By Brian Robinson.
Anxiety sufferers can experience a host of troublesome symptoms. This is a characteristic which often makes it a difficult condition to manage. Generally speaking, however, symptoms only arise due to high levels of stress or the fight or flight response having been activated. However, as anxiety sufferers we may believe our symptoms have sinister undertones. Depersonalisation and derealisation are symptoms that can be particularly unsettling.
Depersonalisation is the feeling of being detached or disconnected from self. You understand what’s happening to you, but you experience existence partially as a spectator. The sufferer may feel a separation from emotion, mind and body.
Derealisation is when you feel partially disconnected from your surroundings which may appear unreal. Your sensual experience of the things around you may be out of step with what you know to be normal. Time may speed up or slow down; things may appear blurred; hearing may be heightened or subdued.
Depersonalisation and derealisation can be classed as disassociation symptoms. The brain is an amazing piece of kit, so we might ask what purpose could this possibly serve? If we become too stressed or traumatised by something, the brain may see it as beneficial to disconnect or distance one’s self from the trauma.
For example, people who experience real life-threatening experiences can also experience depersonalisation. This is the brain’s way of creating a distance between the threat and the threatened.
Disassociation amnesia is likewise a way of blotting out something horrible that has happened in the past. Sometimes the brain may feel it makes sense to dis-remember something, or even mis-remember an event.
So, what can we do to help manage these strange symptoms? Well, understanding why they exist helps. And Cognitive Behavioural Therapy may assist the sufferer recognise that depersonalisation is a non-threatening symptom. Generally speaking, these unpleasant symptoms do not last forever. They tend to diminish as the anxiety sufferer recovers and stress levels fall.
In the meantime, using our five senses in grounding exercises may help manage the symptoms. Over-focusing on the objects around you; looking at relaxing and interesting pictures; touching or stroking something tactile; listening to music loud enough to register; over chew and savour food; surround yourself with pleasant smells. All these practices can help reconnect with self and the external world.