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.

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 often involve permanent or near permanent states of derealization or depersonalization.

In the case of anxiety disorders like panic disorder 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 my 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.

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 or 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 to.

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

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

Photo Credit: Dan Cook Archived via Compfight cc


Confidence and belief in oneself are essential when overcoming anxiety disorders, but false confidence doesn’t really help.  Lets learn how to walk the walk if we’re gonna talk the talk!

Paper tiger is a literal English translation of the Chinese phrase zhilaohu (紙老虎). The term refers to something that seems threatening but is ineffectual and unable to withstand challenge. (Source: Wikipedia)

In my travels through different anxiety and panic related forums through the years, I often come across people that are frustrated and angry and will sometimes post messages that reflect just that.  Thats OK.  We all need to vent sometimes.  Its healthy.  “Vent” posts are usually met with support from other forum members that often looks something like this:

  • “Its OK, you’re strong.  We all are.  We’re going to kick anxiety’s ass.  You’ll see”
  • “One day when we’re all back to normal we’ll meet somewhere and celebrate our victory together.”
  • “We’re warriors.  Nobody understands how hard this is, how it would bring most people to their knees.”

I could go on, but you get the idea.  If this were a football game, that would be referred to as “trash talking”, or “talking smack”.  You know what?  I love that!  If you’re going to overcome an anxiety disorder you’re going to need belief in yourself and confidence that you can get the job done. Trash talk is a good sign of confidence, so let it rip when you need to!  Chest bumping and high fiving can get us motivated and fired up when we need it, so I’m all for it.

Here’s the problem though.  If you’re going to talk the talk, you’re also going to have to walk the walk.  In earlier podcast episodes I’ve talked about how dealing with anxiety is an ACTIVE process and how there’s no automatic immune response that will fix you if you retreat and wait quietly. That being the case, if you really believe that you’ll knock your panic disorder on its ass one day, then there’s work to be done, and some of it will be both difficult and scary.  Nothing will change or improve just because you say it will or hope it will or want it to.  Without action, your words become meaningless and without substance.  All bark, no bite.  That’s a paper tiger.  Don’t be a paper tiger.

I’ve been a paper tiger in the past. At my worst, I’d often talk about how I was done feeling the way I was feeling and about how I was going to make a change.  Then I’d go right back to avoiding anything that might trigger anxiety or panic.  Then I’d feel even worse about myself for saying those things and not following through. This is why being a paper tiger has nothing to do with character or personality flaws.  Is really about the negative impact on recovery plans and progress. There are practical real-world consequences for failing to walk the walk.  Your self-image and confidence can be eroded, and if you’re struggling to gain the support of your friends and family you run the risk of eroding their confidence in you too. How many times can your spouse or employer hear about how you’re going to beat this, only to watch you retreat into your safe zone the again the very next day?  See how this can be an issue?

So what do we do about the whole paper tiger problem?  Should we stop talking about recovery or thinking about it?  Of course not!  NEVER stop thinking about it.  Never lose confidence or belief in your ability to improve things.  You absolutely have the courage and strength inside you that you need to get this job done.  We all do!  Instead, start working on actually walking the walk.  It doesn’t mean giant impressive leaps forward from completely homebound to world cruise within a week.  It does mean taking small steps forward every day no matter how you feel.  Small steps add up to big distances over time, and that’s what we’re looking for.

If you haven’t left the house in two months, then just standing on your front porch for a few minutes, even if you’re in full panic mode, is progress.  That’s walking the walk!  Practice your progressive muscle relaxation techniques.  Practice your breathing techniques.  That’s walking the walk too.  Learn a bit about meditation and how to calm your mind.  Practice that. That’s also walking the walk.  Start doing the things that you fear. Do them over and over, working on relaxing when all you want to do is run and hide.  That is walking the walk!

So go ahead and talk the talk from time to time.  Then take some steps forward, no matter how small they might be, then be proud of yourself for backing up your words with meaningful actions.  Goodbye, paper tiger.


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

Photo Credit: Frederick Homes for Sale via Compfight cc

Overcoming Anxiety - Do The Opposite

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

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!



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