“Sometimes, I feel like I view life through a lens. It’s like being part of a movie. Watching not participating”
Tina J Richardson
Many anxiety sufferers also experience dissociation, where the trauma caused by constant feelings of anxiety and panic pushes their mind into a state of ‘self-protection’.
The brain tries to numb you from the world so that it does not feel as if what you are going through is happening to you.
This is what causes depersonalisation and derealisation, and the sensations they give you can be very unnerving and distressing.
In my article on anxiety induced depersonalisation and derealisation I have spoken about how the constant worry and associated stress about the way you feel is what causes the dissociation to remain.
Therefore to stop dissociation you must remove the root cause (anxiety) first by learning to be ok with how you currently feel.
When you start to do this you can see some improvements fairly quickly, but it can take weeks or months to truly take effect and during this time you will have bad days.
During these bad days it can still come on very strong and feel overwhelming to the point where you just want it to stop and to feel normal again.
So today I want to tell you about the method I used to reduce my dissociation when it was at its worst, so that I could fairly quickly ‘return to the world again’.
It is known as a grounding technique, where you bring your body and mind back together as one and reconnect with the world around you.
It will help with the following:
- Reducing the feelings of being spaced out, numb and like you are not there
- Make the world, objects and people feel real – focused, colourful and in 3D
- Make you feel connected to your body and limbs, so that you experience your mind and body as one
This technique works for those with transient dissociation which, although might be there for a lot of the time, does come and go during your day and is often correlated with your level of anxiety.
I have never had constant all day every day dissociation, so cannot speak for this method working if you experience this.
The Calm and Courageous Grounding Technique
This technique takes about 5 to 10 minutes to complete.
It may take a little practice to get right, but even if it doesn’t work straightaway, keep in mind that the important thing is this:
Although dissociation feels unpleasant, it cannot hurt you and there is nothing physically wrong with your brain
This is very important to understand first, it will help calm your nerves a little so you can focus on doing the technique correctly and without distraction.
Firstly sit upright in a chair, somewhere quiet and comfortable with your feet flat on the ground and your hands resting on the arms of the chair.
If the chair does not have arms then place your hands palms down on your thighs.
Then slowly go through the next 6 steps:
- Take 5 slow and deeper breaths, taking 3 seconds to inhale, holding for 1 second and exhaling for 5 seconds. As you do so, allow your muscles to relax so that you feel calm and comfortable.
- Take 2 minutes to observe your head, body and your limbs by slowly looking around yourself from the tips of your toes to the end of your fingers. Notice how all are connected and as one.
- Look around the room for a minute and notice your surroundings and the objects around you, their size, shape and colour. Notice how you are sitting in relation to these objects, your distance to them and their size compared to you.
- Reach out to nearby objects and begin to interact with them by touching and holding them. Start gently at first and then begin to press and grip them more firmly, noticing how they feel e.g. their size, texture, temperature, malleability etc. You can also do the same with your body and clothes, examine them and feel connected to them and the sensations you feel as your fingers interact with them.
- Next, stand up and start to slowly move around the room and the rest of your home. If you can, go outside to feel the fresh air, cool breeze and warmth of the sun. Notice the sensations all around you as you stand with two feet on the earth and take in the environment you are in e.g. sounds, smells, vibrations and any other sensations.
- Finally, return to your chair, take 5 deep slow breaths again and smile at the fact that you really are a part of this beautiful world and everyone and everything which inhabits it.
So what are you doing here?
You are showing your mind that you are part of this world, that your mind and body are connected and that you are real.
By focusing your mind and thoughts on your body and the physical world you inhabit, you bring them all back together and regain that connection you feel you have lost.
When I was going through some very strong dissociative moments this really helped bring me back to the world.
It was both relaxing and comforting to experience the sensations I felt as I went through the process, and this helped to reduce the symptoms the dissociation was producing.
It also re-affirmed in my mind that this condition was mental and nothing to do with something being wrong with my brain.
If it had been physical, this process would have done nothing to change how I felt.
Finally it also showed me I had some control over it and that I did not need to fear it.
A warning about grounding
This technique does come with a warning.
Although it can be used to help, it should be used sparingly when the dissociation is at its worst.
If you are constantly using it, it means you will be focusing too much on how you are feeling and this only makes the dissociation persist.
The aim is to understand what it is, why you have it and to know that it cannot hurt you. This will then enable you to ignore it and carry on your day without giving it the care and attention which fuels it.
When my general anxiety was with me daily, I would have days on end experiencing both depersonalisation and derealisation.
Now that my general everyday anxiety is all but non existent it no longer affects me, I only get the spaced out feelings in times of high stress.
Thankfully these are few and far between and I know how to cope with these times much better now.
I got to this point by stopping caring how I felt, but I also used this technique from time to time when things were really bad.
So use it when you feel you must, but not until you have tried to completely ignore it first by just getting on with your day.
If you feel so bad that you feel you cannot ignore it anymore, then try this technique.
Take your time to go through it slowly and once you feel the dissociation has reduced to a more manageable level, continue on with your day.
You’ll eventually find that the grounding technique is needed less and less, and that keeping busy and active is the best thing to return to normal and show it no care.
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