10 Surprising Ways to Lose Your Mind

We all feel like we're hanging by a loose thread sometimes. It's part of the human condition.

We've all been at our wit's end more than once. Perhaps it's because the baby is crying incessantly, or we're fighting with our spouse over unpaid bills. In short, we lose our mind. We're stressed. We're angry. We're sad and desperate. Take a deep breath. No one's perfect.

Of course, no one actually "loses" their minds. Instead, we experience emotional distress, a concept that eludes neat definition and is part of being human [sources: Bouchez, Phillips].


Most emotional distress is a passing occurrence that often can be traced to specific stressors. When those things disappear, so does our distress. It doesn't always work like that though. If we still feel like we're losing our minds, we might have a more severe mental disorder, such as anxiety or depression [sources: Bouchez, Phillips].

Hallmarks of emotional distress include sleeping less or more than usual for no apparent physical reason. Our weight can fluctuate, or our eating patterns change. Not being able to control our anger is another telltale sign that we're experiencing emotional distress [source: Bouchez].

So what makes someone "lose it"? Let us surprise you with these 10.

10: Having a Child

Postpartum psychosis is not the same as postpartum depression. If you think you have either, seek professional help.
Mika Heittola/Hemera/Thinkstock

It was supposed to be the happiest time in Clare Dolman's life. She'd just given birth to a baby daughter named Ettie. As Dolman wrote in a BBC article, "Elation soon turned into a form of mania." She couldn't stop talking. She got little sleep. She was irritable. She suffered from mood swings.

Soon Dolman was out of control and on her way to a psychiatric hospital. Dolman had lost her mind, she says, because she suffered from postpartum psychosis, a rare illness that is not to be confused with postpartum depression or anxiety.


Postpartum psychosis occurs 1 to 2 times out of every 1,000 deliveries. Why new mothers suffer from the malady is unclear. Genetics, hormone levels and disrupted sleep patterns may all share in the blame. Symptoms include delusions, hallucinations, hyperactivity, paranoia and difficulty communicating [sources: Dolman, Postpartum.net].

9: Experiencing a Trauma

A federal investigator examines the remnants of American Airlines flight 1420. You can kind of see how climbing out of that wrecked plane might mess with your mind.
Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images

In 1999, Julia Ferganchick was aboard American Airlines flight 1420 when it crashed near Little Rock, Arkansas. The plane slammed into the ground at 184 mph (296 kph). Ferganchick survived, made her way out of the tangle of twisted metal and flame, jumped to the ground and started helping others [source: Wolff Perrine].

Although she survived, mentally "I didn't even get out of the plane," she said in an interview with Self magazine. Ferganchick became depressed. She couldn't maintain a relationship. She argued constantly with family and friends. She took a handful of mind-numbing Xanax and had to be rushed to the hospital. "I didn't want to die," she said in the interview, "I just wanted to stop hurting inside."


Plane crashes, car accidents, natural disasters, war, physical or sexual assaults, and other trauma can make people feel as if they are losing their minds. That's because people who often go through these events often experience flashbacks of the event or have nightmares. The nightmares might be so alarming that they soon develop insomnia [source: ASDI].

8: Falling in Love

Ah love, you really do make us crazy and craving more, more, more.
VStock LLC/VStock/Thinkstock

What does love have to do with losing your mind? Do you even have to ask? Anthropologist Helen Fisher posed the question when she put 32 people who were madly in love under a functional MRI scanner. Fifteen of those people were madly in love but had been dumped by the object of their affection. The other participants were luckier. Their love had been requited [source: Fisher].

During the test, each person looked at a photo of his or her sweetheart. They also looked at a neutral photo. By comparing the results, Fisher found that the most active part of the brain was the same region that feels the rush and euphoria of cocaine. Romantic love, Fisher concluded, wasn't an emotion as the poets and songwriters would have us believe, but a physical drive that comes from the "craving part of the mind" [source: Fisher].


The anthropologist found that when a person falls in love he or she becomes extremely sexually possessive, which she says, has its roots in evolution. In other words, it's nature's way of preserving the species. Fisher also says that people who fall in love have "an intense craving" to be emotionally (not just sexually) connected to that other person. People who were in love were also obsessed.

"My final question [to each subject] was always the same ... 'would you die for him or her?' And, indeed, these people would say 'Yes!' as if I had asked them to pass the salt," Fisher said in her 2006 TED talk.

7: Visiting Paris

New slogan for Paris? Dashing the dreams of a select few tourists for decades.
Jacques Dermarthon/AFP/Getty Images

They were on vacation in Paris in the summer of 2011. The 20 or so Japanese tourists (not all traveling together) were taking in the sites, marveling at the museums, visiting the shops, snapping photographs. One by one, the tourists began having psychotic episodes brought on by the rudeness of the French. The City of Light had become dark. The tourists suffered from a mind-altering condition called Paris syndrome.

We all think of Paris as a romantic city, the home of famous writers and artists who for centuries have flocked to the Seine. It brims with history, art and culture, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. Yet, it is also home to rude taxi drivers, vulgar waiters and filthy, crime-ridden streets. It's a city, in other words. If you don't speak French, the locals may become boorish and uncouth. Paris begins to lose its allure. Sometimes that disconnect between fantasy and reality is too much for visitors.


The syndrome has been well documented. Experts say that Japanese tourists who come from a more polite society are very susceptible. The syndrome manifests itself differently for each person. Some have delusions, others hallucinations. Still others are stricken with dizziness and feelings of persecution as they come to grips with the reality of Paris and not the romantic versions [sources: Fagan, Wyatt].

C'est la vie.

6: Visiting Jerusalem

View of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock in the foreground

Unlike Paris syndrome, which is brought on by rudeness, Jerusalem syndrome involves visitors being overcome by the historic, political and religious importance of the holy city.

Christian, Muslim and Jewish pilgrims flock to Jerusalem each year to be closer to their faith. For many, the trip can be overwhelming and, depending on religion or inclination, can include visits to the sacred sites of the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, among others.


A few visitors become delusional, thinking they are the Messiah or that their presence will bring about the resurrection of Christ. Others will wear clothing as if they were living in biblical times. On average, about 100 tourists are afflicted with the condition each year, with nearly half needing hospitalization. Interestingly, not all of the affected individuals have a history of mental illness. Sometimes people become so delusional that they become violent, preaching a "true religion" and attacking others because they are perceived to be pagans and barbarians [source: Montross].

5: Dementia

Dementia isn't always irreversible and, in fact, may be treatable, depending on what's causing it.

Pete began to forget where things were. It bothered him. His memory was worsening. One night, while watching television, he saw a program about Alzheimer's disease. Pete soon realized he had the same symptoms as the man on the TV.

"I tried to relax, not to think about what might be happening to me; but it was there, like the sound of distant thunder, lurking on the horizon. I knew something was wrong, had sensed it for some time, and it was beginning to scare me," he wrote in his shared story for the Alzheimer's Association.


Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia occur when people begin to lose the ability to think, to remember and to reason. Sections of the brain key to those activities become riddled with infections or diseases, such as Alzheimer's, which can destroy nerve cells in the brain. Symptoms include changes in mood, personality and behavior. Dementia also can stem from head injuries, serious drug use and several other causes [source: WebMD].

4: Talking to an Attractive Woman

He may be wowing that woman right now, but how would he do on a test that he took right after that conversation? Probably not well.
Anna Bryukhanova/iStock/Thinkstock

It is said that Helen of Troy had a face that launched a thousand ships. Now we know why. According to a 2009 study reported in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, heterosexual men lose their minds, or at least get a little fuzzy, when talking to attractive women. And that's a surprise? Each of the 40 heterosexual males in the Dutch study took a standard memory test that involved repeating a series of letters. Each of the men was then asked to talk to either a man or an attractive woman. Afterward, the men took the test again. Researchers found that the men did worse on the test after talking with the woman.

Researchers repeated the test with women subjects and found their test scores to be unaffected. The psychologists behind the study suspect that the need to pass on one's genes is the cause for the disparity. That is, men regard women as potential mates. As a result, the male participant's brain was focused more on trying to impress the attractive woman than the task at hand [source: Edwards].


3: Menopause

Mood swings, forgetfulness, menopause is the gift that just keeps on giving.
Thomas Lammeyer/Hemera/Thinkstock

"I am 46, and there are days when it feels like I'm completely losing my mind." So begins a 2010 article by Valerie Ulene in the Los Angeles Times. Ulene's memory was bad. She forgot where she placed her car keys and couldn't remember details of conversations. She had trouble sleeping. A pall hung over her very existence. She was experiencing the mind-crushing, mood-altering symptoms of menopause [source: Ulene].

Symptoms of the "change of life" that women experience just before or after they stop menstruating vary individually. Mood swings and forgetfulness are all part of the package. These symptoms can last for a few months to a few years. A study published in 2009 in the journal Neurology found that women around menopausal age have more problems with their memory than younger women [sources: Ulene, WebMD].


2: Solitary Confinement

Harry Wu sits in an exhibit showing the exact dimensions of his solitary confinement cell where he spent 11 days at a labor prison camp. The exhibit was on display at the Laogai Museum on June 20, 2011, in Washington, D.C. Wu founded the U.S. museum, which is dedicated to exhibits about the forced labor prison camps and human rights abuses in China.
Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Unless you're Paul Newman in the prison movie "Cool Hand Luke," or Tim Robbins in "The Shawshank Redemption," spending considerable time in "the box" or in "the hole" is a one-way ticket to losing your mind. It's called solitary confinement and there are two types. The first is disciplinary segregation, in which inmates spend a week or two away from the general prison population generally for breaking the rules. The second type is administrative segregation. That's where inmates spend months or years locked in their cells 23 to 24 hours a day. Administrative segregation is mostly reserved for the most brutal of prisoners, including gang members.

Psychologists say when prisoners are segregated from one another for long periods they begin to develop anxiety and panic disorders. They also may become paranoid, aggressive, depressed and unable to sleep. Many states no longer place mentally ill people in administrative segregation. Of course, some prisoners are more resilient than others, which can make it difficult for officials to know which inmates suffer from mental illness. Still, the mentally ill are more likely (35 percent) to be locked down in solitary compared to the general population (25 percent) [source: Weir].


1: Exuberance

It kind of explains a lot about those mysterious adolescents who walk amongst us nonexuberant folk.
Photick/Odilon Dimier/Thinkstock

As any parent can tell you, there's a lot of weirdness that goes on as children make the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Studies now suggest that the adolescent brain undergoes a series of biological and chemical changes as children enter puberty. These changes, not hormones, explain why a usually placid and well-behaved 10-year-old gradually turns into a reckless, moody, jerky teenager. Scientists nicknamed these changes "exuberance."

Exuberance occurs because adolescent brains overproduce neurons, especially in the frontal lobes, the region of the brain where reasoning, impulse control and other activities take place. Scientists say this part of the brain is the last to mature and only fully develops in early adulthood. Scans reveal that the brains of children 10 to 13 undergo a rapid growth spurt, which is quickly followed by a "pruning" of neurons and the organizing of neural pathways. Experts say this is the most turbulent time for brain development since coming out of the womb [sources: PBS, Crawford].

Lots More Information

Author's Note: 10 Surprising Ways to Lose Your Mind

We all lose our minds from time to time. Life, it seems, often rattles out of control. Bills, family, relationships: They can all conspire to drive you crazy. So if you seem to be losing your mind, think about what Buddha said: "We are shaped by our thoughts. We become what we think ..."

Related Stories

  • Alz.org. "Pete's Story." (May 26, 2014) http://www.alz.org/living_with_alzheimers_8895.asp
  • Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland (ASDI). "What is a traumatic event?" (May 16, 2014) http://www.anxietyandstress.com/responsestotrauma.html
  • Beamon Crawford, Glenda. "Brain-Based Teaching With Adolescent Learning Mind." Corwin Press. 2007. (June 1, 2014) http://books.google.com/books?id=f7HYR1_7RwUC&pg=PA12&lpg=PA12&dq=neurologists+teens+%22exuberance,%22&source=bl&ots=1X6A4h_Lrq&sig=qLcEO54iw7AiDlt_BbVxF9abgoU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=6WOMU_baAYuvyAT-5IG4CQ&ved=0CEIQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=neurologists%20teens%20%22exube&f=false
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