Depersonalization and derealization can be scary, and these symptoms of anxiety and panic disorder can truly make you feel like you are going crazy at times. Quick side note - you aren’t going crazy! These symptoms can stem from heightened levels of stress, fears, and trauma. Knowing why you are experiencing something helps you to work through it, and it helps you to determine which tools will help you along the way!
When I was at the height of my journey with anxiety and panic disorder, I experienced both of these symptoms but really had no idea what it was that I was experiencing at the time. I want to dive into my personal experience with depersonalization and derealization to help you to better understand both of these symptoms, help you to gain some clarity, and give you some tips for working through them!
Depersonalization causes you to feel as though you are observing yourself from outside of your body. It can also cause you to feel detached from your emotions. When I experienced depersonalization, I was often worried that I didn’t have control of what I might say or do. I would worry that I might do or say something without even realizing it, and embarrass myself or do something that would get me into trouble or just make me look crazy.
Derealization is the feeling of being disconnected from reality, like you’re living in a dream. Things can even appear to be distorted. When I experienced derealization, I would often feel as though I wasn’t where I was or doing what I was doing (even though I really did know where I was and what I was doing). I worried that I was lost in some alternate world and had completely gone crazy.
Depersonalization and derealization often hit me when I was in public places like work, school, stores, and in social situations. I remember sitting at work and school and convincing myself that I would do or say something crazy and not remember it, like stand up on my desk and start rambling off craziness. Or sometimes when I was in a busy place, I'd all of a sudden feel as though I had completely left my body and mind and all I could make out was unclear sounds and blurry images. And because I had no idea what I was experiencing at the time, or what would help me, I sort of just freaked out and convinced myself that I wasn’t in control (which only heightened the awful feelings).
I would often leave wherever I was and rush to a bathroom or a quiet space in an attempt to pull myself together. This often looked like pinching myself and tapping on different parts of my body or nearby surfaces in an effort to assure myself that I was not somewhere outside of my body. Although these tricks worked to a certain degree sometimes, I knew that there had to be better ways of working through these symptoms!
Here are a few in the moment tips to help you push past depersonalization and derealization:
1. Acknowledge how you’re feeling and accept it. This is important. Trying to hide how you’re feeling or running from it will heighten the symptoms. I know how badly it feels like you aren’t in control when experiencing these symptoms, but like with panic attacks, you are in control! You have always successfully worked through these moments (even though it doesn’t feel like success)! Tell yourself, “I know what this is. I feel weird, but I am okay. This feeling is temporary and it will pass.”
2. Engage your senses. Engaging your senses will help to bring your brain back into the present moment. Acknowledge the things you see, smell, and the sounds you hear. You can either say them out loud or just to yourself. Touch or taste something and acknowledge how it feels/tastes. Notice your own movements, even if it’s as subtle as acknowledge yourself taking steps. Also, engage with others around you. This will also help to bring you back into the present moment.
3. Do a quick breathing exercise. Here’s my favorite one! Mindfulness practices like breathing exercises help to get your brain back into the present moment and quickly.
And here are some healthy habits to implement into your everyday life that will help you to push past depersonalization and derealization:
1. Look for ways to reduce stress. This is a huge one because stress is a major contributor of many anxiety symptoms!
- Make time for self-care.
- Start saying no more!
- Set boundaries with yourself and others and stick to them.
- Move your body every day for at least 30 minutes.
- Make sure to do the things you enjoy doing!
2. Get adequate sleep. A lack of sleep can definitely heighten these symptoms. Getting anywhere between 7-9 hours of sleep each night is best.
3. Continue to do the things that cause you fear! Avoiding your fears will only heighten them, as well as their anxiety response and the symptoms. If you want to dig into this more, check out my blog post on What Exposure Therapy Is All About.
4. Use positive self-talk daily! Positive self-talk will help to undo those negative, unproductive, and unhealthy thoughts that lead to anxiety, panic, and the symptoms. Write down a list of positive messages, or put positive messages on sticky notes, and put the list or messages in a place you’ll see often. Say them out loud! Your brain needs to hear these messages so that it can replace your current thoughts with new and healthy ones!
5. Medication is a great tool that works for many people. Sometimes it’s a great option for people because it can help to relieve the symptoms so that they can focus on healing. If you’re contemplating trying medication, definitely consult with a therapist, psychiatrist, or physician. And if you’ve tried medication and it didn’t work for you, or you’re not interested in trying medication, that’s okay! It doesn’t mean that you can’t overcome anxiety and panic disorder! If you’d like to read about my medication journey, head over here.
These tips will help you! And if you’re looking for that magic thing that will make you never experience depersonalization and derealization again, it’s in YOU!
You don’t have to learn to manage anxiety, panic, and the symptoms. You are capable of overcoming it all, including depersonalization and derealization!