Fear of Going Crazy: What if I’m Losing My Mind? A Common Theme of Anxiety.

By: Suzanne Feinstein, PhD

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The fear of going crazy is often associated with anxiety disorders, particularly panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. It can also occur in individuals who have experienced trauma or have other mental health conditions. Sometimes this intense fear can be triggered when someone is under significant stress or has witnessed someone else experiencing extreme psychological distress. The more people fear the state of their own mind, the more intense their anxiety and stress become. This, ironically, may affect cognitive function and emotional regulation.

Individuals may have intrusive and distressing thoughts about losing control over their actions, emotions, or impulses. These thoughts often focus on harming themselves or others, engaging in socially unacceptable behaviors like blurting out offensive statements, or causing accidents. 

These obsessions and compulsions interfere with people’s daily functioning and can consume a substantial amount of time and energy. It is important to acknowledge and address this fear, especially if it starts to interfere with one’s daily life.

An Obsessive Spiral

People with this fear often find themselves caught in an obsessive spiral of questions about the state of their mental health. Common obsessive thoughts related to losing control or going crazy include the following:

  • Will I wind up in a psychiatric ward?
  • Are these my thoughts or am I hearing voices?
  • Will I snap and do something impulsive?
  • How do I know I won’t act out aggressively on myself or on others?

Compulsive Behaviors

Anxiety about losing control of one’s mental faculties can lead to compulsive behaviors aimed at regaining or maintaining a sense of control. Common compulsive behaviors that accompany the fear of going crazy can include the following:

  • Silently repeating phrases as a way to regain a sense of control
  • Seeking reassurance from others that you seem sane
  • Comparing yourself now to the way you once were
  • Avoiding situations that trigger their fears
  • Mentally reviewing actions repeatedly

Key Characteristics

Here are some key points to understand about the fear of going crazy:

  • Irrational Fear: People who fear going crazy may worry about losing control of their thoughts, actions, or emotions, even when there is no evidence to support these concerns.
  • Anxiety Symptoms: Individuals with this fear may experience physical symptoms such as rapid heart rate, sweating, trembling, dizziness, and shortness of breath. These symptoms can be similar to those of a panic attack.
  • Catastrophic Thinking: The fear of going crazy is often fueled by catastrophic thinking. People may imagine the worst possible scenarios, such as harming themselves or others or completely losing touch with reality.
  • Seeking Reassurance: Individuals with this fear may seek reassurance from others, including mental health professionals, to confirm that they are not going crazy. However, seeking reassurance can become a compulsion in cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

How do you treat this particular fear? 

The following treatment options are available for addressing this fear:

  • Education: Learn more about mental health, particularly psychosis and its symptoms. Understanding the disorder and its risk factors can help demystify it and reduce irrational fears.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): This modality of therapy is commonly used to help individuals identify and challenge irrational thoughts and fears. A particular form of CBT, known as Exposure therapy, can be effective in desensitizing people to their fears.
  • Medication: In some cases, medication, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs, may be prescribed by a psychiatrist or healthcare provider to help manage the symptoms associated with this fear.
  • Self-Help Strategies: Practicing relaxation techniques, mindfulness, and stress management can also be helpful in managing anxiety and the fear of going crazy. It’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle through regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep.
  • Support: Having a support system of friends and family members who understand and can provide emotional support is valuable in coping with this fear.

It’s essential to understand that this particular fear is a treatable condition.  If you or someone you know is struggling with the fear of going crazy or any mental health issue, it’s essential to seek professional help. A mental health professional can provide an accurate diagnosis and develop a tailored treatment plan to address the specific concerns and symptoms. Remember that you are not alone, and effective treatments are available to help manage and alleviate these fears.

Learn more about the supportive treatment we offer. Contact us today at Advanced Behavioral Health to schedule an initial consultation. Dr. Suzanne Feinstein is an instructor in Medical Psychology at the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry/ NYSPI.

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