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What Is Derealization?

If you’ve ever felt that suddenly nothing around you feels or looks real any longer, or that the world suddenly looks “strange” or “not exactly right”, you’ve probably experienced derealization.  People who experience derealization as an anxiety symptom have a very difficult time explaining it to others.  I’ve heard it described as looking at the world through glass or a camera lens.  Others have said that it feels like you’ve been shifted “out of phase” with reality and therefore aren’t perfectly attached to it any more. Still others have talked about a sudden shift in the way everything looks, feels and sounds.  Regardless of the description, derealization is common and often quite disturbing.

Derealization is a dissociative state. The dissociative states – derealization and depersonalization – are possibly the most common yet misunderstood and under-discussed anxiety symptoms.  For many, they’re the most difficult symptoms to fully accept and not fear.

Do I Have A Dissociative Disorder?

Dissociative states exist on a continuum. The most common and mild state is that “zoning out/daydream” state that we all experience from time to time.  On the other end of the continuum are serious and frightening things like dissociative disorders that can involve permanent or near permanent states of derealization or depersonalization.  If you’re reading this because you’re dealing with panic attacks and/or agoraphobia, the odds are VERY high that you do not have a dissociative disorder.

Just An Anxiety Symptom

In the case of anxiety disorders like panic disorder, agoraphobia or generalized anxiety disorder, dissociative states are simply anxiety symptoms much like a racing heart or wobbly legs or mild dizziness. They’re no more and no less.  They are not indicative of any grave danger, nor are they permanent or indicative of any serious mental illness or defect. Though they may be extremely uncomfortable, upsetting and frightening, they are merely symptoms and should be approached as we approach all our anxiety symptoms.

Derealization may be based on a shift in the way we process sensory input.  While most of what we see, hear, smell, touch or taste is processed automatically in the background (thankfully), I suspect that derealization may be what happens when our brains shift that processing into the foreground.  Things we don’t normally think about or subjectively interpret are suddenly subject to conscious analysis.  This is an un-natural state that we have no experience with.  I may be completely wrong about this, but even I am, this common sense explanation of what’s going in during derealization helped me accept that state and not fear it.

What Can I Do About It?

So what do you when derealization hits?  The same things you do when every other anxiety or panic symptom strikes.  Relax.  Breathe. Don’t add more fear.  Don’t fight. This is especially difficult with the dissociative state because we’re not really sure why they pop up and we’re never really sure when they’ll end, but the strategy still applies.  One additional trick is to test your ability to interact with and control your environment.  While in the car, I’d tell myself to change the radio station, then I’d do it.  Bingo.  Proof that even though everything felt scary and un-real, I was still intact and in control.

As expected, the more I accepted and the less I added more fear, the shorter my derealization spells would last.  Then they’d come less often.  Ultimately derealization has become something I really only experience during times of high anxiety.  I no longer work so hard to avoid it.  If I can do it, I know you can too.

In the episode we’ll look at depersonalization, another dissociative state that can also be terribly scary and hard to accept, but usually for different reasons.


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Intro/Ending Music Credit: Title Autumn Day (Kevin MacLeod – Licensed underCreative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 

Photo Credit: Dan Cook Archived via Compfight cc

Warrior At Night

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We all need to do a little trash talking sometimes to find inspiration and motivation.  Being told – or telling yourself – that you are a badass anxiety warrior is sometimes needed to get us out of a down mood, or when we need something to get us off the sofa.  Nothing wrong with that, but the Internet is full of memes and inspirational quotes about how difficult this is and how nobody understands just how strong we are.  Anxious people are gathering right now in Internet forums and Facebook groups to exchange these words.   You know them.  

  • Warriors.
  • Soldiers
  • Goddesses.

We use words like battle and war . We post pictures of lions and gladiators and angels.  Its all quite soothing and inspirational.

That and a Metro Card will get you on the New York City subway.  Without action, they are just words and in the end worthless.

Does that sound harsh?  Good. It should.

Talking the talk without walking the walk is a self-soothing behavior, but in the end it does nothing to advance your cause. If you want to identify as a warrior, soldier or goddess, then you must take action like one.  This does not mean going from housebound to a world cruise in one leap.  This simply means being active in the process of recovery.  It means taking those small steps that need to be taken, every day even when you don’t want to or think you cant.  Warriors are built through action and experience. They are not created with words.

  • Want to be a warrior?  Learn to relax your body when you need to.
  • Want to be a solider?  Learn basic meditation and focus skills so you can use them when you need to.
  • Want to be a goddess?  Learn proper breathing techniques so you can use it when you need to.
  • Want to win battles?  Go stand outside in your front yard for 60 seconds even if you’re terrified to do that.

Words without actions are empty, but actions don’t have to be grandiose and impressive.  They can be small and measured and incremental and productive.  Small steps add up.  Tiny increments become long distances.  Every action matters, so long as you are taking action.

So next time you want to mindlessly hit the like button on an anxiety warrior meme, ask yourself if you’ve earned that. If you haven’t, get up and take a step forward, no matter how small it is.  Then come back and like that meme, then take it a step farther and crow about what you just did. You’ll have earned it, and the world will cheer you on.

Bye bye, paper tiger!


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Overcoming Anxiety - Do The Opposite


“I’m the opposite of every man you’ve ever met.” – George Costanza (‘Seinfeld’)

When you’re dealing with an anxiety disorder – panic attacks, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety, etc. – your natural tendency will be to do whatever you can to avoid feeling anxious or afraid.  This is to be expected as human beings naturally seek safety and comfort.  Natural though it may be, this approach is not helpful in any way.  In fact, retreating and avoiding your anxiety will only make things worse.

In reality, the path to success involves doing the exact opposite of what you want to do.  This can be difficult because it means you must summon the courage to face your fear, and you must ignore your survival and safety instincts. Understanding and embracing the “opposite strategy” can help to propel you forward when all other factors in your life are pulling you backward.

The “Opposite Strategy”

The plan is simple.  Think about what you want to do, especially when you’re feeling badly, and do the exact opposite.

  • If you want to cancel your plan to have lunch with a friend …don’t. Do the opposite!  Don’t cancel.  Go, no matter how you may feel.
  • If you want to stay in bed and hide under the covers … don’t.  Do the opposite!  Get up, take a shower, get dressed.
  • If you want to run back home because you’re worried that you might have a panic attack … don’t.  Do the opposite!  Stay where you are and let the panic come if it will.
  • If you want to check your pulse or visit WebMD to see if you’re dying …don’t.  Do the opposite!  Keep your hands off your wrists or neck and turn off your computer. Just let the sensations be there with you without reacting to them and you’ll learn through direct experience that you are not in any danger.
  • If you want to complain about how people “don’t understand” …. don’t.  Do the opposite!   Take an objective look at yourself and your behaviors, and put yourself into the shoes of your husband or wife or friend or whomever.  Try to see how they would have a hard time understanding why you’re afraid to go your grandma’s birthday party.
  • If you want to go online to seek validation from others that also suffer with anxiety related issues … don’t.  Do the opposite! Seek encouragement and empowerment instead.  Seek inspiration from those that are making progress ahead of you.  Seek success stories and let them show you the way forward.

I can list pages upon pages of these, but you get the idea.

Its Not Automatic

Doing the opposite is not automatic for any of us.  In fact, its very difficult because it requires concentration, focus and a healthy dose of both self-awareness and self-honesty.  Don’t be disheartened if it takes you a while to get good at this.

In order for the “opposite strategy” to be truly helpful, there are some important points that you have to be aware of.

  • You will be uncomfortable.
  • You will be afraid.  More afraid in the beginning. Less as you progress.
  • You MUST do the opposite no matter how you feel.  Unless you are physically ill or incapacitated due to actual injury, make no excuses to retreat and avoid. That does nothing to help you.
  • You MUST be tenacious and persistent.  Be aware of your decisions at all times so you can do the opposite when needed, even on “bad days”.
  • Be sure that the people close to you know what you’re doing. If you’re frustrated by a lack of support or understanding in your life, showing an effort can go a very long way toward building that personal support base we all need. In most cases you don’t need to go from housebound to a world cruise in a week.  Even a few trips to the local shopping mall can turn your family and friends around and get them in your corner.

I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite clips from Seinfeld.  George will make you laugh, but there’s truth in the message!


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Intro/Ending Music Credit: Title Autumn Day (Kevin MacLeod – Licensed underCreative Commons: By Attribution 3.0