Anxiety can range from life-altering phobias, such as the fear of driving, to seemingly normal occurrences, like headaches or fatigue.
Though anxiety affects everyone, it differs from person to person in the way it manifests, why it manifests, and to what extent it occurs. For this reason, anxiety diagnoses can take many forms.
One anxiety symptom I would like to talk about today is depersonalisation.
So, what exactly is depersonalisation?
Do you even know if you suffer from this anxiety related sensation?
Some people will experience the feelings associated with depersonalisation and have no idea that they are part of a recognised symptom of an anxiety or panic disorder.
Ever had the feeling that your head is just all foggy, when everything feels surreal and your head feels woozy or spaced out? Maybe, feeling like you’re not real or your surroundings aren’t real, like you’re living in a dream like state/feeling detached? Those sensations are often some of the hardest to understand and it’s not uncommon to think that you might actually be going mad, which can make you panic even more.
This belief that you are losing your mind is completely untrue and you are very safe.
It can be a big help to understand that while the experiences of depersonalisation are uncomfortable and they can feel frightening at the time, depersonalisation is considered to be a protective measure and is not dangerous.
It can occur in people even when they don’t have a problem with anxiety. And can occur in response to a number of stressful situations. You can still have this symptom even when you are not going through a period of anxiety.
The sensation of depersonalisation is a great example of how an over stimulated and over worked nervous system can cause sufferers to experience physical sensations, emotions and thoughts acting together.
Put simply, depersonalisation is a comfort blanket that your mind has placed over you to protect you from the very anxiety that you are going through. It is intended to help you and not hurt you.
It usually manifests itself as a combination of odd and impaired feelings, emotions and perceptions, which can cause you to feel so strange and detached from your surroundings.
These thoughts and feelings can even make sufferers begin to question if they are actually still in their own body – and even feel like they lose all connections with the outside world. Fortunately, depersonalisation is the same as any other symptom or sensation you might be experiencing, it means you are suffering from anxiety and it has absolutely nothing to do with losing your mind.
All of these sensations caused by anxiety mean the same thing. Some are physical, some are emotional and some are generated by thoughts. They’re just different ways of experiencing the same reaction to fear.
It can be very hard to go about your everyday activities without being affected by these sensations. Trying to work, drive, go shopping when you feel disconnected from your mind and body is enough to provoke more anxiety in anyone. So, it is not uncommon to hear of people avoiding situations because of the way they feel.
Sometimes the feelings of depersonalisation alone can bring so much anxiety to a person, that the sufferer experiences a panic attack as a direct result.
So, what can we do to help ourselves?
Accept and acknowledge that the feeling is here and it’s happening right now. Look at these feelings and know that they are part of this protective measure known as depersonalisation.
Accept that although it may not feel very nice, it’s not life threatening, you are not in any real danger and it will pass in time.
Try bringing your awareness to the present moment. Carry on with your normal daily routine and try not to focus on the sensation. Or become engaged in a new task or talk to people around you.
As you become more engaged in the present moment, you will notice the symptom starts to fade…
If you are not getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can be an accompanying reason as to why you are experiencing depersonalisation.
Try looking at making changes to your diet – remove caffeine and alcohol from your daily intake.
All of these things will help with the huge number of symptoms and sensations you might experience whilst suffering from anxiety. The important thing is to remember that, although distressing and uncomfortable, the symptoms and sensations caused by anxiety and panic attacks are not dangerous.
There is a lovely calming technique that I would like to share with you that is called “Havening” – coined from the term “safe haven’. It is a psycho-sensory strategy which involves the touch of different parts of the body to produce Delta brain waves which are calming and present during deep sleep.
It’s a bit like CPR for the amygdala (‘fear of survival’ brain) and you can perhaps use this technique to calm the brain and help you to think about something else – so that you don’t need to spin that fear story and continue feeling panicked, anxious, overwhelmed……..
Here is a link to a short video (“6 Minutes to Calm” with Janie Whittemore)
explaining this simple calming strategy that you may find beneficial:
If depersonalisation is affecting your daily life, don’t be afraid to seek professional help.