Why Doesn’t Reality Feel Real to Me? Depersonalization Disorder

Depersonalization disorder

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What is depersonalization (derealization) disorder? Have you ever experienced segments of time when the world around you felt distinctly surreal? Or detached from your surroundings? Maybe you often find yourself “outside of yourself” and “looking in from outside to observe your own life?” You’re not alone; it very well may not be your imagination. This phenomenon really “is a thing.”

Depersonalization disorder is a type of dissociative disorder that characteristically manifests itself through persistent/recurring feelings of detachment (dissociation) from one’s body and/or cognitive processes, not unlike a psychotic episode.

While that may not seem like the worst thing that could happen to you, some patients find the experience nothing short of terrifying. One such notable case is Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows, who deals with depersonalization disorder on a regular, daily basis.

It’s common for those with the disorder to feel as the world were lifeless, colorless, and even “fake.” They may feel as though they were dreaming, in a fog, or as though a veil or glass wall separated them from their immediate surroundings. A subjective sense of distortion may also occur, e.g. unusually blurry or sharply clear objects, objects that may seem smaller, larger, or visibly “flat.” Often time may seem to be going much slower or faster than usual, and sounds and noises may seem unbearably louder or softer than they actually are.

Such symptoms of depersonalization disorder can typically be distressing, and some patients feel as though they may have irreversible cerebral damage, or even that they are losing their minds. Some patients may obsess over whether or not they really exist, or may compulsively check over and over to verify whether or not their perceptions are for real. Most patients, however, are able to maintain an awareness of the fact that these experiences are unreal, and this is what differentiates the disorder from a psychotic episode, where such an awareness is absent. Memory may frequently lapse, and patients may not be able to feel, identify, or express your emotions.

What are the causes of depersonalization disorder? The disorder is typically triggered by acute stress, and may be accompanied by depression and/or anxiety. Driving stress factors often involve one or more of the following:

  • Losing a close a family member or friend unexpectedly
  • Having a severely impaired or mentally ill parent
  • Emotional or physical abuse or being neglected as a child (probably the most common cause)
  • Exposure to domestic violence

Other triggers include financial, relationship, or job-related stress, the use of illegal drugs such as hallucinogens, marijuana, and ketamine.

A proper diagnosis is driven by certain symptoms, but only after other possible causes are ruled out.

Three of the dynamics that may lead to a clinical diagnosis include: persistent or recurring experiences with depersonalization, an awareness that the depersonalization episodes are only a subjective experience and not real, and symptoms that cause the patient acute distress, or that may greatly impair occupational/social functioning.

If all this seems relatable to you or someone you care about, there is treatment and help. Treatment of depersonalization disorder will typically involve psychotherapy, and possibly medication. Treatment for depression and/or anxiety may also be administered concurrently.

One thing to keep in mind is that depersonalization disorder, though stressful at times, is manageable, and you will still be able to live a normal life.

Are you struggling with feelings of life being surreal? Not to worry, you’re not going crazy, and it is treatable. If you or someone close to you need to talk to someone about mental health issues that seem overwhelming, we can help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Am I having a panic attack? 4 Quick Management Tips

Ways to stop a panic attack

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Have you ever wondered how to stop a panic attack?

Does the following sound familiar?

You are breathless, sweaty, and your heart feels like it is pounding its way out of your chest. An blinding sense of crippling fear keeps you gasping for air. You clutch your chest, not knowing what to do or where to turn. The fear only intensifies. 911 is called. Now you’re being raced to the ER, and worried you are having a heart attack. This has never happened before! And you’re too young to die!

While such symptoms could very well be signaling a heart attack (you did the right thing by calling 911, just in case), it is highly likely that you have just been introduced into the world of panic attacks. Some panic attacks may be isolated incidents that come and go, only occurring once or twice in your life. However, if such attacks are recurring, it may be an indication that you have panic disorder, along with 6 million other Americans (2.7 percent of the U.S. population).

Some more statistics in regard to panic attacks follow:

  • Research indicates that nearly one-fourth of individuals in the United States experience some form of panic attack at least once in their lives.
  • Women are twice as likely than men to experience a panic attack, according to studies published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
  • In the U.S., 0.8 percent of the population experiences at least one panic attack coupled with Agoraphobia (irrational fear of places or situations in which one feels trapped, embarrassed, or helpless, i.e., social anxiety) in their lives.
  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., impacting the lives of 40 million adults in the U.S. 18 and older (18.1 percent of the population) annually.
  • Fortunately, panic disorders are very treatable, though less than 40 percent of those who suffer from them receive treatment.

Panic Attack Definition and Additional Symptoms

What exactly is a panic attack? Panic attacks, though driven in large part by subjective internal perceptions, are very real to the individuals who experience them. They are extremely horrifying, they can happen at the drop of a hat, inflicting immediate fear and nervousness for at least 10 to 15 minutes (which can feel like an eternity if you’re suffering from one).

Along with the physiological panic attack symptoms indicated above: dizziness, a choking sensation, chills, hot flashes, nausea, stomach cramps, chest pain, intense headache, numbness, and a sense of detachment or of “losing one’s mind” can be added to the symptoms list. Note that panic attacks should not be confused with anxiety attacks (anxiety attacks involve worry about a future event, while panic attacks are driven by an intense fear sparked by an immediate, perceived threat going on right now).

One of the worst components of a panic attack is the overwhelming fear of having another one. This may cause you to stay away from certain places and situations where one may occur.

Panic Attack Causes

It’s currently not known exactly what causes panic attacks or panic disorder, but researchers believe that genetics, acute stress, a stress-and-negative-emotion-prone temperament, family history of panic attacks/disorder, a traumatic event, major life changes, excessive smoking/caffeine intake, and/or changes in cerebral functioning.

Panic attacks can occur instantaneously, without warning, though after a time of recurrences, they are typically triggered by certain situations and/or places.

What to do in Case of a Panic Attack

A panic attack is a condition of adrenaline being released into your bloodstream. Stopping one is as simple as stopping the crisis response from your brain to keep your adrenal glands from producing adrenaline. By learning four steps, you can minimize and shorten a panic attack:

  • Relaxing, Deep, Slow Breaths – Make yourself aware of the fact that you are having a panic attack, and that nothing else is threatening you. Continue your deep, slow breathing, which will relax your body, and begin to impede the release of adrenaline.
  • Stop Panicked Thoughts – Instead of letting panicky thoughts flood your head, as loud as you can, inside your head, shout “STOP!” a few times in order to interrupt the emergency response messages that your brain is sending out to your body to produce adrenaline. Once your crisis response thoughts have been cut off, you can replace them with soothing thoughts.
  • Positive Self-Talk – Positive self-talk should be at least as strong as the panicked thoughts that got you all worked up. Once you’ve “STOPPED!” the flow of negative thinking inside your head, replace those fears with more grounded thoughts to help you cope better with the situation. Remind yourself that you “are only having a panic attack which can be over in just a few minutes if I just relax.” Or, you may remind yourself that you “have gotten through panic attacks like this in the past,” and that you “will easily get through this one.” Remind yourself that everything will be just fine. You can prepare a customized list of positive self-talk statements ahead of time to help you cope with your next panic attack effectively. Read through your list a couple of times every day.
  • Embracing Your Feelings. Embracing and accepting your feelings exactly for what they are, rather than minimizing them, is critical in minimizing a panic attack. Identify your emotion(s) (usually fear), and think through why you’re feeling this way. Remind yourself that it’s perfectly reasonable to be afraid of what you are (stage fright, having a heart attack, public speaking, job stress, etc.). Practice the speech you’ve prepared thoroughly, get a check-up, take any precaution to get yourself prepared and to ensure your safety. Then, to reinforce your positive self-talk, you’ll remember that you are well-prepared, or that you had a check-up recently. This preparation/safety measures will help you keep your panic attack in perspective, and will keep your panic attack in check so it doesn’t overwhelm you.

Talk to your physician or mental health care professional about what you’re doing to help yourself manage your panic attacks/disorder, and get some insight and suggestions from him or her. Group therapy can also be very helpful.

There’s no known way to prevent panic attacks or panic disorder, but it is recommended that you get timely treatment for attacks as they occur, that you follow the treatment plan your physician gives you, and that you engage in physical activity regularly, to help deter anxiety.

Do you suffer from panic attacks? Do you suspect you might have panic disorder? No worries; you can handle this! If you or someone close to you need to talk to someone about mental health issues that seem overwhelming, we can help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.

Five Things You Can Do When You Can’t Get Out of Bed

Get yourself out of bed

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Has “I-can’t-get-out-of-bed-in-the-morning” depression ever gotten you down? How do you get out of bed when you’re depressed? You can get yourself out of bed in the morning!

Emotions can be draining, no doubt, leaving you with that “mentally exhausted” feeling. Your brain, out of pure self-preservation, will shut down when it can’t take in any more stimuli. It becomes easier and easier for those who live with depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) to find themselves with low emotional energy and to “hide” from life by staying in bed (after all, it’s easier than getting up and facing the day). Even the simplest of tasks (showering, exercising, making breakfast, etc.) seem overwhelming. Your brain may start to invent psychosomatic symptoms of a cold or the flu to make it easier to justify staying in bed.

Feeling emotionally and mentally exhausted all the time saps the joy out of life, and makes it difficult for someone to engage in day-to-day life. Little by little you might find yourself losing interest in activities that you otherwise might enjoy, and a sense of hopelessness, along with helplessness may start haunting your thoughts. All of a sudden, a little more sleep sounds like just what you need, right?

It might take some reprogramming to find your motivation again, but once you’re back in the swing of a familiar active routine, you can ride that momentum forward.

Here are some tips to help get you up and at ‘em…

Take a Bite Out of the Elephant. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time, of course. When you wake up dreading a task that feels like “too much,” break it up into a series of smaller tasks that you can knock off your list quickly (e.g., instead of cleaning the ENTIRE garage on Saturday, spend 30-45 minutes cleaning and organizing it over the course of the next few Saturdays; instead of cleaning the entire house all at once, make a goal to clean the kitchen in the morning, then the TV room in the afternoon. Then take the rest of the house on a little bit at a time over the next few days).

 Make Your Bed, Brush Your Teeth. Admiral William McRaven, author of “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life… And Maybe The World,” discusses how making your bed every morning only takes a few minutes, yet it can have a positive impact on your sense of well-being and attitude for the rest of the day. Completing your morning hygiene routine, as though you were getting ready to leave for work, will signal your brain that sleepytime is over and that it’s time to get going. Shower, brush your teeth, and dress for the day like you’re serious about taking it on (ladies, do your hair and makeup). Start your day off with a sense of accomplishment. Once your bed is made, and you’re ready to spring out the door, you’re not likely to climb back under the covers. Your room will immediately feel tidier, your day suddenly feels less exhausting, you’re dressed and ready to go, and you feel great. Congratulations! You’ve nudged yourself out of your comfort zone and out into the world.

 Small goals. You can not only break down immediate daily tasks into smaller ones, you can do the same with longer-term goals. Start with small steps. Though you may feel depressed and overwhelmed, try committing to do something, like working out, for example, for ten minutes at a time. You can work out for 10 minutes, right? That doesn’t sound nearly as bad as losing 20 pounds. Then, after a couple of weeks, bump yourself up to 15 or 20 minutes at a time. If you don’t feel up to cleaning the even the entire kitchen all at once, do it for 10 minutes. Then reward yourself with a break. You might feel like picking back up after your break and finishing now that you’ve started, or maybe you’ll feel like moving on to the next task for the next 10 minutes. Then another break. Then back to your first task. And so on. Eventually you’ll get a momentum going and find your to-do list more rewarding, even fun.

 Step it Up. Coming out of your comfort zone and into the unfamiliar can be scary, even if it means getting something better than you did before. Sure, you’re depressed, but managing your depression is something you’re familiar with. To break that cycle, you need to step out of your comfortable, familiar zone, and that takes some guts. Start by taking small risks and challenges, then when you feel comfortable, upgrade yourself to bigger risks and challenges. Realizing that it takes guts to try out new risks will help you feel more confident and empowered.

 Catch the Motivation Bug. Motivation is how you beat the “can’t-get-out-of-bed-blues,” or any kind of depression, anxiety, and/or other mental health issues. What works for you? Experiment, find out, then do more and more of it. Keep yourself rewarded to push yourself through the things you don’t feel up to doing. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself doing and achieving more rather than feeling depressed about what you’re not getting done. Let that forward propulsion keep you going.

Do you suffer from panic attacks? Do you suspect you might have panic disorder? No worries; you can handle this! If you or someone close to you need to talk to someone about mental health issues that seem overwhelming, we can help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.

 

I Cut Myself: Is that Really a Problem?

Is cutting myself a big deal?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“Why do I cut myself?” is not a question most people would think of asking themselves, but it is a reality for countless individuals, the vast majority of whom are in their youth. Self-injury is more common than most of us realize.

Self-harm (which occurs when someone cuts, burns, or otherwise hurts him or herself— the condition is clinically known as non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI)). There is no intention of being suicidal, and the condition involves quite a bit of secrecy, shame, anxiety, and often lying. It may involve a mental illness, and is also a very isolating activity, making it more difficult for someone to admit to harming him or herself.

A common misperception is that young, white females engage the most in NSSI, but studies have shown that at least 35 percent and possibly as many as half of self-injurers are male. Research indicates that about 15 percent of college students engaged in NSSI at least once, and that about 17 percent of adolescents had engaged in NSSI at least once. Reported self-injury is much less common in adults (about a five percent lifetime rate), and in most children. Note that about 1.3 percent of children aged 5 to 10 self-harm, and that rate spikes significantly if the child has a diagnosed anxiety disorder or chronic mental distress.

More often than not, “cutters” work overtime to keep their self-harm in secrecy (covering up cuts, burns, scars, marks, etc.) because they feel ashamed about their covert self-harming activities. Interestingly, research has shown that those that feel higher levels of shame are more than likely to harm themselves.

Why all the secrecy? Frequently, one of the secrets that leads to self-harm is the underlying reason the individual is cutting him or herself to begin with. The lying and covering up may be an attempt to hide some severe trauma (such as sexual abuse) that the cutter isn’t willing to discuss. Sexual abuse, by the way, makes someone far more likely to self-harm.

Someone who self-harms may continue this lifestyle of secrecy driven by acute stress, guilt, shame, and self-blame (esp. in the case of having been sexually abused). A cutter may feel that he or she needs to be “punished” for being responsible for something so shameful, which can lead to a cycle of self-harm, shame, self-blaming, more self-harm, etc.

Other cutters may feel shame about the self-harming in and of itself. They may often feel “weak” or “foolish” because of their self-harm habits, and that therefore, they feel compelled to keep it all a secret. They may worry about being judged for their self-harming behaviors, about being “looked down” upon, or that others will be shocked and repulsed by their self-harming tendencies.

Whatever the reason for secrecy, this stress-fueled cycle of shame pushes an individual into an isolated world where “no one can know about me cutting myself.”

Other reasons for self-harm include:

  • To distract oneself, focus attention elsewhere, or get control again of one’s mind when being inundated with unavoidable, intrusive, and unsettling thoughts and/or feelings.
  • To “feel something” when day-to-day life becomes associated with sense of emotional dissociation and “numbness.”
  • To release tension associated with powerful emotions or overwhelming thoughts.
  • To poignantly communicate or express oneself regarding strong emotions that one feels powerless to articulate.
  • To feel a certain kind of passing and intense feeling of euphoria that can be experienced immediately after self-harming.

Most people who harm themselves never have any intention of significantly injuring themselves to the point of being dangerous. Yet self-harm, cutting in particular, poses a lot of health risks, such as serious infection, blood loss, other complications, and even death. Admitting that you harm yourself is nothing to feel shame about. If you are cutting yourself, you’re likely coping with life stresses in the best way you know how.

Know that by not keeping your self-harm a secret, by confiding in someone you trust (though that may take quite a bit of courage), can help you figure out better ways of dealing with your problems, and the next natural step will be to get professional help if necessary, which will lead to you stopping to hurt yourself. You will feel less isolated, less guilt, and less shame when you realize that you really do have people who care about you and support you regardless of how you feel about yourself.

Do you secretly cut yourself? Are you afraid what others might think if they were to find out? We’d love to hear from you, even just to talk! If you or someone you love need to talk to someone about self-harm or feelings of being overwhelmed, we want to help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at
Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.