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

64 Comments

Mary

I became depersonalized many years ago. I woke up disconnected from reality. The storage part is that night I had a horrid nightmare that felt so real. Next thing I know I’m like this.I get this weird feeling in my head that’s hard to explain. I just recently came across info about brain fog, memory and other symptoms that make up DP/DR being connected to the neck. It’s a sign of massive compression. Going to see if this may be my solution.

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Marilyn

Thank You for this information of a very scary feeling. I wish that I would have known about it then, when it had happened to me, but I didn’t know what it was. It felt so real, and so scary. Remembering it still now, it still scares me. I had no control of it then. I am still afraid of loosing control. I did not find these feelings helpful then. They caused me to get locked in a mental hospital. These feelings (I learn now) were protecting me, and yet, I felt that they were destroying me. I had to them, and I did. I had to hide them, so that no one would know, so that I would not be locked up in a mental hospital again. I am so glad reading this now. It shows me that I was not crazy, even that this thing was, and I felt helpless in being that. I am glad knowing now that it was not my fault in feeling these crazy things, and that I was not the only one feeling them. This information is very important to any trauma survivors. Everyone should know it, so that if something like this happens again (I hope not) but at least that then it would be known what it really was, and not to be afraid of it. That fear in me was real, and just like with now with the depression, or panic attacks, I can’t control it completely. At least now I know it, and I accept for what it really was, and not for what my mind had caused me to believe. That believe was terrifying, and I am glad that I have survived it.

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Anonymous

I’m 18 and I’m not sure if what I have is dp but from what I’ve found I think it is. I just have this strange feeling all the time like I’m looking at everything from a different perspective. It’s hard to focus and sometimes I find my self thinking about certain things with out trying to, as if my subconscious is in the drivers seat. It’s hard to focus and it makes me tired all the time but it gets worse If I sleep during the day. It started a few days ago after I took an hour nap and woke back up and went to bed before I had to go to work the next morning ever since then it’s gotten slightly better but I can still notice it with out a problem. I do have a lot of stress with school, work, and a failing relationship with my girlfriend, and I recently made a decision to stop vaping after trying a few times and failing. I’ve never experienced anything like this before and want to know if I should go to the doctor or do something to make it better. I don’t even know how to describe it to anyone and I’ve only told two people. I just need answers.

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Justice

Hi Shaun
I’m 18 years but I started having this DP when i was 17,a day before my birthday and ever since it’s been months and I read about others who get well in days and I thought mine was different, but recently I was starting to feel better but it got worse again, I don’t know what to do

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Anxiety shows up to check that you’re okay, not to tell you that you’re not. It’s your brain’s way of saying, ‘Not sure - there might be some trouble here, but there might not be, but just in case you should be ready for it if it comes, which it might not – but just in case you’d better be ready to run or fight – but it might be totally fine.’ Brains can be so confusing sometimes! 

You have a brain that is strong, healthy and hardworking. It’s magnificent and it’s doing a brilliant job of doing exactly what brains are meant to do – keep you alive. 

Your brain is fabulous, but it needs you to be the boss. Here’s how. When you feel anxious, ask yourself two questions:

- ‘Do I feel like this because I’m in danger or because there’s something brave or important I need to do?’

- Then, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe (sometimes it might be) or is this a time for me to be brave?

And remember, you will always have ‘brave’ in you, and anxiety doesn’t change that a bit.♥️

#positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #parenting #childanxiety #heywarrior #heywarriorbook
The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️

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