- Natasha J. Thomas, MD
Anxiety and the Glorious Fear of "Losing It"
Have you ever feared that you might go crazy? Yes, I know “crazy” is not a helpful term but really, have you? If you suffer from anxiety and live with the fear that someday you’ll lose your mind and do something horrible to yourself, or people in your life, this blog post is for you.
It was a fall evening when I met a teenaged girl, worried about basically everything in the world. Of course, there were school, grades, extracurricular activities and boys on her worry list. And not surprisingly, she kept a close watch on herself, family, and friends to be sure no one got sick. She subconsciously determined somewhere around 5 years old that it was her obligation to keep a close eye on the world, making sure it never got out of hand on her watch. Mixed with her adolescent exuberance and beauty was the privilege of living a life of comforts like many of the wealthy in Atlanta do. But she was totally oblivious to the benefits in her world because she believed she was always just one step, one thought, one wrong blink away from going completely insane. And so, she asked me a question:
“How would a person know they were about to lose it?”
I paused. I looked at her sitting in the chair in my office, her brow furrowed with concern, her words lingering in the air, her face as innocent as a cherub. I struggled to find balance – I didn’t want to over- or underreact. I was early in my career. I knew that if nothing else, I needed to make sure she was safe. I needed to see the people around her were safe, too. So, I did what we do best in my field. I asked more questions.
The young lady before me described how she frequently worried she may have latent violent tendencies. She thought they might manifest as her setting her home on fire, purposely causing a car accident, or hanging herself. Nope, she’d never had a history of self-harm, violence, or concerning behaviors like harming animals. But she lived as if she had. Daily. At school, she was popular for her athletic prowess, but at night her anxiety reduced her to a little girl with a blankie. She feared she was a monster and slept with the lights on to keep an eye on herself.
And from the fall evening when I met her ‘til this almost spring morning many years later, I have encountered countless nonviolent people living with the exact same fear – losing it.
Some pregnant women and nursing, new moms feel the fear. Some God-fearing Christians feel the fear. The next cashier you meet at Target may feel the tremble of this fear, too. What if I lose it? There is mystique in that word, “it.” When we say “it” in this context what we really mean is control.
Anxiety, in my opinion, is born out of the desire to keep control of the world to ensure our personal and corporate safety. But we’re humans – deep down we all know there is very little under our control, except our choices. People living with anxiety seem intensely aware that the world can be unpredictable (i.e. dangerous). Their response is to try and tap into every single indicator that chaos or death is just around the corner, waiting to pounce on them. Then they try to avoid that danger with everything their souls can muster. This awareness-avoidance behavior is the origin of phobias, panic attacks, intrusive worries, obsessions and their correlating compulsions and nearly every other anxiety-related behavior you could imagine.
There is likely an evolutionary benefit to being hyperaware of the environment and its potential dangers. In early times, humans would have needed someone in the group who was skilled in this way to truly help protect the group, their food, babies and land. And there are current environments were people absolutely need this ability just to survive.
But unfortunately, this rampant hypervigilance has become an overwhelming force in people’s lives – not a skill that can be turned on and off at will. In this form, it is a handicap, not a tool for survival. It drowns out the voice of intuition and rational judgment. The result is misperceived danger everywhere, including within.
Just so you can see what I mean, and that you’re not alone, I’ll share a few of the worries I often hear:
Fear of “losing it” and killing a spouse or children
Fear of “losing it” and purposely dropping a newborn baby
Fear of “losing it,” running away and leaving the family
Fear of “losing it” and becoming a “drug addict”
See? You’re not even close to alone, especially if you live in the US. America is the most anxious nation on the planet right now and many people are thinking strange things.
So, when these nasty, scary thoughts pop in your head, change your usual response to them. If you’d normally worry that this means you’re on the brink of a mental breakdown, just don’t. It never helps to ask yourself if you’re going crazy.
Instead ask yourself what your brain, or even spirit, is trying to speak to you. Is anxiety trying to tell you something?
Is it telling you that in general you are being untrue to yourself? This happens when people aren’t holding appropriate boundaries with others, are neglecting healing they need from past emotional traumas or are living life as people-pleasers instead of one focused on fulfilling purpose.
Is it telling you that you’re allowing yourself to feel trapped in your current situation? Is it trying to help you accept your lifelong responsibilities? Reconsider your attitude about your obligations. Rise to the challenge - complete them with honor, grace and gratitude – thankful for the opportunity to be entrusted with important tasks.
Is it telling you to seek a deeper spiritual practice? Is it urging you to build true relationship? Don’t try to live life sourcing your own power. You’re human, you need Eternal Guidance, people and roots.
Is it telling you to build your confidence? When we’re fearing worst-case scenarios, what we’re really fearing is that we’re not strong enough to survive the pain they’ll cause. We anticipate pain more than situations that cause pain. Humans are funny like that.
What if anxiety is a call for you to strengthen your character and hone your intuition, focus, logic and present-moment presence? It is.
Stop asking yourself “what if” and peeking around corners. Stand firmly and see your fear. Breathe, pay attention, turn inward. Relinquish the idea of controlling the universe. You can’t, you don’t. Instead, accept anxiety’s gift. It is offering you a path to becoming the real you – fierce, full, and free.
*Are you someone who has conquered anxiety by letting go of the need to control? Tell us how you did it, inspire someone!