking' at them, humans feel shaken possibly because of external stimuli. Sally Winston, licensed psychologist and executive director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland, explains in Healthline, “[When watching horror films], your heart pumps and the adrenaline flows and your attention narrows in, even as you know you are at home or in the theatre and there is no real danger.” Winston, therefore asks people to have the ability to disentangle before watching horror movies. Horror movies are created to bring out emotions like tension, fear, stress, and shock. In response to them, the body releases norepinephrine, cortisol, and adrenaline from the autonomic nervous system, the impact of which breaks the confines of the theatre.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Engin Akyurt
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Engin Akyurt

Medical ailments can also be attributed as a reason behind humans' feeling followed all the time. "In more extreme cases, a person may experience paranoia and hypervigilance, often related to an underlying mental health condition or physical brain ailment," Dobson said. People who have undergone traumatic events, use hypervigilance as a defense mechanism in order to save themselves from future stress of a similar nature as per a 2023 study in the journal, Frontiers in Psychology. Dobson believes that paranoia and anxiety that come after a stressful event, impact the same region in the brain. "The amygdala processes our emotions such as stress and anxiety," she told Live Science. "If it is overactive or harmed from physical damage or ongoing trauma stressors, it may lead to heightened emotional responses such as perceiving threat."

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Andrea Piacquadio
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Andrea Piacquadio

"I encourage people to seek mental and medical intervention when they begin to notice they are struggling, rather than trying to wait it out," Dobson said. "Early intervention is key. If a person is struggling more days a week than not, or if their job, education, or relationships are beginning to struggle, it is important to seek out a professional."

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