We all daydream. When work feels dull or the car ride home is quiet, many of us drift off into a zoned-out world where we can think of better things or not think at all. But for some, “zoning out” is a regular habit used to escape tough emotions. This active avoidance can begin affecting everyday life and push down problems that need to be addressed.
What is dissociation?
Dissociation is disconnecting from thoughts, feelings, and surroundings. Those experiencing dissociation often don’t plan to remove themselves from the present. Overwhelming emotions or memories can subconsciously prompt this coping mechanism into action as a way of protecting the person from their trigger.
Dissociation is common in those experiencing depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Signs of dissociation
Symptoms can range widely and impact everyday life in various ways:
- Memory loss of certain time periods, events, and people
- Feeling emotionally numb or detached
- A distorted perception of the people and things around you
- A blurred sense of identity
- Significant stress or problems in relationships, work, or other important areas of your life
- Inability to cope well with emotional or professional stress
- Regular out-of-body experiences
How to ground yourself
Dissociation is often triggered by your body’s fight-or-flight response. In order to counteract this, it’s important to know ways to self-soothe and gently remove yourself from a dissociative episode:
- Take a few deep breaths – Taking deep, intentional breaths can relax your body and remind your brain you’re not in danger. Box breathing is a popular method for relaxation. Begin by expelling all the air in your lungs. For a slow four count, breathe in through your nose. Hold the breath for another slow four count. Begin to exhale through your mouth for four counts, then relax for another four counts. Repeat this pattern three or four times until you feel your heartbeat slow and become reattached with the present moment.
- Tap into your senses – Sensory items can also help bring you back from a dissociative episode. Whether it’s a cozy blanket you can curl up with on the couch, a citrus body wash that wakes you up in the shower, or a lollipop with a strong, enjoyable flavor, these appeals to your senses can refocus your mind on current surroundings.
- Build a support team – There are many short-term fixes to dissociation, but it’s helpful to have a support system that can take care of you long-term. For those experiencing dissociation, you may not always recognize an episode. Share with close friends and family members the common signs and symptoms. Teach them ways to gently bring you back and provide support when you’re experiencing tough emotions.
Valley Oaks Health can be another piece of your support system. With support groups specifically designed for disorders that trigger dissociation, we are here to help you reconnect and continue to heal.