Anxiety is often an overwhelming condition, and when the mind is overwhelmed it can do some very unusual things. One of these is known as depersonalization, which is a symptom of anxiety that often fuels more anxiety and more depersonalization.
Depersonalization is when your mind feels divorced from your own sense of self. It's when you are essentially overly self-aware to the point of feeling as though you're not in your own body. It's a consciousness that makes it feel like you're floating outside of yourself and that your actions are not your own. Depersonalization is a common symptom of panic disorder, and may occur with other anxiety disorders as well.
How Severe is Your Anxiety?
Depersonalization is almost entirely caused by severe anxiety. Take our free 7 minute anxiety test to score your anxiety severity and then learn how to control depersonalization and other symptoms.
Depersonalization can actually be its own disorder, or a symptom of depression, drug abuse, and even anxiety drugs. But it's also a very common symptom of severe stress and anxiety, most notably during panic attacks. Take my free 7 minute anxiety test to find out more about your anxiety and how to treat it.
Exactly why depersonalization occurs isn't entirely clear. Studies haven't yet been able to show what exactly goes on in the brain to create depersonalization. It's not deadly, nor is it indicative of a larger problem when it's caused by anxiety, but it does seem to occur in a very large number of people that suffer from intense stress.
The Most Likely Causes
To hazard a guess, the most likely reason that depersonalization occurs is as a coping mechanism for your brain. Your brain can get extremely stressed by your emotions. It's not just your thoughts and symptoms - it's the physical brain itself. The link between your consciousness and your thoughts is physical and mental.
So most likely, the brain creates depersonalization disorder as a way of experiencing less stress. It's likely that it's shutting down certain parts of the brain and disconnecting yourself from the emotions so that it doesn't experience as much tension, despite the fact that depersonalization often creates its own anxiety.
Another possible cause is simply because anxiety can lead to hyperawareness. Generally this occurs with physical issues. For example, some people feel they have a swollen tongue during an anxiety attack, but the tongue isn't actually swollen. Instead, the mind has over-focused on the feelings of the tongue, causing it to start to feel unnatural and "larger." It's possible that a similar issue is happening with consciousness, where the mind focuses so much on the way you process information that it becomes over-processed and starts to feel unreal.
Finally, during anxiety attacks, neurotransmitters are often firing at a rapid rate. It's possible that these neurotransmitters are activating or de-activating parts of your mind that create this dissociative state.
How to Reduce or Treat Depersonalization
During a period of depersonalization, it can be somewhat hard to get yourself back to reality instantly. Often you simply need to wait it out, as you'll almost always find that the period of depersonalization tends to subside over time.
Since depersonalization occurs as a result of intense anxiety, the best thing you can do is try to decrease the intensity and keep yourself from experiencing further anxiety. Keep the following in mind:
- Be Okay With Depersonalization Depersonalization can be very frightening, but it's not dangerous. If you start to feel it occurring, don't try to fight it. Just wait it out. Fighting it won't solve anything, and may even make your anxiety worse. You can remind yourself that depersonalization may be a scary event, but it has no short or long term consequences once it's over.
- Breathe Efficiently Depersonalization occurs at the height of anxiety attacks, and one of the issues that tends to make anxiety attacks severe is hyperventilation, which reduces blood flow to the brain and causes symptoms that may result in intense stress. Slow down your breathing dramatically. Breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 2, breathe out for 7. Any time you feel like a panic attack may be coming, breathe slower to prevent some of the worst symptoms.
- Distractions for Reality Those with depersonalization are usually aware they're in a dreamlike state. They tend to keep everything to themselves, resulting in them withdrawing into more and more of an over-conscious and dreamlike state. Give someone a call or talk to those around you. It can be hard to admit that you have this anxiety/depersonalization problem, but the problem does not get any easier if you try to keep everything to yourself and stay inside of your own head.
- Go Jogging Jogging is a natural cure for anxiety, and also a wake up call to reality. Running can be hard when you have anxiety since rapid heartbeat tends to lead to further panic attacks, so walking is an acceptable but less effective alternative. Walking and jogging involve so many different senses that it's hard for your mind to zone out from reality.
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.
I've helped many people struggling with depersonalization overcome their anxiety issues. Start with my free 7 minute anxiety test now. This test is a valuable tool for getting started on your road to recovery.
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Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.