Fear of losing control – anxiety symptoms

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated May 19, 2021

Anxiety and the fear of losing control symptom description:

This symptom can feel like you might lose control of your mind, thoughts, and/or actions; that you are on the verge of going crazy; feel like you are about to “lose it,” feel like you are about to become uncontrollably hysterical.

You might also feel as though you might lose control and do something awful to someone you love, or that you might "lose it" and do something to make yourself look foolish, such as becoming uncontrollably frightened, having to run away, passing out, vomiting in public, gagging uncontrollably, stumbling around, choking uncontrollably, losing control of your bowels, "freaking out,” and so on.

You also might also feel that you might not be able to control what you say or do.

The thoughts, "What if I lose control?” “What if I do something awful?” “What if I snap?” “What if I make a fool of myself?” and ”What will people think of me?" commonly occur in association with this feeling.

These types of thoughts can be fleeting, frequent, or persistent, and can be mildly noticeable, moderately bothersome, or greatly problematic.

These types of thoughts may be associated with an active stress response, an increase in anxiety and stress, or can occur seemingly for no apparent reason.

These types of thoughts can change from day to day, and even from moment to moment.

All combinations and variations of the above are common.

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What causes the fear and feeling of losing control?

Being stressed and anxious (worried, apprehensive, fretful, fearful) causes the body to produce the stress response. The stress response secretes stress hormones into the bloodstream where they travel to targeted spots in the body to bring about specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that enhance the body’s ability to deal with a threat—to either fight with or flee from it—which is the reason the stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response. A part of this change affects how the brain functions.

For example, the stress response causes the fear center of the brain (amygdala) to become more active and the rationalization areas of the brain (cortex) to become subdued. This change causes a heightened sense of urgency and danger, and a reduced ability to rationalize information—it’s safer to take immediate action to fight with or run away from danger than it is to stop and think about it before taking action.

As the level of fear increases, so does the magnitude of the stress response changes. Consequently, if you are gravely afraid, you will most likely experience severe thoughts of urgency and danger yet have a harder time rationalizing them. This reaction can make it feel as though you are about to “lose it” (lose control of your thoughts and actions), and/or “go crazy.”

But even though it may FEEL like you are about to lose your mind, lose control, or go crazy, you won’t. The worst that can happen is that you become afraid that you might, and that’s it. There is NO link between being fearful and losing control.

While it might feel like you could lose control, you are always in control of your behaviors (thoughts and actions). Learning to contain your behavior gives you complete control. We explain containment in Chapter 6 in the Recovery Support area of our website.

When you experience these heightened fears and thoughts, remember that this is how the body responds when grave danger is perceived, that you CAN’T lose control, and that as the nervous system calms down your thinking patterns will return to normal. You are ALWAYS in control of your actions, no matter how "out of control" your impressions may seem.

Moreover, when the body becomes stress-response hyperstimulated, the change in brain functioning can persist. So as long as the body is overly stressed, it can experience any symptom of elevated stress, including this one, even long after the initial stressor has passed.

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How to overcome the feeling like you are about to lose control

When this anxiety symptom is caused by anxiety and stress, the best way to eliminate it is to recognize it is being caused by an active stress response and/or a body that’s overly stressed. Then, calm yourself down and reduce your body’s stress. As your body calms down, this feeling should subside.

You have to keep in mind, however, that it can take a long time for the body to calm down once it has become overly stressed. Therefore, the feeling like you are about to lose control could linger for awhile, and until your body is much calmer and less stressed.

Nevertheless, when this symptom is caused by an active stress response and/or persistently elevated stress, it isn’t a reason for concern. Most people experience this symptom when overly anxious and/or stressed. The difference, however is that anxious people worry about this feeling and what it might mean, whereas non anxious people don't.

If you want to eliminate this feeling, calm yourself down, reduce your stress, and don’t worry about this feeling. It will subside when your body is sufficiently rested. It isn't being caused by a medical or mental health problem. It is being caused by how the body responds to stress and an anxious person responds to the feeling.

Much more could be said about this symptom. We have a more complete explanation in Chapter 9 in the Recovery Support area of our website, including what you can do to overcome this feeling for good.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our anxiety disorders signs and symptoms page.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including Fear Of Losing Control.