Emotional Effects

Why Anxiety Causes Detachment

  • Detachment has a biological basis in anxiety.
  • Detachment can also manifest in different ways: physical, emotional, and mental.
  • Depersonalization and de-realization are two common forms of psychological detachment.
  • Those with anxiety attacks and severe anxiety tend to suffer detachment more often.
  • One cannot solve issues of detachment when they still have severe anxiety.
Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated March 1, 2021

Why Anxiety Causes Detachment

Your brain uses many different chemical messengers to operate. These messengers not only tell your brain and body what to do - they also affect how you think, how you feel, and how you respond to things around you.

Anxiety is associated with imbalances in these chemical messengers. Studies have proven that anxiety is linked to an imbalance of some messengers, including serotonin. While it’s not clear whether anxiety causes low serotonin or vice versa, it can lead to a lot of changes in your behavior. One of the most problematic is detachment.

Different Types of Detachment

There is more than one type of detachment, and all of them both cause anxiety and contribute to anxiety. 

Detachment can be physical, emotional, and mental. Many different anxiety issues lead to all three of these types of detachment, and unfortunately each and every one seems to contribute to making anxiety worse. We'll explore all three in this article.

Physical Detachment - Distancing Yourself From Others

Anxiety and stress cause people to feel as though they need to be alone. In fact, one of the most common ways people react to stress is to go home, lay on the couch, and avoid fun activities. Part of that is because of emotional detachment (which we'll get to later), but a bigger part of that is simply because of how difficult it is to feel comfortable around others.

Anxiety gives you this feeling as though you're all alone, and that other people are unable to really grasp what you're going through. It becomes genuinely harder to hold conversations or concentrate. It makes things around you feel as though they are causing you a lot of pressure.

The natural reaction to all of those experiences is to want to withdraw, and that's why so many people distance themselves from everyone around them. They feel they need time to themselves.

Why This is a Problem

The reason this is such a big issue is because anxiety genuinely affects thoughts and emotions. When you're alone, your thoughts are rarely going to help you overcome your anxiety. Once in a while you may have some uplifting moment of clarity, but in general being alone is simply going to cause you to be unhappy, and reduce your ability to cope with stress.

Even if you're feeling a lot of tension, spending time with others and doing fun activities is very important for making sure you're not allowing your anxieties and negative emotions to run wild. Anxiety genuinely changes emotions and thought patterns - it's unlikely you're going to improve your ability to cope with anxiety if you're spending a lot of time alone - so making sure that you force yourself to be more active is important.

A little alone time never hurt anyone. But try your best to make sure it doesn't go overboard.

Emotional Detachment - Feeling Apathetic About Life

Another type of detachment is emotional detachment, sometimes referred to as "flat affect." Emotional detachment is feeling as though you have no emotions, positive or negative. Generally there is still somewhat of a negative/sad emotion present, but otherwise emotions are not felt very strongly.

In this state it can be hard to even imagine happiness. Again, the person isn't necessarily "depressed" (although sometimes they might be), but that they feel an absence of emotion, to the point of not remembering what happiness feels like.

It's sort of like being invited to see a comedy movie after a recent heartbreak. It is often hard to find the idea that fun or the movie that funny. You've become detached from your emotions to the point where they feel absent.

Some people experience this detachment in a lesser form. They feel that the things they used to enjoy they simply don't enjoy anymore. They find that they have less energy or will to spend time with friends or do activities they used to love. This emotional detachment doesn't necessarily feel like a complete absence of emotions, but still feels like a problem finding happiness and joy.

Why This Occurs

Emotional detachment is usually an issue caused by severe, intense anxiety - most notably panic attacks, although any form of severe anxiety can cause emotional detachment.

While it's not entirely clear what causes this detachment, it most likely is a coping mechanism for the brain. Severe emotions are not only mentally stressful - they're also physically stressful, and your brain actually experiences very real stress and pressure that can be somewhat overwhelming.

So your brain may shut off or turn down those emotions, because dealing with no strong emotions at all may be easier for your brain to handle than intense emotions.

Also, don't forget that your emotions really do change your brain chemistry. Sometimes those changes stick around for a while. Your anxiety may have caused your brain to produce less "positive emotion" neurotransmitters, which in turn causes you to experience emotional distance.

Why This is A Problem

Emotional detachment is often temporary, but it can last quite a while, and unfortunately it drastically decreases your quality of life.

There are always ways to cure anxiety, and always ways to address emotional detachment. But of course, a lack of emotions does make it a bit harder and a bit of a longer process. That's why if you've already reached emotional detachment, seeking help right away is important to help you find relief faster. There are always ways to get relief, but the process can take time.

Mental Detachment - Depersonalization and Derealization

Similar to emotional detachment comes a problem that occurs during intense stress - mental detachment. Mental detachment is when you feel as though you have temporarily lost touch with reality. There are two types of mental detachment that are very similar:

  • Depersonalization Feeling as though you're on the outside of yourself, watching yourself.
  • Derealization Feeling as though something is wrong with reality.

These generally occur during times of immense fear. They're temporary, but when they occur they can be very frightening.

Why Do They Occur?

Rest assured that nothing is wrong with your mind and you're not going crazy. Like with emotional detachment, mental detachment is simply a coping mechanism to extreme stress. Your mind and body are under such intense stress with panic attacks that your brain decides to simply shut everything down for a while.

It's not dangerous nor does it mean anything about your mental health. It's just a coping mechanism your brain thinks it needs when faced with that level of anxiety.

Why This is a Problem

Mental detachment isn't necessarily a big issue. What it is, however, is a sign that your anxiety has reached extreme levels. It's more of a red flag that it's definitely time to get help, because mental detachment tends to occur far more often when anxiety attacks have reached an extremely intense point.

Curing Your Detachment Issues

Anxiety is a very curable condition. It can sometimes feel like everything is out of your control, and certainly severe anxiety isn't "easy" to treat in the sense that you're not going to be able to quickly relieve all anxiety at once.

But all anxiety has the potential to be treated, provided you're willing to seek help, avoid detachment mistakes, and make smart decisions with how you're going to address your anxiety.  


Detachment is a common symptom of panic disorder and severe anxiety. People can detach emotionally from friends, family, and life, or they can struggle with detachment as a symptom itself – feeling as though they are outside of their body or living in an alternative reality. Because this is a symptom of severe anxiety, it is typically addressed by treating anxiety. 

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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