One of the two most common fears of anxiety and panic sufferers is the fear of going insane.  Losing one’s mind.  Going crazy.  Many worry that they will “lose it”, or “snap” when at the height of panic or extreme anxiety.  This is a difficult fear to face, but it remains an irrational fear that never comes true.

The fear of going insane or losing one’s mind is no different than the fear of dying, or passing out, or vomiting, or anything else.  The fear that you may lose your mind because of anxiety and panic is just another in the long line of irrational, distorted, magnified fears that come along with anxiety disorders.  Your catastrophe (going insane) is not special and does not warrant any special approach or technique to address.

There Is No “Sanity Control” To Worry About

You are essentially afraid that your anxiety, fear, and panic will become so strong or severe that it will somehow override your natural “sanity control mechanism”.  This is wrong, because there is no sanity control mechanism.  You are a sane person.  You were born that way and will remain that way.  There is no continuous protection in your mind against insanity.  Since that protection isn’t required and therefore doesn’t exist, it cannot be overwhelmed or broken.  Your anxiety cannot get so severe that it breaks down the wall between sanity and insanity.  There is no wall between the two. You don’t have insanity lurking in your brain ready to emerge at any time.

Anxiety and Panic Are Not Equal To Severe Trauma

You may be worried that your anxiety and panic will traumatize you to such a degree that you will “snap”.  Your anxiety disorder is not equal to the experiences of a rape victim, or a solider in combat, or the survivor or a mass shooting.  You may be tempted to equate your anxiety to these horrible experiences that can sometimes lead to more severe mental or emotional impairments.  This is a fear based distortion and magnification that does not represent the state of reality.

You Have Not Kept Yourself Sane

NOTHING you have ever done in your life has kept you sane or otherwise warded off insanity.  Nothing.  Ever.  You were never going to go crazy or lose your mind, so nothing you have ever done has protected you against that. The elaborate safety and avoidance rituals you’ve developed are a lie.  They are not keeping you safe from insanity or craziness.  They ARE adding to the tension and stress that you think are going to push you over the edge.

Let Go.  Surrender To The Worst.

The way to address the fear of insanity is the same we address the rest of these disorders.  We drop our escape and avoidance mechanisms and surrender to the worst possible outcome you can imagine.  Afraid you will go insane?  Go ahead.  Stop fighting.  Give up.  Go insane.  You won’t.  This is very scary and difficult to do, but this is how we feel our brains the experiences they need to learn that there is no real danger.  You’ve constructed a scenario in your head wherein you must either escape from the horrible fear, stress, and tension in your head, or you will go insane.  This is not true.  You don’t have to escape.  You can let go.  Stop trying to escape.

Fear of Underlying Mental Illness

There is no underlying mental illness or insanity lurking in your head. Your anxiety and panic are not indicators that you are on the way to being mentally ill.  Anxiety disorders are not precursors to permanent terrible mental illness or insanity.  You are sane.  That is not going to change.  There is no “insanity virus” spreading inside you.

Is There A “Breaking Point”?

No.  In fact, you’ve been at that same “breaking point” over and over and over and nothing has ever happened.  You are seeing a succession of horrible experiences that keep getting worse and worse, but that is not true.   You’re not having a series of “worst ever” panic attacks, leading to the ultimate panic attack that will send you over the edge.  All your panic attacks are essentially the same.  They don’t get worse forever without bounds.  There is no breaking point.  You’ve been there quite a few times and there is no break.  Even if there were a breaking point, the way to back away from it is to let go of the fight. When you surrender and let the worst thing happen, you lower that mental and emotional tension that you fear will lead you to “snap”.  You will experience fear when you do this, but you will – with repetition – experience less overall tension.  Want to avoid the breaking point?  Stop trying to avoid the breaking point.

DP/DR – It’s Not Special Or More Important

Depersonalization and derealization are not steps on the road to insanity.  They are uncomfortable.  They are scary.  But they are simply anxiety symptoms like all the others.  They are not dangerous, not permanent, and not indicative of or precursors to insanity in any way. Simply feeling unreal does not make you more prone to insanity or permanent serious mental illness.  DP and DR are not special things that require a special set of techniques.  The same rules apply.  Accept.  Surrender.  Allow.  Yes this is difficult and scary.  Yes, it is also possible to learn to do this.

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Founder and host of The Anxious Truth podcast. Therapist-in-training specializing in anxiety and anxiety disorders. Author. Podcaster. Educator. Advocate. Former anxious person.