Panic attacks and generalized anxiety disorder have a wide variety of signs and symptoms. Perhaps one of the most distressing symptoms, at least for me, is depersonalization.
Depersonalization (or derealization) is a feeling of unreality that can be extremely frightening. This was the first symptom of anxiety that I experienced as a child.
I feel as though I am removed from my surroundings and yet I am still there. It feels as though I am looking out from the back of a tube or tunnel. It feels very detached from real life. As a child this was terrifying and I would call out to my family, “Help, I’m not here!”
Depersonalization is a malfunction or anomaly of the mechanism by which an individual has self awareness. It is a feeling of watching oneself act, while having no control over a situation. It [sic] usually refers to the severe form found in anxiety and, in the most intense cases, panic attacks. Sufferers feel they have changed, and the world has become less real, vague, dreamlike, or lacking in significance. It can be a disturbing experience, since many feel that, indeed, they are living in a “dream”.
Individuals who experience depersonalization feel divorced from their own personal physicality by sensing their body sensations, feelings, emotions and behaviors as not belonging to the same person or identity. Often a person who has experienced depersonalization claims that life “feels like a movie” or things seem unreal or hazy. Also, a recognition of self breaks down (hence the name). Depersonalization can result in very high anxiety levels, which further increase these perceptions.
When can depersonalization happen?
Depersonalization can happen during an anxiety triggering event or even hours later. As a seven year old, my stressor was my school, but my feelings of unreality would happen in the evening while watching TV with my family. Since home was my safe place, it made the feelings and sensations all the more disturbing.
In my experience over the years, I have found that most doctors are not familiar with depersonalization. I think this is sad, and only makes it harder for sufferers to find a professional who really understands them. This was certainly the case with me.
Tips for depersonalization:
1. Do NOT smoke pot or take hallucinogens. These and other drugs make the feelings worse.
2. Avoid over drinking alcohol. The hangover can bring on extreme feelings of unreality.
3. Keep a journal. Write about your experiences and how long the feelings lasted. Writing about stressful past experiences can be cathartic and decrease your episodes of depersonalization.
4. Pray or meditate. Prayer and meditation grounds you and helps you feel connected to your God, higher power, or whatever it is that you pray to.
5. Get some sunshine. I recommend taking a walk outside, or doing a half hour of gardening. There’s something so grounding about being close to nature and the natural light is healing and restorative.
6. Know that while disturbing, depersonalization or feelings of derealizaton cannot in any way harm you. Use this knowledge to your advantage. Know that you can walk, talk, eat and function while feeling this way. In fact, the less tuned in you are to the sensations, the faster it goes away.
In closing I’m happy to report that while I still get depersonalization from time to time, I’m not too startled anymore when it happens. It just gets old after years and years. This calm acceptance on my part has probably helped me more than anything 😉
Have you ever felt depersonalization or feelings of unreality? What helped you? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share so we can help each other.
I wish you peace,
Are you tired of feeling anxious all the time? Ready to take action with an effective anxiety elimination program? I recommend and use the Anxiety Self Help Road Map. Please get started today and reclaim your life from fear.