Anxiety and Depersonalization
What's the Difference?
One of the greatest and most consistent misunderstandings about depersonalization is how it relates to anxiety.
I hear it all the time from people who get in contact with me regarding the condition, and I remember encountering it regularly in forums aswell:
People almost always think that anxiety and Depersonalization / Derealization are separate conditions.
In fact, back when I first developed DP, I was convinced that I had allowed my personal anxiety to develop to such a dangerous level that I had now somehow drawn this totally new, terrible condition of depersonalization upon myself.
I was sure that I now had to analyze, research and remedy this totally separate condition before I could even get back to addressing the original anxiety properly (and I spent a LOT of time doing that!)
It seemed like an impossible task -- How could anyone face that amount of work, especially when the DP/DR seemed to be comprised of dozens of scary symptoms that I'd have to address individually?
I had horrible visual symptoms, constant intrusive thoughts, physical exhaustion, feelings of disconnection, etc etc.
This was completely different from the normal feelings of anxiety that I'd felt in the past, like when coming up to an exam at school.
Of course I still had horrible anxiety too, but now I *also* had these bizarre, horrible, unexplainable thoughts and feelings of DP/DR on top of it.
It was so overwhelming. I could hardly function with it all on a day-to-day basis, never mind considering the possibility of how I could ever recover, if that were even possible.
I thought that maybe I should just get used to my new life in which I felt both anxiety and DP/DR constantly.
But, of course -- that was all a totally incorrect interpretation of what was actually happening.
Because the simple fact is this:
Depersonalization is just a symptom of anxiety, and nothing more.
And I know, you might be thinking, “Hang on – I think there’s been times when I have felt calm and depersonalized at the same time.”
Well, consider that statement for a second. Is it really possibly feel fully calm and Depersonalization at the same time?
It’s true that you might have felt relatively calm, compared to, say, a recent full-blown panic attack, or the state of being exposed to a personal phobia – but the fact of the matter is that DP is an anxiety-based condition, so if you feel DP, you are not feeling entirely calm ( I explain it fully in this article )
Remember that DP, like all anxiety-based conditions, is based on obsessively thinking about and focusing on the feelings, and preventing them from fading away naturally, which is what they're supposed to do!
The definition of being calm is that your thoughts are at rest -- So if you're actively focusing on the feelings of DP/DR, checking to see if they're there or not, then your thoughts are obviously not at rest and you're not completely calm.
But don't worry, you WILL be able to get back to a calm and relaxed state of mind.
Because again, remember that Depersonalization / Derealization is an anxiety-based disorder. And that's all it is!
IT CANNOT EXIST ON ITS OWN.
Remember -- DP/DR needs to feed off anxiety in order to exist at all. It's the mental equivalent of heart palpitations or muscle tension. It's a symptom of anxiety.
Once you reduce and stop the anxiety that's causing it to persist, the DP/DR also fades away and stops completely. It falls away as if it was never there in the first place!
Anxiety and Depersonalization are NOT mutually exclusive.
Why? Because anxiety causes DP.
Yes, the feeling of DP can then aggravate the anxiety, and then vice-versa, causing a chain-reaction that can lead to a full-blown panic attack.
But the fact remains that the basic catalyst, the initial reaction that generates the feeling of disconnection is anxiety.
And that’s all it is!
Research and evidence, both anecdotal and scientific, confirms that. It's even referred to as the 'airbag' of the mind, deployed to protect you at times of intense stress or anxiety.
So remember: DP is caused by anxiety. FACT!
And so, just like anxiety, it's a temporary physiological reaction and it can't hurt you.
And very importantly, it is absolutely not a permanent condition.
It is not as if a switch has been flicked in your mind that can’t be changed back. Think of it like this:
If you watch a good horror film, and feel a little nervous afterwards (and who doesn’t!), would you assume that that feeling will never go away?
Of course you wouldn't.
Why? Because you know from personal experience that when you keep living your life as normal, the feeling of fear goes away - no matter how scary the film was!
On the other hand, if you came out of the cinema and thought, for whatever reason, “Oh my God, why I am I feeling so scared??” – and spent hours, days, weeks focusing on the sensations – what do you think would happen?
That’s right, the fear and anxiety would stay with you.
You would stop living your life as normal, you would allow your mind to be consumed with obsessive thoughts, and you would develop a crippling fear of ever going to the cinema again. Right?
And all because you focused on fearful thoughts when rationally, you should have been able to just let them go.
All you need to remember is that when you start thinking rationally again, living your life as normal, staying busy and distracted,
that the anxiety switch in your brain can and will be turned off, for GOOD!
So don't worry -- Depersonalization and Derealization are both just symptoms of anxiety, that's all.
And as your recovery continues, and the anxiety reduces and fades, so too will ALL of the symptoms of DP and DR -- and soon, as with recovery from all anxiety-based conditions, you'll struggle to remember what you'd ever been so worried about.
Because that's what recovery is.
Not learning to live with the symptoms, but stopping them completely.
And getting back to living your life as normal, 100%!