If you suffer from anxiety, you may have moments when you wonder if you’re losing your grip, or “going crazy.” For some people, this is just a passing thought. For others, however, it can become a major fear. The more the idea dominates your thought process, the more it can seem like you really are going crazy.
What Does It Mean to “Go Crazy?”
“Going crazy” is an often-used phrase, but what exactly do people mean when they say it? When people talk about “going crazy” they usually mean losing control of their mind in some way. This could include displaying erratic behavior, not being able to think clearly, or even losing touch with reality. Regardless of specifics, it’s something that’s not good – no one wants to “go crazy.” So, it’s understandable to be afraid of the idea of it.
Surprisingly, worrying about “going crazy” isn’t actually related to losing control of your mind or behavior. This worry can, however, lead to ongoing anxiety and fear that get in the way of living life and worsen your mood. Below are some different reasons people may fear going crazy, and some suggestions on how to cope with this fear.
Why Do People Fear Going Crazy?
1) Anxiety and panic attacks
One common reason people fear “going crazy” is as a part of panic attacks or anxiety. The fear of losing control or “going crazy” is a common experience during panic attacks. Panic attacks cause many uncomfortable sensations in the body, including increased heart rate, trembling or shaking, feeling short of breath, and feeling dizzy or lightheaded, among others. They can also cause you to feel that things are not real (derealization) or feel detached from yourself (depersonalization). These uncomfortable sensations aren’t dangerous or threatening, but they can come on suddenly and be quite upsetting. When you’re surprised or startled by them, it’s easy to fear that you’re losing control or “going crazy.”
2) Unwanted intrusive thoughts / OCD
Another source of fear around “going crazy” is intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are a normal part of life and usually don’t impact your mood much. However, if you have recurrent, unwanted, and distressing intrusive thoughts, they can be very hard to let go of and very upsetting, as happens in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Unwanted intrusive thoughts usually focus on unsettling or scary “what if” questions that can’t be answered with certainty. The possibility that the “what ifs” could be true is what causes fear, and this doubt can be hard to sit with.
Questions such as “What if I’m going crazy?” or “What if I lose control of my mind?” can easily become disturbing intrusive thoughts — after all, it’s impossible to prove with certainty that you’re not “going crazy.” Worrying about losing control of your mind can drive some people to do things to “test” whether they’re losing control of their minds. These tests are compulsions. Compulsions may bring some relief in the moment, but unfortunately, they strengthen the intrusive thoughts by keeping your mind focused on whether you’re “going crazy.”
3) Illness anxiety
Sometimes people fear “going crazy” when they also fear having another serious illness. Illness or health anxiety is when you worry excessively that you have a serious illness or may develop one. In particular, people who experience a lot of fear or anxiety about neurological diseases (e.g., dementia, multiple sclerosis) and brain cancer also often fear that they will “go crazy” if they have or develop those illnesses.
As described above, a fear of “going crazy” is a common presentation of several types of anxiety. How can you address it? One place to start is trying to remember that worrying about “going crazy” in itself isn’t a sign that you’re losing control of your mind. It can, however, be a sign that you’re dealing with anxiety.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is highly effective at treating anxiety and involves clinicians helping patients learn and practice a variety of skills to improve mood and wellbeing. So, if fear about “going crazy” is impacting your mood and life, consulting with a CBT provider can help. If you decide to see a CBT therapist for this problem, we recommend looking for one with expertise in treating OCD, panic disorder, or both.