Anxiety Symptoms Leave Me Fearing I Might Go Insane

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Reader’s Question

I have been an anxiety sufferer for five years. It all started when I rushed myself to the hospital for palpitations after a bout of heavy drinking. My doctors conducted an extensive check up and they found nothing. All of the results were normal. Still, I was not convinced and consulted other doctors (cardiologist, ENT specialist, etc.) because I was still experiencing bouts of dizziness and palpitations. Again, all of the lab work was normal.

I finally decided to stop seeing doctors and focus myself on sports and exercise. But in the back of my mind I still always feel that I’m going to die of heart attack. Last week, all of a sudden, my fear of heart attack shifted to fear of going crazy. For three whole days I became paranoid. I had cold palms, sweating, etc. Still, I was sleeping normally. I finally decided to consult a psychiatrist, and she put me on Exulten (sertraline) daily for two weeks.

Is there a possibility that I will really become insane? I ask because I sometimes get paranoid and nervous. I don’t use illegal drugs and don’t smoke. I don’t have history of insanity in the family. Still, I have this fear.

Psychologist’s Reply

Anxiety symptoms can be quite distressing. Some of the more physiological-feeling symptoms like “palpitations” can even make you believe you’re on the verge of a heart attack or worse. Of course, what distinguishes an anxiety symptom like that is the fact that the usual lab or examination findings that accompany a true palpitation or even a genuine heart condition are not present when the cause is an anxiety disorder.

Another quite distressing symptom of anxiety, which can also appear in a heightened way during a panic, is the fear of losing one’s mind. Actually, the symptom is not all that uncommon for anxiety sufferers.

Anxiety symptoms have a way of escalating into vicious cycles. That’s because we attach thoughts of danger and apprehension to the symptoms, which, ironically, only has the potential to intensify or multiply symptoms.

Medication can help restore the biochemical imbalances in the brain that often accompany anxiety disorders. But you can also learn coping strategies to rid yourself of the distressing symptoms. Psychologists or other mental health professionals use cognitive-behavioral methods to break the vicious cycles that perpetuate anxiety problems. And part of the therapy involves re-interpreting the kinds of thoughts and responses a person typically has during an anxious episode. You can take heart in one of the most common re-interpretations: anxiety symptoms might be distressing, but they’re not dangerous, nor are they indicators of a pending health crisis. Take the secure thought: You might feel like you might go insane, but that doesn’t mean you will!

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