A Powerful Way to Deal With Depersonalization (or Any Anxiety Condition)

Anxiety. Sometimes it just sneaks up on you.

You can be doing all the right things – eating well, exercising, meditating. But still, feelings of anxiety can just appear out of nowhere. Suddenly you have to deal with racing thoughts, heart palpitations, maybe even a full-blown panic attack.

The symptoms and conditions that anxiety produces vary greatly from person to person. For me it was depersonalization, a sense of being cut off from reality, like you’re dreaming all the time. It was horrible and the symptoms were particularly frightening.

And like all anxiety conditions, what was most frightening was the lack of control I seemed to have over it. But here’s a great tip I found incredibly useful:

You may not always be able to control the anxiety.

But you can always control your reaction to it.

And that’s a lot more powerful than you might think!

Take panic attacks, for example. The initial scary thought that sets it off might be something really small. A thought that for most people would last a few seconds and then fade away naturally.

It’s your reaction to it that sets off the spiralling thoughts and eventually, a full-blown panic attack.

But if you can recognize that initial scary thought for what it is (just a thought!), you automatically change your reaction to it. And by not overreacting to it, you can reduce the anxiety and even stop the panic attack completely.

Let’s look at this from another angle. Let’s say you’ve just had a panic attack. What’s the most effective thing to do? Sit around, feeling sorry for yourself, dreading the next panic attack? Of course not. That’ll only worsen your fear and increase the likelihood of another one happening.

Instead, don’t overreact. Distract yourself. Keep your mind occupied. Stay busy. Play an instrument, take a walk, meet up with a friend. That reaction teaches your brain that even though the panic attack has just happened, it hasn’t affected you.

 When your brain registers that these feelings can bring your day to a halt, it confirms that anxiety is ‘big’ and ‘important’. But when you go about your day regardless of any panic attacks, depersonalization or any other form of anxiety? Your brain registers that anxiety is not ‘big’ or ‘important’!

Think of anxiety like a spoiled child. It throws tantrums to get attention. And the more attention you pay to it, the more attention it demands. But if you just let the tantrum happen and go about your day? The child sees that tantrums don’t get him anywhere — and will eventually stop using them!

The same goes for all feelings of anxiety: Don’t overreact to them.

Accept that the feelings are there. Let the ‘tantrum’ happen. It can’t hurt you. And then immediately focus on something constructive and engaging.

This technique is especially useful as you start to recover from any anxiety. You’ll find that you have some good days and some bad days. It’s a natural part of recovery!

 But again — the trick is not to overreact.

When you have a bad day, don’t be disappointed or feel sorry for yourself. Just accept that you feel a little anxious, and stay busy. And it may seem counterintuitive, but when you have a good day, don’t celebrate!

This teaches your brain that anxiety is not important, in either positive or negative terms. That puts the unwanted thoughts and feelings into perspective and allows them to fade away and disappear — which is exactly what they’re supposed to do. 

This simple technique was invaluable in my recovery from depersonalization disorder, but can be used with any anxiety condition. It teaches your brain that feelings of anxiety, no matter how intense they might get, are ultimately not that important.

There’s a great saying in mindfulness: “Engage with useful thoughts, disengage from the others.”

 Anxious thoughts are not useful. So disengage from them by not overreacting to them.


About the Author: Shaun O Connor

Shaun O Connor is the author of The Depersonalization Manual, a book which details his recovery from Depersonalization disorder and provides a complete guide to recovery for sufferers of the condition. First published as an ebook in 2007, it has since expanded to become a complete recovery package and has sold over 9,000 copies worldwide.

Shaun is also a multi award-winning television and film director whose work has screened around the world, including at the Dublin, Helsinki and Boston Film Festivals.

Twitter: @DPManual

27 Comments

kathy key

i have suffered from anxiety all my life now my husband has cancer an i have to deal with rude family members plus all of his care im shutting down so tired all the time so filled with worry,

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Shaun O Connor

Hi Kathy,
Thanks for your comment and I’m very sorry to hear that you’ve been having a tough time lately. People react very differently to difficult situations, so don’t worry if you feel stressed out at the moment.

I would advise that you take some time every day to relax and meditate. I have found this invaluable at times of stress, and I try to set aside an hour in the mornings so that I’m as prepared as possible for the day.

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Diane w

Hi Shaun

My 25 year old son has been suffering from DDD for about five years. We only learned about it a year ago and since then he hasn’t had any luck with a therapist. It has been a nightmare for the last five years. But since we have found out what he’s been suffering from he’s been getting better on his own and figuring it out. He is in a better place but has more work to do. He had been non functioning during this but has gone back to college on line and did get a part
Time job. He feels like he is coming to the end of
This but husband who is a physician still thinks he should see a therapist. Would love to get your opinion on this. I am a desperate mom looking for answers

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Rachael C

Hi Shaun, I have recently purchased your e manual and have found it extremely useful and helpful and for the first time in a few months I am starting to feel better after reading it.
Thank you

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Shaun O Connor

Hey Rachael,
That’s great news, I’m delighted to hear that you’ve been finding the book so useful! 🙂
Shaun

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Julie

Hi Shaun, I suffer from a form of anxiety that is terrifying, horrifying & controlling. It began when I was 27, just after the birth of my second child. It’s a genetic disorder on mother’s side of the family. My mother suffered with it, 2 of her sisters, cousin, my great auntie (who suicided late 1800’s). Then, worst of all, my youngest son become extremely unwell with it starting May 2016. He tried to cope with it for 9 months, doing all & everything he could to become well. He saw dr’s, 2 psychiatrists, psychologists, did a CBT course, tried many medications – nothing helped him. Sadly & shockingly, he suicided on 27.2.2017. As far as I know, all members of my family who have suffered with this severe form of anxiety have been female. My son was the first male to be affected by it. This type of anxiety does not need anything to “set it in motion”. Everything can be going well, nothing wrong – then IT HITS! Suddenly, without warning. I become extremely unwell with this in approx 10 minutes once the feeling begins. I still suffer from it sporadically. I am extremely well at the moment, but I must stay on medication. I take Nardil (phelelzine sulphate-monoamine oxidase inhibitor) MAO. I have found this to be the only effective medication for me & I have been tried on probably everything on the market. Have you heard of this type of severe anxiety? It’s like having a constant panic attack, but it lasts every second of every day! Thank you, Julie

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Shaun O Connor

Hey Julie, thanks for your comment and I’m very sorry to hear that your family has been so affected by that condition. I must say that I’m not personally familiar with any form of anxiety as a genetic disorder, but I’m not a medical practitioner so my knowledge of anxiety-based conditions outside of Depersonalization would be relatively limited. I’m very glad to hear that you’re doing better at the moment though, and that you’ve found a medication that works for you. Stay in regular touch with your doctor, and keep up the good work!

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kartikay d

hi,im now in 10 grade and i am 15 year old this derealisation thing started just a month ago i just wanted to know how to get rid of it and will it affect my studies please reply soon i will be appearing in a very important exam i have to focus on my studies,thank you.kartik

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Matt

I’ve been dealing with the same thing for 4 or 5 days at the moment, and it has been one of the weirdest and unnerving weeks of my life. The best thing to remember is that it is a feeling, and no matter how uncomfortable, feelings ultimately cannot hurt you! Good luck on your exam bud, everything will be ok!

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Momina

Hi I just recently started suffering from anxiety and depression and derealization. Just one question does it ever go away? Coz I’m really freaked out by it I have a small kid and nothing seems real I’m really scared. I hope it just vanishes this feeling is horrible.

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Charles C

Heyo! Same boat, and I know it can be scary, just know it is ultimately your mind being scared of things and there is not real threat, the sooner your mind is at ease the better. Try to focus on all the amazing and beautiful things in life!! In all honesty, smiling, laughing and no joke, crying really helps me to come into a centred mind! Also try mindfulness that stuff really does help!
Good luck
Charles

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Kayla K

Hey, Shaun. I am a 16 year old girl who had been diagnosed with depersonalization disorder just a few years ago when I was 12. And for a few years I never had a single attack. I felt fine. I was relieved because I had suffered with this disorder for so long. However, now that feeling is returning in a most inopportune time because now my mother is not in the position to pay for my treatment. So here I am begging for any means of coping with these feelings as they are becoming more and more common in my everyday life. I am overwhelmed by this feeling and it’s now taking a toll on my day to day life. Please help in any way. Please.

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Phumelelo

Hii My name is Phumi and I live in South Africa and I’m 17 years old. I’ve done some online tests and have been diagnosed with depersonalization disorder. It’s been like this since the month of October 2018 and nothing has changed. In fact things have gotten worse.
I’m writing my prelims soon and I’m really scared that this is gonna affect me in the future.
Please help!!

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Gift

Thought I was the only one suffering from this condition is South Africa???

Did you manage to get help

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Francis

At age 16, I smoked marijuana for my second time and suffered my first and only panic attack. That panic attack left me with DP/DR disorder. I’ve struggled with DP/DR for seven years now and can’t seem to shake it off. At this point, I’ve accepted that there is no cure.

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Charles C

Hey Francis, I was/am in the exact situation you are, I smoked pot and had a bad experience one night, it sent me into a spiral of “uncontrollable fear and thoughts” I was convinced I was not real or was in a dream state, thankfully I had a dad who I could share this with and he truly comforted me as I ddI genuinely cry out of fear. We decided to sit down and talk and to some mindfulness exercises together every night, slowly but surely I did see change. One day I realised I’d lived a few weeks completely depersonalised free, I hadn’t noticed it leave and didn’t see how i could of possibly felt that way, then it clicked that my mind was just playing tricks on me out of fear for being out of control, as soon as I started doing things in my life that took my attention away and showed these feelings no care, my mind must’ve seen that it was not important for me to feel these things and let go. I song lie, currently I am going through similar stuff and yes it’s scary having it happen almost 2 whole years later. But I am realising small causes like stress in life and me being scared for my future. I believe my brains using it as an attempt to “protect” or “flee” these issues that I need to take on with a smile. I have faith I’ll get through the mud of it once again and believe that if you let others in to help and find a purpose it will leave you feeling better than ever! Good luck and know that I’m cheering for you!
Charlie
PS I know this was posted awhile ago but still wanted to say my piece!

Reply
Hana

Anxiety is not the only factor though. I don’t feel anxious at all but instead, completely emotionally and physically numb. The therapy for anxiety induced dp/dr didn’t work for me. Also, my mind is blank, so quiet I can’t hear any thoughts. No thoughts and no emotions= not human= dp/ dr’d af

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Jadyn

Hey Shaun, recently I have really struggled with my anxiety and some depression here and there. Recently it has gotten so bad to where it started my relationship with depersonalization and derealization. It’s has taken a big toll on me and I have really been struggling with staying hopeful. I’m somewhat young and feel like I’m not strong enough to fight it being so ripe in age. This is the first thing I have read that has given me hope that I can overcome this. Thank you!

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Valencia M

I always feel I’m in a dream state and I see a bit distorted. Happened after a simple surgery. I believe it’s derealization. But my doctors say no. How can I convince my Therepist who I been seeing for anxiety? And this derealization started 20 months ago. I’m afraid to go outside bc of this!! What can I do to help myself to make my providers believe me?!

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Soulaimane

Hey Valencia the same with me here and even worst cuz my doctor dont even know what is Derealization! So i learned to cope with it by myself i now go outside and see people but im not really comfortable, i feel like im underwater i started to seen a neurologist he gave me some Benzodiazipin to calm my anxeity and panic attacks and it successfuly did, but i still feel so derealized and cut off from reality! Idk what to do.

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Brad R

Shaun….

I recently have had hellish attacks of anxiety/panic….Stress from my job and losing family members has pushed me over the edge. I even ended up in the ER with blood pressure 165/110. I have resorted to Klonopin which seems to have given me Depersonalization along with this as well… I’m also a Hypochondriac and am dealing with TMJ at the moment which has caused me to be dizzy/lightheaded sine September 28, 2019….Needless to say, I’ve dealt with a revolving circle of hell. I have done a lot of research and have found there are natural ways to fight this Anxiety. Seeing that my father ha sever anxiety and fought it his whole life, I to have been stricken with the symptom. However, he had no help. But he did offer me good advice through life… ” son, don’t let any thing have FREE RENT in your mind” Little did I know, he was talking TO ME and seen that I was suffering from the same thing he was. Up until he died, he constantly told me to calm down, don’t worry about things… to prepare me for where I am now….. I am so glad I found this article and you have shed some light that this is not a permanent disease; but rather something I CAN control and not feed….I want to thank you so much….SIDENOTE: I am a kick ass Chef and Drummer, so I am not completely nuts…. Cheers Mate: Brad

Reply
Roland

Hi Shaun,

I had my first panic attack more than a year from now and I have never been the same. I have always thought my entire life that I am a bit more anxious person compare to others. I always think its normal and other people are the same. After my first panic attack my body started paying attention to it and so I have bad days and good days. I cant afford therapy so I have been learning bits of coping mechanism. Thank you for this article. I learned another lesson that it cant hurt us, dont pay attention to it and we have to tell our self that anxiety is not important. And all the feeling associated with it will go away. Another eye opener for me. God bless you!

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Soulaimane

Hey Valencia the same with me here and even worst cuz my doctor dont even know what is Derealization! So i learned to cope with it by myself i now go outside and see people but im not really comfortable, i feel like im underwater i started to seen a neurologist he gave me some Benzodiazipin to calm my anxeity and panic attacks and it successfuly did, but i still feel so derealized and cut off from reality! Idk what to do.

Reply
Maeve H

Shaun,

Thank you so much for writing this and other helpful articles about anxiety. I have always suffered from fear and anxiety disorders as well as OCD. Growing up in a stressful, controlling home situation and becoming a young adult and recently getting my first full time job has made me more stressed than ever. I recently tried weed for the first time because my boyfriend said it might help me calm down, but instead I guess I tried it and didn’t like this new feeling of losing control because my whole life has always been controlled. I had a panic attack and he was there to hold me and comfort me (I don’t remember it at all), and I have been unable to sleep for two days. But I feel as though I am slowly getting back to myself and getting back in touch with reality. It was an extremely stressful experience, but I am learning more and more about myself through it. I was feeling like someone else and feeling physically numb and in a dreamlike state for two days, but reading this and other articles from other people and help sites has made me aware of my own reality and regain control and confidence. Thank you for helping me. It has changed me for the better and forever.

Sincerely,

Maeve

Reply
Christine

Hello let me thank you frist after reading your article how to over come anxiety I just developed blood pressure 150/90 I was ask to take medicine stamlo 5mg thought it help my bp come lower but my anxiety thinking about my bp it’s difficult to except like normal n thinking many other things feeling low as of now don’t know how to handle ,after reading your article lots more are there who also went through this but come out reading their reviews it’s giving positive enlightenment toward life thank you so much From Christine india

Reply
Sayla

Hi Shaun,
I’m a 15 year old from Australia, and have been battling with anxiety and quite bad derealization and depersonalization for about a year now. My parents are getting me to see people, and i’m trying so hard to keep living my life as usual, to ignore the anxiety. But alas, it can be so hard when one week your mind decides you have a brain tumour, and the next about to have a heart attack. Anxiety is so weird, and so unlogical. It scares me, so much. But i’m working hard to stay positive no matter what, and i’m extremely glad i’ve come across this article as it really helped me look at the way i feel from a new perspective. Thank you so much, keep doing the work your doing on this stuff. Because sometimes just a random article online that a teenager in the midst of a panic attack finds, can really really help. ty <3

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The move towards brave doesn’t have to be a leap. It can be a shuffle - lots of brave tiny steps, each one more brave than before. What’s important isn’t the size of the step but the direction.

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 #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #neuronurtured #anxiety #anxietyinchildren
You know who I love? (Not counting every food delivery person who has delivered takeaway to my home. Or the person who puts the little slots in the sides of the soy sauce packets to make them easier to open. Not counting those people.) You know who? Adolescents. I just love them. 
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Today I spoke with two big groups of secondary school students about managing anxiety. In each talk, as there are in all of my talks with teens, there were questions. Big, open-hearted, thoughtful questions that go right to the heart of it all. 
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Some of the questions they asked were:
- What can I do to help my friend who is feeling big anxiety?
- What can I do to help an adult who has anxiety?
- How can I start the conversation about anxiety with my parents?

Our teens have big, beautiful, open hearts. They won’t always show us that, but they do. They want to be there for their friends and for the adults in their lives. They want to be able to come to us and talk about the things that matter, but sometimes they don’t know how to start. They want to step up and be there for their important people, including their parents, but sometimes they don’t know how. They want to be connected to us, but they don’t want to be controlled, or trapped in conversations that won’t end once they begin. 

Our teens need to know that the way to us is open. The more they can feel their important adults holding on to them - not controlling them - the better. Let them know you won’t cramp them, or intrude, or ask too many questions they don’t want you to ask. Let them know that when they want the conversation to stop, it will stop. But above all else, let them know you’re there. Tell them they don’t need to have all the words. They don’t need to have any words at all. Tell them that if they let you know they want to chat, you can handle anything that comes from there - even if it’s silence, or messy words, or big feelings - you can handle all of it. Our teens are extraordinary and they need us during adolescence more than ever, but this will have to be more on their terms for a while.  They love you and they need you. They won’t always show it, but I promise you, they do.♥️
Sometimes silence means 'I don't have anything to say.' Sometimes it means, 'I have plenty to say but I don't want to share it right here and right now.' We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety are thoughtful, observant and insightful, and their wisdom will always have the potential to add something important to the world for all of us.

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Rather than talking to them about what they can’t do (and they’ll probably want to talk about this a lot - that’s what anxiety does), ask them what they can do. It doesn’t matter how small the step is, as long as it’s forward.
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The idea is to gradually and gently expose them to the things that feel frightening. This is the only way to re-teach the amygdala that it’s safe. Let them know you understand it feels scary - they need to know you feel what they feel and that you get it. This will make your belief in them and your refusal to support avoidance more meaningful. Then move them towards brave.
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This can be tough. To move our children towards the things that are causing them distress pushes fiercely against our instincts as a parent - but - supporting avoidance, overprotecting, over-reassuring, the things we do that unintentionally accommodate anxiety over brave behaviour will only feed anxiety and make it more resistant to change. (And as a parent I’ve done all of these things at some time - we’re parents, not perfect, and parental love has a way of drawing us all in to unhelpful behaviours in the name of protecting our kiddos). .
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The point is, moving our children towards brave behaviour can feel awful, but it’s so important. When they focus on the fear and what they can’t do, try, ‘Okay, I know this feels scary. I really do. I also know you can do this. I understand this step feels too big, so what little step can you take towards it? What can you do that is braver than last time?’

 #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #parentingtip #childdevelopment #braindevelopment #mindfulparenting #adolescence #positiveparentingtips #heyawesome #mentalhealth #heysigmund #motherhoodcommunity #parentingtips #anxiety #anxietysupport #anxietyrelief #parentingadvice #anxietyinchildren #heywarrior #childanxiety #anxietyawareness #mentalwellness
We can’t decide the lessons our children learn and we can’t decide when they learn them, but we can create the space that invites the discovery. We can do this by making it safe for them to speak, and to wander around their own experiences so the lessons and wisdom can emerge.
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