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Anxiety and the Fear of Going Crazy

Jenna Jarrold, MS, LAC, NCC
Anxiety and the Fear of Going Crazy

One of the most frightening symptoms of anxiety is one that necessarily casued by anxiety itself. Rather, it is caused by a fear of what anxiety really means.

Often, the discussion of anxiety symptoms center on worries, the physical symptoms, or how difficult it is to control the anxiety. But rarely does anyone bring up one of the most distressing symptoms: the fear of going crazy. 

So many people with anxiety actually fear their brain is not working correctly, malfunctioning, or that they are losing their mind. This is a very real experience for many who struggle with anxiety and panic attacks, and one of the most difficult parts of anxiety to cope with. 

Can Someone Ever Truly “Go Crazy?”

“Crazy” is a word that carries a lot of stigma, and psychologists try to avoid using it. Crazy also means different things to different people. Someone can think you are “crazy” because you dress funny, or you’re brave, or you prone to weird outbursts. 

But in this article, we’ll define crazy as this idea that you are losing touch with reality, and hopefully it is comforting to know that no, “going crazy” is not something that happens often or easily. In fact, most people that do lose touch with reality for any reason (brain damage, schizophrenia, or other issue) have no idea it is occurring. The very fact that you can ask yourself if you’re going crazy implies that you very likely are not.

That said, there is no denying that some people feel like they’re struggling with some form of psychosis from anxiety. It is understandable that someone with anxiety would have that worry.  

Psychosis and Anxiety

One might argue that anxiety does cause a form of psychosis for some people. People with anxiety may have times where they experience a sensation of being outside of their bodies, watching themselves. 

Additionally, anxiety can contribute to one’s thoughts feeling so scattered that it feels near impossible to follow one single thought at a time. These symptoms, especially when coupled together, can cause a person to feel as though he or she is going crazy. 

While people may feel as though they are going crazy, they are truly just experiencing a reaction to the surge of adrenaline (that occurs during anxiety and panic), and the activation of your fight or flight system. Those that struggle with feelings of psychosis as a result of anxiety on a consistent basis often feel powerless against these episodes, which contributes to further anxiety. But once the anxiety calms down, the symptoms tend to go away. 

So, while anxiety may cause a person to feel as though he or she is "going crazy," it is important to note that overwhelming anxiety is not the same as a true psychotic episode.

What Going Crazy Feels In Different Anxiety Disorders

There are many different forms of anxiety, and each anxiety disorder can cause its own experience or feeling of "going crazy". Anxiety often causes a feeling of losing control, and for many, that lack of control contributes to the sensation of going crazy. While this can occur in any type of anxiety, it is far more common in some than others. For example:

Panic Disorder

Many people feel as though they are going crazy when they suffer from panic disorder, and in many different ways. Some people's panic attacks are so severe that it feels like their brain genuinely isn't working - as though it's causing them to feel things that their own mind is telling them it shouldn't.

During a panic attack, the mind can shoot so rapidly and in a way that appears to have no flow. In some cases, their mind and thoughts are so overwhelming that they can't be followed, and the person has trouble thinking. Others describe it as "feeling their brain" as though they're on the outside of their own cognitions, and some simply experience so many physical sensations as a result of their mind that they feel they're going crazy as a result.

That feeling of going crazy is a very real and very common symptom of panic disorder, and why it doesn't affect everyone, it has been known to cause significant distress.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Those with OCD may also feel as though they're going crazy, although in a very different way. Many recognize that their obsessions and compulsions are "irrational" at their heart, but no matter how hard they try they can't shake them. This makes them feel like their mind is controlling them in a way that their thoughts aren't. Things start to nag at them and they pick up ticks that may also contribute to this feeling of losing control.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Many of those with severe PTSD have symptoms that make them feel like they're going crazy. Some with PTSD have vivid flashbacks, some have paranoia, and some even suffer from auditory and visual hallucinations.

While these absolutely fall under the heading of psychosis, they're still a hallmark of an anxiety disorder. In most cases, a psychologist treats the anxiety directly. You're not going crazy if you suffer from PTSD. It's simply a reaction to the anxiety you experienced as a result of your trauma, and what happens when your entire body is on high alert.

Dealing With The "Going Crazy" Feeling From Anxiety

Only a trained psychologist can diagnose your mental health, and anyone that feels anything that resembles psychosis deserves a trained professional diagnosis.

But anxiety causes a lot of different emotions, and the feeling of going crazy is one of them. Many of those suffering from intense anxiety have this feeling of going crazy that comes from the extremely high emotions, a rush of adrenaline and stress, and the overwhelming feeling of losing control. It's a natural response to severe anxiety.

The question is how to control it. Unlike regular daily anxiety and stress, the feeling going crazy comes from losing control. Once you feel you've lost that control, you may simply need to wait it out. Often during anxiety attacks, your sense of self will come back to you, and you can start addressing the issues that are causing you to feel like you're losing control. There are some solutions you can try now, including:

Those that feel like they might be suffering from psychosis are often experiencing very severe anxiety that needs a very real, very effective treatment. Remind yourself that you're not going crazy, and start committing to a way to treat anxiety that works.

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