In cases of severe anxiety, a person may feel as though they're going crazy. They may feel as though something is off in reality and the world around them is essentially crashing. In some cases, this may cause the world to feel "unreal," as though something is off in the world around them.
This is known as derealization, and it's a frightening anxiety symptom. It's also completely subjective, making the experience sometimes very difficult to understand unless you've been through it.
Is Anxiety Altering Your Reality?
Derealization is NEVER a standalone anxiety symptom, and it almost always comes at the peak of stress. Find out more about derealization, anxiety, and the severity of your symptoms by taking my free 7 minute anxiety test now.
Causes of Derealization From Anxiety
Derealization is incredibly complex. It's so complex that it's not entirely clear what occurs in the brain to allow people to trance out from reality. It's believed to be one of the body's natural coping mechanisms. During intense periods of anxiety (as occurs with panic disorder and other severe stress disorders), the mind essentially decides it's going to tune the world out in order to cope.
Since the mind keeps working during this tune out, the world becomes a place that feels unreal. It will almost always - although not always - occur in the peak of anxiety, along with other symptoms that are characteristic of an anxiety disorder. Take my free 7 minute anxiety test to learn more about your symptoms, their severity, and your anxiety experience.
Trying to Make Sense of a Loss of Reality
The best way to understand derealization is to imagine you were transported into a place you not only didn't know - you also didn't understand. A place where you cannot seem to follow what's going on or take information the world around you. This place not only wouldn't look familiar, but it couldn't look familiar, because you're not processing the information.
There's no denying that this experience is profoundly unusual and frightening one. It can often feel like you're not really there, or the world around you is unreal. You may feel like you're watching something going on with no understanding of what it is, or that the world is a dream that you aren't able to escape. In some cases, derealization may be combined with depersonalization, which can make it feel like you're watching yourself.
Other anxiety symptoms may make the feeling of derealization worse. During anxiety attacks your pupils may dilate, and this can cause unusual vision. Anxiety may also weaken your muscles, making you feel lighter. There are countless ways that your anxiety symptoms may interact.
How to Stop Derealization
Derealization - when it comes from anxiety - is not considered dangerous. It generally goes away on its own and only comes during periods of intense anxiety. Even then, some people learn to cope with it and derealization never comes back. If your derealization is so persistent that it's altering your sense of reality, or it lasts for a long period of time, you may need to contact a doctor immediately.
Doctors and psychologists generally agree that the best way to stop derealization is with mindfulness. Mindfulness is the act of becoming more aware of your own present. Mindfulness can be completed in a variety of ways, but the easiest way is to simply get yourself to perform an action and focus as much as possible on that action in order to get yourself back into the world.
- Touch something warm or cold. Focus on the warmth or cold.
- Pinch yourself so that you feel how real you are.
- Try to find a single object and start identifying what it is and what you know about it.
- Count something in the room. Identify what they are.
- Utilize your senses in any way possible.
Some also advise that you keep your eyes moving and try to get your brain thinking. Don't simply zone out to a single thought.
Remember, derealization is an anxiety symptom. It doesn't mean you're psychotic, nor does it mean anything is wrong with your mind. As such, part of overcoming derealiation is simply to wait it out, then address your anxiety symptoms in order to make sure you don't experience that much anxiety again.
I've helped hundreds of people suffering from derealization problems with anxiety using my anxiety test. It's a revealing test that will help you understand all of your anxiety symptoms better, and use them to get better treatments.
Trueman, David. Anxiety and depersonalization and derealization experiences. Psychological reports 54.1 (1984): 91-96.
Cassano, Giovanni B., et al. Derealization and panic attacks: a clinical evaluation on 150 patients with panic disorder/agoraphobia. Comprehensive Psychiatry 30.1 (1989): 5-12.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.