Overcoming the Feelings of Unreality
When it comes to depersonalization, there is nothing scarier than feeling detached from your mind and your body. The feeling that you are an outside observer of yourself is extremely anxiety provoking. Oftentimes, it is described as if living in a dream. This dream-like state seems hazy, foggy and sometimes even the color of their world is less vivid as if you are looking at the world through the bottom of a glass. Derealization, which is similar to depersonalization causes the sufferer to feel as if nothing is real.
These feelings are seen most often in various type of anxiety disorders, panic disorders, clinical depression, and sleep deprivation.
Interestingly enough, some prescription medications, as well as certain recreational drugs can cause these feelings. As noted by Philip R. Cohen, M.D. in the article, "Medication-Associated Depersonalization Symptoms", can be also caused by the following:
Alcohol, Antihistamines, Antipsychotics, Anti-Anxiety medications, Benzodiazepines, Caffeine, Carbamazepine, Fluoxetine, Fluphenazine, Hallucinogens, Indomethacin, LSD, Marijuana, Metachlorophenylpiperazine, Minocycline, Nitrazepam, and Sodium Pentothal.
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Coping with the symptoms of Depersonalization and Derealization can be quite difficult especially to someone that is suffering from a disorder such as anxiety, panic, and/or depression. To someone suffering with these types of challenges, the symptoms can easily be mistaken for something more serious. Many interpret their symptoms to mean that they are on the verge of insanity, that they are losing touch with reality and others fear they have a more serious mental illness such as Schizophrenia.
It’s very hard to go about everyday activities without being affected by these symptoms. Imagine trying to work, drive, grocery shop while feeling disconnected from your mind and body and like your world is a dreamy fog. That in itself is enough to provoke more anxiety in anyone. So it is not uncommon to hear of people avoiding situations because of the way they feel. Sometimes the feelings of Depersonalization and Derealization alone can bring so much anxiety that the sufferer experiences panic attacks as a result.
What can you do?
1. First of all, I would highly encourage that you remove all caffeine and Alcohol from your diet.
2. If you are taking any medications prescribed by your physician, I would encourage you to see if they are listed on the above list. If they are, I would encourage you to make an appointment to talk to your doctor especially if your symptoms are particularly troublesome. There is a good possibility that there are other medications that may be able to replace what you are taking that will not cause these symptoms. Your physician will help with this. Many times people who are on different forms of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications for an anxiety or depressive condition and it’s important to recognize that sometimes medications can also promote symptoms of Depersonalization and Derealization.
3. If you are taking over-the-counter medications such as cold-allergy medications that include antihistamines or decongestants, you might consider using other forms of self treatment for your condition. More natural approaches to treat sinus problems may be more beneficial to you.
4. If you are not getting enough sleep. It’s time to get some! Sleep deprivation can be a big reason why you are experiencing Depersonalization and Derealization symptoms. Although you hear different stories about how many hours of sleep is right; Science tells us that anywhere between 6-9 hours are best. It all depends on you and what feels better for you. For some, sleeping only 6 hours leaves them exhausted the rest of the day, while others that sleep this amount feel refreshed and ready-to-go. Oversleeping is something you want to avoid since this too can add to the symptoms of Depersonalization and Derealization. Try experimenting to see how many hours of sleep make you feel your best.
So what can you do if your Depersonalization and Derealization is caused from an existing anxiety disorder or clinical depression?
MOST IMPORTANTLY!!! You must first recognize that these symptoms, although distressing, are not dangerous. The truth is that they are common symptoms for anxiety and depression.
Second, sometimes with anxiety, feelings of Depersonalization and Derealization are caused by incorrect breathing patterns that lead to hyperventilation. Believe it or not, one of the many symptoms of hyperventilation includes body feeling different or unreal....things around you seem unreal, as well as confusion, dizziness, light-headedness, tingling in hands, feet or face, breathlessness, muscle stiffness, sweating, dry mouth or throat.
These sensations are caused by breathing more oxygen than necessary. It is the reduced level of carbon dioxide that is in the blood that causes these symptoms.
One thing you must know is that breathing has automatic and voluntary control. This means that when you are not thinking about it, your body maintains your breathing rate, but when you want to, you have the ability to change your breathing rate. For example, this ability helps us to hold our breath underwater.
In order to overcome hyperventilation, you must first be able to recognize it.
Ask yourself these questions to see if hyperventilation is a probability....
1.Am I breathing too quickly? - the average person takes approximately 10-12 breaths per minute when at rest. If you are taking more than this, you want to reduce your breaths. You do this by using the breathing exercises listed below.
2.Am I breathing too deeply? – when you are breathing too deeply you feel like your chest is always full of air (over-expanded). Proper breathing comes from the abdomen not the chest.
If you have determined that you are hyperventilating, you can use a slow-breathing technique to help correct any improper breathing you might be doing.
To do this:
1. Sit in a comfortable position.
2. Focus on your breathing.
3. Make sure you are breathing from your stomach.
4. Breathe in slowly through your nose for 3 seconds.
5. Breathe out slowly through your nose for 3 seconds.
6. Be sure to say "relax" to yourself when you are doing this.
7. Continue until symptoms disappear.
This breathing method will produce 10 breaths per minute!!
***Although you might feel uncomfortable using this method. You must realize that by over-breathing for so long you have developed a habit. Doing things differently will always feel uncomfortable at first. Practice is very important in creating a new habit of breathing. Be patient with yourself. It takes time to learn something new and to master it!
Okay, with all that being said... what about coping skills?
Dealing with Depersonalization and Derealization comes with some real scary feelings. People often add second fears and "what-if's" to their already overwhelming symptoms. This makes things so much worse than they have to be. They scare themselves creating more anxiety and more panic to the mix. Coping skills exist and they take some practice to get used to them but I encourage you to practice everyday. By mastering these skills, you will make things easier on yourself and bring yourself back to feeling better than you have in a long time.
1. Accept your sensations! I know it’s very hard to accept the things that are distressing. We just want them gone already. However, "by wishing them away, we enable them to stay". Accept they are there and do not add any "what if thinking" about all the possibilities for your sensations. Let them exist and don’t make such a big deal out of it. By making a big deal, you are falsely telling your brain that there is something to fear, something to dread, something to run from. As you would conquer your obsessive scary thoughts, you will conquer your Depersonalization and Derealization. Sometimes it is the obsession of your thinking that keeps you stuck.
2. Tell yourself the truth! Remind yourself what you are feeling and why. They are symptoms! Nothing more, nothing less. Whether they are from a medication that you are taking, or simply symptoms from chronic anxiety or depression they are common symptoms! They are "distressing but not dangerous". Positive thought replacement is very important in helping you do this effectively.
3. Practice being in the "here and now". Practice doing things that cause you to participate in life. Give whatever you are doing your fullest attention. You do this by involving all your senses! Notice colors, smells, sounds and if someone is talking give them your fullest attention. This is a skill that needs a lot of practice, especially since you are so used to being focused on yourself and how you feel. This skill is about getting out of yourself and into what is around you!
4. Do something fun that you enjoy. I suppose this is the best distraction method that I really approve of. Doing something you enjoy and becoming physically part of it, involving the "here and now" makes this skill so worth it. While you work this skill, remind yourself what you love about it and how it makes you feel.
5. Do not avoid anything because of the way you feel. – Avoiding only makes matters much worse. Instead, step out and realize that you can do whatever you need to do with or without those feelings. Depersonalization and Derealization are symptoms related to too much stress and anxiety. It is your brains way of protecting you from overdrive by putting you in neutral. I know it is scary to step out while feeling this way but it's very important to do so, but you must do it while telling yourself the truth about your symptoms.
6. Develop an attitude of determination. It’s easy to become distracted by the way you feel. It is also easy to slip back into bad habits of thinking and to scare yourself again and again. Make sure you do an attitude check everyday. Be determined and realize that you will have good days and bad days. Remind yourself that as long as you keep up the work and practice these skills, you will produce some good results. The truth is you have two choices...and only two choices. You can either repeat the same old cycle of belief about your Depersonalization and Derealization or you can do something about it by practicing skills that will help bring hope and relief to these uncomfortable symptoms. You can keep worrying about yourself and these feelings or you can move on believing that there is hope and help for you.
7. Trust others who have “been there and done that ". Listen to the people who have suffered and have overcome. Trust that when they tell you their experience that there is the same hope and help for you. There is much to be learned by listening to others and their personal experiences.
8. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. sometimes the hardest thing to do is seek professional help for anxiety and/or depression. Many people are afraid they will no longer be in control over their mental health decisions. Please be assured that you will always have control over yourself and the choices you make. Even if your doctor suggested a medication and you don’t want to take it – you still have the choice to not take it. Medication is a choice, always! Sometimes it’s just good to have someone to talk about it with.
9. Involve yourself in an online forum Talking with others that are currently suffering helps a lot! Not only do you get to see that you are not alone, but you get the chance to tell them the very things you need to be telling yourself. You must know that by helping others, you help yourself. By repeating to others the truths about Depersonalization and Derealization, you are repeating it to yourself.
***If you are looking for an online support forum specifically for Depersonalization and Derealization please visit the Support Community Forum.
Book Recommendations for Depersonalization:
There are a couple books that come highly recommended in regards to Depersonalization and Derealization.
Feeling Unreal: Depersonalization Disorder and the Loss of the Self by Daphne Simeon,M.D. and Jeffrey Abugel
Overcoming Depersonalization and Feelings of Unreality: A self-help guide using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques (Overcoming Books) by Anthony S. David. Both books give clear insight into this sometimes debilitating symptom.