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What Do You Do When Anxiety Makes You Feel Unreal?

August 6, 2014 Greg Weber

 

Feeling unreal is a common symptom of anxiety. What do you do to cope with dissociation and depersonalization when anxiety symptoms make you feel unreal?

I've been having a horrible time with anxiety. It still affects almost every area of my life. And although I've certainly gotten lots better at coping, my anxiety seems to be developing a new wrinkle: walking around feeling so alienated from the world that nothing feels real.

Oh, I still go through the motions, of course. I sleep, work, eat, blog, etc. But much of the time, it all feels like it's happening to someone else. It's like I'm not even there and have been replaced by a stranger who looks, talks, and acts like me but is actually not me.

I've had days lately where I feel like I'm losing my grip on reality. It's a terrifying experience. How this internal nothingness can cause so much pain is not something I understand at all.

When Anxiety Makes You Feel Unreal, What Do You Do?

Feelings of unreality are a common symptom of anxiety. What do you do to cope with them?Like I said, this is a new experience of anxiety for me. I've heard of dissociative disorders. I even knew feelings of depersonalization were common with anxiety disorder. It's just it was never more than intellectual knowledge -- until now.

I very much welcome your thoughts and suggestions about what you do when anxiety makes you feel unreal. This week, I need your help too.

You can find Greg on his website, Twitter, Google+, and Facebook.

APA Reference
Weber, G. (2014, August 6). What Do You Do When Anxiety Makes You Feel Unreal?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, December 8 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2014/08/what-do-you-do-when-anxiety-makes-you-feel-unreal



Author: Greg Weber

Joanna
January, 25 2016 at 10:33 am

hi, I have a baby he's 4 months and I started having anxiety when the baby was a week old for some reason I didn't realized that actually I was having it even before I gave birth I remember I used to get scared if the music was too loud bc I thought it was going to hurt the baby, the first time it happened after I gave birth

Warlord.
September, 24 2015 at 1:30 pm

Thank you so much for posting thread up. I feel like people finally understand what I have been battling with since I was a teenager.
It first began in high school in class settings. Something would trigger the attack and I would suddenly had feelings of u reality or like I was in a "dream state". I would be having a conversation with a student next to me and feel as if they were not even there and everything would sound differently.
After analyzing myself during theses attacks, I noticed I would become sensitive to sound, such as the rustling of people moving in their seats, pages turning, etcetera.. At this point I would begin to freak out and the panic attack would begin.
Through the years, I've learned that breathing techniques have helped me cope during the attack and have helped bring me back to a more normal state. I also learned that caffeine increases the potential for these attacks.
I also learned that going with the flow of the attack has helped me deal and cope with it as it prevents my mind from "feeding" the attack with fearful thoughts this increasing the anxiety. Also focusing on a topic at hand and not the symptoms of dissociation has helped to decrease those feelings.
I hope this helps you guys as much as this thread has been beneficial to me. I'm just glad I'm not the only one dealing with this. I always felt alone in this battle.
Stay motivated and fearless!
Gods bless

Jilly
September, 15 2015 at 9:30 am

Wow - I am so glad I saw this!
I've recently developed disassociation, and it's terrifying to me. It happens primarily when I'm focused on something for a long period of time; for example, watching television. I alter into a trance-like state without realizing it. After a certain amount of time I forget that I'm watching television or I don't really understand what is going on. I become sensitive to sound, confused, and a little dizzy from the shift of consciousness, which immediately induces anxiety and a panic attack. I have to break contact and focus on something else to get myself "grounded" back with reality.
Outta the blue this happened, and it happens at least once a day. The out-of-body experience feels like something from the Twilight Zone. I have been under an abnormal amount of stress and with the ongoing psychological harassment of anxiety, I'm not shocked it's now taken a step further in making my life hell. Luckily it only lasts about a couple of minutes, but leaves me feeling mentally exhausted. I had to cut out caffeine (sad day) from my life to try and alleviate the symptoms. Will work on a total diet change, because I cannot go on much longer feeling like a robot when I talk; hearing my voice sound like a strangers. Ugh!

Wafaa
August, 28 2015 at 7:14 am

Hello Greg;
I think that before looking for a solution, you must before know where you're anxiety comes from, for me it started at a very young age when I was bullied for 3 years, till I finally decided to change school, the thing is that 3 years without doing anything about it left me with terrible consequences, I was feeling so lonely and misunderstood. In my new school, I decided to talk to nobody, because when people don't know you, they don't know about your insecurities and have nothing to bully you with. Time passing I developed a crazy anxiety that turned to very serious convulsion every time that I had to talk to someone or take an exam, any situation that would make me show up my abilities.
It happened sometimes that I was so anxious that when looking to myself in the mirror, I wouldn't recognise myself, also when I would go out I had always a very strange feeling that the world I'm seeing is not real, that it was just in my head, and people, trees, buildings were just a projection of my mind.
Sometimes I was feeling disassociated from my body when I was talking it was my ideas but not my voice, like somebody else was talking instead of me, but saying exactly what I wanted to say. I used to say to my maths teacher: "I feel like I am in the wrong body, this body can't be mine"
I saw so many psychologists and psychiatrists that made me worse because of very wrong diagnostic, then one day I just decided to work on myself, I looked back in my past to see what could possibly cause my illness, I analysis and tried to be as honest as possible with myself, I reviewed my way of thinking and dealing with people and discovered that I had serious confidence issues.
Now I am a totally transformed women, I don't care about people judgement, I found out what I want from life, I am positive that I can achieve anything I want with hard work and confidence, I am a good student, I don't let anyone or any culture or religion tell me what to do, and I never do something that contradicts my morals to please someone.
So what I am saying is that first try to understand yourself, then if you are in the same situation I was, try to have an independent personality, nobody should influence your way of thinking if you don't have any doubt about it, nobody should be able to underestimate you or make you feel inferior.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Greg Weber
August, 30 2015 at 9:31 am

Thanks Wafaa. Some great advice here.

mark
August, 27 2015 at 1:38 am

Hi Stacy id just like to say reading what you said in your reply is an absolute god send for me i've had unreality problems for years and has come back due to terrible antidepressant withdrawal and have now gone back to my normal dose as i couldn't stand it, your the first person who has identified how my thinking is..... how did things get here? Like a plastic cup for example how was that made where did the material come from? Such a stupid thought. i thought i was only one who was thinking this way and its such a weight of my shoulders.

Stacy
July, 28 2015 at 12:37 pm

Yeah its nice to know that I am not alone. I feel things like Im not real, how did things get here? Like a plastic cup for example how was that made where did the material come from? Such a stupid thought. .. Am I really here? At one point a counselor quoted"I think therefore I am" so I thought ok someone else had to feel this way to make a statement like that. This blows and is so hard to explain. I hate it, sometimes I think so hard about my thinking then I freak out about nothing.The thing that helps me is testing the thought like ok well if I am not real it won't matter if I scream at the top of my lungs in the middle of Walmart. I of course have never done that because that would be embarrassing so I guess I am real. I would love to form a group for people that feel like this. We could help each other more than any doctor or counselor. Because you can only truly help if you have experienced the feeling. If anyone would like Robert in a group chat on Facebook email me at stacylmss@gmail.com

JAFO
March, 20 2015 at 9:15 pm

Magnesium and Calcium can help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, along with a Flintstone vitamin daily. I top these supplements off with: Ensure as well with a full glass of OJ. However, caffeine and alcohol are the real killers if you're trying to rid yourself of panic and anxiety. Even a soda can trigger anxiety in most people. We're only talking about 40mg of caffeine here, lol. Also, sinus medication can make your anxiety go haywire too.
My panic attacks ended when I decided to go with it and demand more from it. It felt pretty weird going with the panic instead of being against it, but strapping on the harness and riding with the anxiety and fear made them almost completely go away. Plus it helps you understand that it's only anxiety and nobody has ever died from a panic attack. Hence, I remember having shortness of breath and a panic attack at the grocery store. It felt like I was going to die. But I kept on shopping and rode with the wave. When something like that happens, you have to face your fears and forget about people laughing at you in your mind, lol. However, there is a trick: Scream as loud as you can in your mind 10x, and finally breath from your belly though your nose and exhale from your mouth. If that doesn't work, try it again!!

HaileyMazet
March, 16 2015 at 4:44 am

Hi everybody my name is hailey and I just wanted to share that I've been feeling unreal since the begging of 4th grade it wasn't a problem back then but now I am starting to worry a lot now I'm in fifth grade and im 11 and its been happening everyday now it first started with a panic attack then a anxiety but now it's gotten worse I've been doing some research and it seems like now I have panic disorder if any suggestions please list down below

CariM228
August, 16 2014 at 8:27 am

I thought I was the only one. No, really.... I always thought of it as "observer status" like I was about a half-inch outside my center and doing stuff and "sensing" (not "seeing" per se, but sensing...) myself taking part in the same activity. For example, when I was a teen and with my friends at the amusement park and we were having an AWESOME time, and then maybe lost our direction to where we were supposed to meet up with others in our group, I knew I was actually physically walking -- and it almost seemed as if I could sense myself observing myself walking. It's weird, I don't know how else to describe it. I also suffer from migraine disorder, and between that and the anxiety/depression only recently diagnosed (but with which I've dealt silently for many years) ..... I have to wonder if maybe there is a connection there as well.
When things get tense or hectic, and I feel myself getting into that "half-inch" place, I can do deep breathing -- maybe not the "ocean" breathing that I do in yoga practice but sometimes a good deep in (to a four-count), hold to same 4 count, out to the four-count and just nothing to the same four-count. And repeat until I'm back in a good spot. For me, it helps.
And while I'm not quite ready to go full public with my struggles, I have shared with the people who are most supportive -- dear friends who get me and who have battled anxiety or depression (or both) themselves, or who have close family members who have as well. Their insight and wisdom is crucial. And I have an awesome therapist as well. :)
Thanks for this article. I really did think I was the only one.

Kathy K.
August, 13 2014 at 1:40 pm

I've had this happen to me, and it usually happens when I'm in an environment where I feel either claustrophobic or experiencing sensory overload. I also have ADHD. There is a specific store I try not to go to because even when it's not too busy, I'm assaulted with too much sensory info that I can't process all at once. When this happens, that triggers anxiety. Dissociation is one of the signs that I'm experiencing anxiety. I usually have to remove myself from the area or go to a quieter area to collect myself. There have been times where I've had to actually leave because of how much my anxiety has increased.
The specific store I avoid is crammed and packed and has narrow aisles and even though it is huge, I can't see past what's in front of me. By contrast, I can go to Costco and not experience this because when I look out I can see across the entire store, things are spread out and its easier to process the sensory information I am presented with.

Wendy
August, 12 2014 at 12:34 pm

Greg - Please, before you spend another minute researching or thinking about your anxiety, find a good tai-chi class, with a view to starting that for immediate emergency grounding, and I promise your inner energy will change so fast, from your first class...and if you could start with tai chi with a view to moving on to a martial art such as Kung-fu, I genuinely believe your world will be transformed.
Please do try and report back?
Best wishes :-)

Lizabeth
August, 12 2014 at 7:50 am

I too experience that and it's really disorienting. I find that it happens until I can get really, truly focussed on something else and then it goes away. That's tough because it usually happens when I'm waiting for something or somewhere that I can't default to my computer or some other engaging activity.
I don't have the answer to eliminate it, but I've found that if I can do some Pranayama style breathing, with an emphasized pause between the in and out breath, I can draw myself back to feeling 'present'.
Because I support impulse control disorders and soothing behaviors such as binge eating disorder I am very interested in this topic. I'd welcome discussing this and possibly writing about it with you. I think that creating awareness around the prevalence of these occurrences might be helpful for others who haven't identified what is happening to them. Please feel free to email me if you are interested in pursuing this discussion. Best wishes and peaceful thoughts - Lizabeth

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

John
December, 16 2018 at 6:41 pm

Does this occur randomly nd make you feel like ur leaving life

Vickie Bowie
August, 12 2014 at 6:35 am

Omg, this is the first time I have seen someone describe the exact thing I have been experiencing for a long time. I told my psychiatrist when I had him that this is must be why they say people who suffer with mental illness are "not all there."
I don't know how to cope with it myself, other than to go through the motions and to realize that it is part of mental illness. I feel better when I am doing my favorite thing, which is doing photography and being out in nature. Distraction in the form of your passion is key to centre yourself, I think. And just realizing that there is going to be a struggle, and that if you are cognizant of that should take away a bit of the panic you feel.
Thank you so much for writing this blog, because I have searched all over the internet looking for someone who is going through this exact thing but until I read what you wrote I felt I was alone in this feeling.
I hope that you move on from this feeling very soon!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Nicholas
April, 1 2017 at 7:09 am

I am 14 years old and science yesterday I have been experiencing this and it's freaking me out, I don't know if i should tell my mom or Munich doctor or anybody. Cause I'm worried it will turn into something big and I don't want that, I'm just glad I know I'm not aloneness but I still don't know what to do I can't Focus and it's scaring me, even now my hands are shaking and I'm freaked out. If you know how I can fix Thisbe problem or get help please tell me. Is this an all time thing or can I stop this and feel like I'm back in reality again. Cause I am usally a fairly smart kid but once this started I haven't been able to think and I can't focus on anything else. I don't want to stop this before my big test this week.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Nicholas
April, 1 2017 at 7:15 am

I do, want to stop this please excuse the spellings errors like I said my hands are shaking and I'm also on my phone but just knowing it's anxiety doing this isn't making me feel better for a few moments my mind actually considered before this article that nothing was real and it was like a dream but thats why I came here before it got weird but after this I feel the same way but everything is real and I'm not the only one in this and it's just anxiety causing this so thanks for this article

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

July, 25 2017 at 5:56 am

Nicholas, sorry for the delayed response. I am a new writer at HealthyPlace and saw your comment. I am glad to hear that the article Greg wrote helped you to feel real and understand your anxiety. If you are still struggling with intense anxiety, please do talk to your parents so they can consider getting some professional support for you.

Hayley
August, 12 2014 at 6:25 am

Hello and thank you for this blog entry, while I know it's a terrible thing to go through it is also reassuring to know I'm not the only one dealing with such bizarre and unwelcome feelings. My anxiety has been affecting my every moment since I was a young teen and it has definitely progressed into a sort of self satisfying monster. I have been able to control it to an extant more so these days but there are always those times where I seemingly have absolutely no control over it whatsoever. It is during those times that I experience this sort of alien esque out of body numbness. Normally for me it is large crowds of people [grocery shopping where everyone is so tightly interlaced, festivals, offices etc] or during gatherings such as holidays and family reunions. It also tend to happen when a harmful or particularly distressing event has occurred like an argument or problem with money. During any of those fore mentioned occurrences my anxiety reaches it's peak level and I've surpassed being able to stifle it by just sipping water and listening to music, at this point it's out of my hands. This is when my body and mind go in to free fall mode if you will, I sort of just exist as though not to be affected by much else at this time. Everything goes on around me and I partake in it. I can have conversations, make decisions, run errands etc but I'm so 'out of it' that I feel as though it could all just be a big dream. This causes me some pain because I know I'm not truly engaged the way I should be especially when I'm with my son and it brings me some guilt as well. It feels as though I may never get out of that foggy cloud of detachment when it's happening but I know subconsciously that I will. What I tend to try and do once it gets to be a bit much to deal with is I try and find a safe and quiet spot, typically outside in my swing or sitting on the porch steps etc. I will allow myself to try and shut down all thoughts of my anxiety and what brought on these feels in the first place, I will tune out my worries if just for a few moments and I will listen to my body a bit. Concentrate on breathing slowly and deeply in and out and try and attempt to allow my muscles to become as relaxed as I can to increase circulation. Sometimes a swinging motion in a swing or rocking in a chair can help me focus on a relaxing rhythm and routine and that helps clear the mind as well. Nature sounds and sights are very pleasant and tend to open up the senses sometimes. All of those things I've mentions have helped clear that fog for me. Sometimes just sitting outside for a few moments but sometimes an hour or more, even taking a nap outside if possible. Those things have drastically improved my anxiety as well as lifted that numb haze for me. Other times finding a moment to myself where I know everything is taken care of around the house and no one will be looking for me I will relax in a chair or bed and listen to calming music or nature sounds through my playlists if I am unable to go outside. It's different for everyone but you are definitely not alone with these feelings. I hope this will find you well. Good luck and I send you love and well wishes. It is an uphill battle but as long as you keep fighting with what tools you have you will never lose :)

Eva
August, 12 2014 at 6:06 am

Please help me, I've been having experiences of déjà vu for the past 5 months. I swear had whole experiences before, knowing exactly what is going to happen and with whom in my people.
It's really scaring me. These situations could not have happened before but feel that I've dear met them and now they are happening to me. Am I delusional? What is happening. I can describe the person and that same person appears. And a conversation....
What should I do?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Greg Weber
August, 13 2014 at 1:55 pm

Eva,
Thank you for your comment. Just so you understand, I am not a therapist or doctor, so I'm not qualified to offer an actual diagnosis. I'm just a layman. However, these may be symptoms of schizophrenia or another type of thought disorder. You can find lots of info at http://www.healthyplace.com/thought-disorders/.
There is also a community in the HealthyPlace forums: http://www.healthyplace.com/index.php?option=com_agora&task=forum&id=32&Itemid=82
I would recommend you see a therapist or doctor about this as well. Here's info about how to get help: http://www.healthyplace.com/stigma/stand-up-for-mental-health/where-to-get-mental-health-…
I hope that this helps.
Greg

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kate
June, 5 2018 at 12:10 am

Spiritual awakening. You aren’t crazy at all. Do lots of research! And be excited that your soul came into this realm of reality ready to elevate!!

Natalie
August, 10 2014 at 11:27 pm

Hello Greg,
I have GAD and used to go through these feelings of depersonalization and weird disassociation really regularly, even now it occasionally still happens. I can relate to how you're feeling, because it was scary for me as well. Making sure that you get plenty of sleep and nourish your mind with healthy food is super important. Lack of sleep and anxiety is just a bad mix! I had a great therapist who showed me some techniques to help overcome the feelings of unreality and help me reconnect, maybe you could try them :)
1. Check your breathing. I used to over-breathe, under-breathe and even hold my breath without even knowing that I was doing it, and this would cause me to be partially hyperventilating all the time. Sometimes the symptoms of hyperventilating can make your body feel different or 'unreal'
2. Stay in the 'here and now'. Do something that involves your senses, like smell, taste or touch and savour every part of it. I used carry small pieces of textured fabric in my purse and when I felt like I was disassociating I would pull out the fabric and touch it, really feeling every fibre until I was back in reality. It worked great for me.
3. Tense and release your muscles starting at your feet, focusing on the feelings in your body, this also helps to re-ground you back into the here and now.
Best Wishes, Natalie

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Nicholas
April, 1 2017 at 7:30 am

Hey Natalie I am trying the breathing thing and all your advice because I want to try and fix this before I go to my mom or doctor, because I am 14 years old and I started to get freaked out by This happening to me. I haven the been able to focus and I can't think as well scine this started. It Benin happening to me scince last night and I thought I'd sleep on it but i woke up to the same feeling and it was very terrifiying it was one of the worst things I have ever experienced I would of rather gone parachuting than This feeling but just knowing that this isn't me going crazy and it is anxiet is helping me feel like I'm in reality again. I still feel the same but I understand I am in reality. I started to consider that my ADHD medicine was causing this but after I woke up I knew it wasn't so that's when it got terrifying but now in the same morning after reading this I feel better knowing I'm not the only one going through this thing and if it keeps going on I will talk to my doctor ananda mom about it thanks for the advice.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Robby
July, 6 2018 at 1:24 pm

Have you found like a fix for this?
I am also 14 years old and it started at the 4th of July.

Caroline
September, 30 2018 at 8:00 pm

Hello. I’m 12 years old and I’m struggling with the same thing. I’ve had anxiety problems since I was very little, and it’s only gotten worse. Now I’m no doctor or anything, but I do know a bit about what might be causing this sensation. There’s a gland right above your kidney, and it’s like your fight or flight gland. And when you’re stressed, it beats faster than it normally would. And with that gland pumping faster, it releases more anxiety into your body and it wastes your energy too. So you end up feeling like your on really bad cold medicine and feeling like everything looks like you’re watching your life unfold from a tv screen. And having really bad anxiety myself, and being faced with the fact that this is probably never going to get better for me personally, I hope this new found info will help everybody viewing this comment and help them find a way to make life feel more life - like.

Caroline
September, 30 2018 at 8:04 pm

And also, another reason you might be feeling this way is that you might have a concussion, so you might wanna talk to your doctor about that. If you do have a concussion, you’d more likely be feeling mentally foggy and having a bit of a loss of short term memory, and getting sleep might be a bit harder versus having really bad anxiety and having things feel so stressful and end up having the emotion of stress just fade away.

M-Abdourahmane
March, 30 2019 at 2:00 pm

thank you so much my dear caroline,i'm feeling the same thing.my heart beats faster than normal and it's very very painfull and it affects my whole body and it's like my body fuels fire.please explain me how did you do like treatement to get better.

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