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Anxiety and the Fear of Going Crazy

One of the most frightening anxiety symptoms isn't the anxiety itself. It's not the worries, or the physical symptoms, or the knowledge that you can't control your anxiousness. No, one of the worst symptoms of anxiety is the fear of going crazy - the fear that your brain is essentially not working correctly, and that you are in the midst of a serious mental illness that is causing you to lose your mind.

This is a very real experience for many people with anxiety and panic attacks, and one that is very difficult to cope with. This article talks about what the experience is like and how to cope with it.

Going Crazy = Anxiety?

Anxiety can make you feel like you're about to lose your mind. It can be incredibly debilitating, and cause you to think that something terrible is happening to you. But it's often just caused by anxiety.

Find out more about your anxiety and its symptoms by filling out my 7 minute anxiety test now.

Can Someone Ever Truly Go Crazy?

It may not be the most comforting thing to hear, but people cannot truly "go crazy" all at once. True psychotic episodes are uncommon, and the person going through them isn't usually of the presence of mind to feel as though they're going crazy. For them, it feels largely natural.

Panic attacks can make you feel like you're going crazy, but the experience is often very different. In many ways it feels like your mind is failing or working without you. If you believe you've had these types of anxiety symptoms, take my anxiety test to find out more.

Psychosis and Anxiety

One could argue that anxiety does cause a form of psychosis. It can make you feel like you're outside of your body watching yourself, or that your thoughts are so scattered that you can't seem to hold them straight. It's fair to say that this does feel like you're going crazy, and in many ways during an anxiety attack you may be.

But with anxiety, you're simply reacting to a surge in adrenaline and the activation of your fight or flight system. Those that struggle with psychosis every day are powerless against these episodes that can last for days or even weeks, and during this time there is rarely a voice telling them that they're losing control. It happens chemically, in a way that is usually only noticed when it's over.

So while anxiety may cause you to feel as though you're "going crazy," rest assured that while anxiety can genuinely cause that feeling or worry, it is not the same as a true psychotic episode.

What Going Crazy Feels Like to Different Anxiety Disorders

Each anxiety disorder can cause its own "going crazy" feeling. Anxiety often provides this feeling of losing control, and for many that lack of control itself may resemble this idea that you cannot control yourself or your mind. It's also more common in some anxiety disorders than others. For example:

Panic Disorder

Many people feel as though they're going crazy when they suffer from panic disorder, and in many different ways as well. 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.

Your Anxiety Symptoms Define Your Anxiety

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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:

  • Learn More About Anxiety Symptoms For many with anxiety, the feeling of going crazy comes from not understanding what's going on, and how something like anxiety can be causing these incredibly powerful feelings. You need to research what is causing your symptoms so that you better understand them, that way you no longer feel like you're losing control. For example, many of the physical symptoms of panic attacks come from hyperventilation. The more you understand hyperventilation, the more you'll be able to control the way you feel when you start to hyperventilate. Knowledge has a great deal of power on how much anxiety overwhelms you.
  • Reality Reminder - When that feeling of going crazy is over, take some time to remind yourself that you're still grounded in reality. Call a friend, see a movie, watch your favorite show on TV - do things that you couldn't do if you were really breaking from reality. Many people choose to sit there and think about the anxiety they just experience, but getting back into what life is like is a better tool for gaining control over the way you feel.
  • Supplements and Anxiety Drugs Generally, anxiety medications are not recommended, and even herbal supplements have their setbacks. But if your anxiety is so profound that you feel as though the world is crashing down around you, it may be time to consider these options. Talk to you doctor about some safe, low dose treatments, or research herbal supplements like kava and passionflower to see if they're right for you.
  • Therapy and Support Groups Seeking some type of long term treatment method can also be useful if you can afford it, and doing so right away may help you ease you into the idea of treating your anxiety. Support groups are also a good place to start. Find others that have dealt with severe anxiety (online or offline) and you'll be able to remind yourself that others experience the same thing as you do - and overcome it.
  • Exercise Exercise is an important tool for combatting anxiety. It has a bit less of an effect on feelings of psychosis, but it can reduce anxiety severity which should decrease any feelings as though you're going crazy.

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.

I've personally worked with thousands of people that feel as though they're losing control. Start with my free 7 minute anxiety test to see your specific anxiety profile, compare it to others, and get treatment recommendations.

Start my free anxiety test here.

Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.

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