By moving our awareness from the mind and into the body, we can reduce the fear associated with DP/DR feelings and symptoms. This technique comes in handy especially when depersonalization flares up suddenly causing panic.
One thing DP people are prone to having is an agitated mind. There can be many unwanted or intrusive thoughts flowing through fast inside one’s mind. With my clients, I often equate this DP mind to be akin to a storm. I call it the DP storm.
Whenever someone is caught up in the DP storm, one tries too hard to calm down, by either distraction or going head-to-head with the depersonalization and fighting it out. Rarely do either of these strategies work.
I teach my clients about the power of acceptance and surrender, which works wonders. With this strategy, you are not resisting any scary thoughts or feelings. You accept and allow them. Without any resistance to push against, the DP storm has no impact. Over time, it gives way, and in comes the light of clarity and calm.
Sometimes though, it doesn’t work out this easily. In the midst of a DP storm, people get confused about how to accept their depersonalization. They start getting inside their heads and start think so many thoughts. This only aggravates their situation and causes panic.
In such a scenario, I advise people to shift their awareness from the mind to their body.
This technique is extremely helpful for someone like me who very much lives in his head. We modern day humans forget that there is a body attached to our heads. We tend to live inside our minds most of the time.
It took a long time for me to realize the potential of body awareness. Once I realized how helpful it was to move my awareness to my body instead of getting caught in mental traps, I was on the path to recovery.
Experiencing depersonalization in your body is very different than getting caught up in the DP mental storm. Of course, it is still unpleasant – there’s no denying that. Even when you move the focus to how the DP feels in your body, you will still feel scared and restless.
Shifting the focus doesn’t immediately make the depersonalization go away, but there are several key benefits.
- When the focus is on your body, you don’t get caught up in the scary thoughts of your mind.
- You experience depersonalization as just body sensations, without the added fear thoughts your mind produces.
- Without your attention and awareness, such fear thoughts weaken, enabling you to become calmer over time.
- The vicious feedback cycle of scary thoughts producing more scary/panic thoughts is broken through body awareness.
When experienced in the body, DP just becomes a series of raw sensations. It sometimes will feel like compression in your chest. You may experience difficulty breathing. Other times, it can feel like some energy moving through your body. Occasionally, you’ll feel heat in certain parts of your body. How one experiences DP may vary differently from person to person.
Noticing what DP feels like in one’s own body helps you to stay present. The DP storm is all about fear of the future. Sometimes that future could be just the next second. The mind comes up with several scary thoughts such as “What if I have a panic attack?” or “What if I lose my sanity?” They are almost always future oriented.
But when you let DP feelings take over your body, and just focus on the sensations it produces, then you are grounded in the present. You get a break from future-oriented anxious thinking.
You can see that, in the present, all that is happening to you is a series of sensations in your body. They are scary, they are unpleasant and they may even be weird, but you are not getting caught up in the “What-If” thoughts of your highly agitated mind.
When you start buying into the mental confusion created by the DP storm, you strengthen it. To weaken it, you need to move your attention elsewhere.
You cannot defeat your mental anguish by stressing your mind even more. A lot of us have tried this several times before and failed. You cannot think or argue your way out of depersonalization.
You cannot fight fire with fire. You have to use water to extinguish the fire. The water that extinguishes the fire of depersonalization is your body awareness.
Try this. The next time depersonalization or derealization takes you on a scary ride, accept it. Surrender to the ride while gently keeping your focus on the body. Notice what it feels like, in your chest or your belly, to have depersonalization coursing through you. Breathe gently and notice where the sensations are strong in your body. Go towards these places by shifting your awareness to those local areas.
Even today, when my depersonalization flares up, I get caught up in whatever scary thoughts my mind conjures up. It takes me a few seconds before I realize what I have to do – shift my focus to my body. This takes a lot of practice and patience. The more we start inhabiting our body instead of simply living in our heads, the easier it will be for us to recover from any mental affliction.
The fearful thoughts in my head are around bizarre bodily sensations triggered by anxiety so focusing on them fuels rather than quells my anxiety! I wish this technique was helpful but unfortunately not for me.
Swamy G says
It always gets worse before it gets better. When you open yourself up to experiencing anxiety without resistance, it is going to feel uncomfortable at first. But if you slowly keep exposing yourself to the anxiety (by experiencing it in the body), you are going to get comfortable with it. Take it at your own pace.