Mental-Cognitive Symptoms
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How to Prevent Depersonalization From Anxiety

Jenna Jarrold, MS, LAC, NCC
How to Prevent Depersonalization From Anxiety

Anxiety can be an overwhelming condition, and when the mind is overwhelmed, it can do some very unusual things. One of these unusual things is known as depersonalization. Depersonalization is, in some cases, a symptom of anxiety, and it tends to fuel more anxiety and more depersonalization.

Depersonalization is when a person’s mind essentially feels divorced from his or her own sense of self. It is when a person essentially becomes overly self-aware - to the point of feeling as though they are not in their own body. Depersonalization is a consciousness that many have described as a feeling of floating outside of oneself and that one’s actions are not his or her own. Depersonalization is common for many who suffer from panic disorder and may occur with other anxiety disorders as well.

Depersonalization Causes

Depersonalization, although often a symptom of anxiety and panic, is also a mental health disorder of its own. Depersonalization is also, in some cases, a symptom of depression, drug abuse, or even the result of taking anti-anxiety medications. 

While the things that can trigger depersonalization are understood, it is still unknown precisely why it occurs. Studies have not yet determined the brain mechanism(s) that create depersonalization. What is known is depersonalization is not deadly, nor is it indicative of a larger problem (when caused by anxiety). Many people experience depersonalization as a result of intense stress and/or anxiety. 

The Most Likely Causes

Although the exact reason(s) why depersonalization occurs, there are some hypotheses around it being a way one’s brain copes with stress. When a person becomes extremely overwhelmed by emotion, the result is intense stress.  Stress does not just cause racing thoughts and behavioral symptoms, intense stress affects the physical brain as well.  

So, in the case of an overly stressed brain, a person often experiences depersonalization as a way of separating from that stress, essentially providing a bit of relief. Intrinsically, certain parts of the brain will shut down during periods of depersonalization, disconnecting a person from the emotions. Unfortunately, depersonalization can cause difficult emotions itself - especially anxiety. 

Another possible cause of depersonalization in some people is because anxiety and panic can lead to “hyper-awareness.” Generally, hyper-awareness occurs when a person experiences physical symptoms as a result of anxiety. For example, some people feel they have a swollen tongue during an anxiety attack, even when the tongue is not actually swollen. Nonetheless, the mind tends to over-focus on the feelings of the tongue, causing a false sense of it being enlarged. 

Finally, during times of increased anxiety and panic attacks, neurotransmitters in the brain are often firing at a much more rapid rate. Some believe these neurotransmitters are activating or deactivating parts of one’s brain that can contribute to the dissociative state of depersonalization.

How to Reduce or Treat Depersonalization

During a period of depersonalization, it can be hard for many people to ground themselves and “get back to reality.”  It is helpful to know that simply waiting it out, a person will tend to see the depersonalization subside, as the intensity of depersonalization decreases over time.  

Since depersonalization occurs as a result of intense anxiety and/or panic attacks, often the most helpful thing a person can do is learn to manage and decrease the intensity of his or her anxiety and stress.  Some helpful approaches to this are: 

Depersonalization is not dangerous, so the key is to learn ways to reduce the extent of your panic attacks and your anxiety. No matter what, you'll still need to address your overall anxiety levels so that you decrease the likelihood of experiencing depersonalization.

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