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LoveYourAnxiety: Feeling Unreal

Do you ever feel totally out of it? Spaced out? "In a dream"? Like you are floating? Is this symptom, known as unreality, depersonalization, or derealization, one of your scariest anxiety symptoms?

I know it was mine. Breaking through the fear of feeling unreal was a huge help for me. Here is how I did it.

Desensitizing Yourself to Unreality  

As I've mentioned on my website, it is important to begin to "love" your anxiety.  In other words, not be afraid of it, and welcome it when it is present.

The best way to do that is to experience it fully.

That's what I did with feeling unreal. You can induce feelings of unreality even when you aren't feeling them. By inducing them and forcing yourself to feel them, you will realize that unreality is just a symptom of anxiety and that it does not need to scare you (and in turn make you feel worse!).

The Exercise

Turn your hand palmside up . Hold it about a foot from your face. Pick one point. Now here's the fun part. Stare at it for at least a minute. Try not to blink too much, but when you do, return your focus to the exact spot that you picked. If you start thinking any thoughts, just catch yourself (don't get upset), and return your full attention back to that same spot on your hand. What happens???

Did things in your vision field start to look weird? Did they look fuzzy or wavy or like they were moving? Did your hand start to look blurry? Did you start to feel like you were in a weird dreamy state kind of like when you feel "unreal"?

If you did, that is the point. Staring at one spot for any amount of time will often induce these "unreal" feelings. It's sort of similar to when you stare
at your computer screen for hours on end. You get up and feel totally spaced out.

You may not have been able to stare at your hand for over a minute, but that's ok. You may have quit because the changes in your vision scared you, or it reminded you too much of the scary anxiety symptom you dread. Just try again. Perservere through the weird feelings.

You will probably become very scared
of what you are experiencing, but if you persist, inevitably, the odd feeling will start to seem like no big deal, or maybe even funny!  At this point you will start to realize that feeling "unreal" is just a benign symptom. It will not harm you, and it is tolerable. The less that it scares you, the sooner your anxiety will pass.

Repeating the hand exercise is critical in becoming desensitized to the scariness of feeling unreal. Try it a few times in a row, then repeat the series each day for a week. Doing it over and over is what will make it seem like no big deal. You can also try staring at your reflection in a mirror in the same fashion, rather than staring at your hand if that does not work for you. It has the same effect of inducing unreality. Each time you do the exercise, it will become easier, less scary, and more silly. That's what you want!

The Outcome

Now when you experience unreality it will be much less scary. Instead of thinking "Oh no, here is that feeling again! Do I have a horrible illness? I am going to die? What is wrong with me?", you will now say "Oh yes, this. This is just anxiety. It's the same thing that happens to me when I stare at my hand. It won't hurt me. It is here now, but that's ok, I can handle it." Just thinking the latter rather than the former will help the feeling go away more quickly and will prevent your anxiety from spiraling further out of control.

Remember you WILL overcome your anxiety!  Never give up hope. I wish you the best this week. You are in my thoughts!

LoveYourAnxiety: The Fear of Fear: Breaking the Cycle of Anxiety

Anxiety becomes a disorder when you begin to fear fear itself. In other words you become scared to experience anxiety. And guess what? Worrying about it and fearing it invoke the exact experience you are trying to avoid! Not a fun cycle to get into!

The problem is, it's hard not to be scared of all those freaky thoughts and symptoms. But let's clear something up right now. Anxiety and panic symptoms WILL NOT and CANNOT hurt you. Let's dispel some of the common anxiety myths I'm sure your brain is telling you.

Dispelling the Panic Myths: Learn the Facts  

1. You will not "go crazy" from a panic attack.
I know it seems like you might, but if you were acutally going crazy you would be able to tell. I have spoken with several therapists and researched numerous reputable resources which have confirmed this point. I had anxiety disorders for years, and I'm still here, sane as ever, writing this newsletter!

2. You will not end up in a mental institution from a panic attack.
Again, you can't go crazy, so chances are slim that you would be admitted to an institution. Most people can't even tell you are having anxiety, so why would they want to admit you? That point is a great lead in to fact number three.

3. No one can tell that you are having anxiety.
Unless you tell people, they can't really tell that anything is wrong.  At most, your friends may notice that you seem a little "off", but chances are they will not think much of it. Trust me, I've asked over the years, and I've always been pleasantly surprised by the answer.  Once, a therapist even had me videotape myself during an anxious episode.  When I went back and watched the video, I appeared to look remarkably normal.  Pretty boring footage.

3. You cannot die from a Panic Attack.
You just can't. It's never been documented, and there is no reason it would happen. All of the symptoms of anxiety are annoying, yes, but completely harmless.

4. You do not have Multiple Sclerosis, a brain tumor, or any other rare disease.
You are not going to die from a panic attack, and no, your symptoms are not indicitive of a horrible life-threatening disease (but always see your doctor first to confirm this!). I was told several times by numerous doctors that my symptoms were from an anxiety disorder and not MS or anything else. I even had an MRI because I was so worried about it. It came out negative, yet I continued to worry that I was still suffering from an incurable disease. A total waste of energy!  All the worrying did was confirm the fact that people with anxiety disorder crave absolute certainty.  Until I learned that I would never get it, I continued to pointlessly worry about having a disease that I didn't have, in turn invoking more anxiety symptoms everyday.

5. The weird scary thoughts that you are thinking will not come true and you will not act them out.
Anxiety can make you think some wacky things sometimes. You may imagine yourself acting inappropriately, thinking about something sexual, or harming someone. These are just tricks your mind play on you during times of anxiety. Of course, the more you fear these thoughts, the more they will plague you. Welcome them into your mind, don't make a big deal out them, and you will see them start to dissipate much faster.

What about this, that, and the other?!?

I know I didn't cover everything in this newsletter, but the chances are, if you're experiencing some weird symptom, thought, or feeling, it is probably just anxiety.  It is not harmful and will not hurt you.  There is no need to be afraid.  Remembering this fact will take you far in overcoming your anxiety.

Remember you WILL overcome your anxiety!  Never give up hope. I wish you the best this week. You are in my thoughts!


Anxiety Patterns: Certain about Uncertainty  

There is only one thing I am absolutely certain of in this world.  That one thing is that sufferers of anxiety have a *lot* of trouble accepting uncertainty!  In other words, if we are not absolutely 100% sure that nothing will go wrong, we will worry.  

What do you feel uncertain about that causes you a lot of needless worry?  Are you still not convinced that you don't have a brain tumor or horrible disease, despite several doctors diagnosing your symptoms as just anxiety?  Or maybe no matter how many times you partner tells you that they love you, you still don't feel secure and ask for more reassurance?  These are just two common examples, but if you start to look, you will undoubtedly find more and more things that you have trouble believing despite evidence to the contrary.

People with anxiety disorders feel that they need absolute certainty in order to not worry about something.  This worrying is often what makes us physically sick and mentally exhausted.  Since nothing in life can be predicted with 100% certainty, you must accept certain degrees of uncertainty, even if it makes you feel anxious for a short time.

For example, I used to have a great fear that my current fiance did not love me and thought that I was not good enough for him.  Despite the fact that he treated me kindly, told me he loved me on a regular basis, and spent all of his time with me, I still didn't believe it.  I constantly asked for reassurance, resulting in a few hours of peace of mind before I would get anxious and have to ask him again.  The worrying made me sick and I was unable to relax and enjoy my time with him.

I began to realize that I would never be able to jump inside his head and read his thoughts and would never know what he was really thinking.  The only thing I really *could* do was observe how he treated me and listen to what he told me.  All of those things pointed towards the positive.  Even though I still had great anxiety over the small possibility of him disliking and leaving me, I stopped asking for reassurance.  I would feel extremely anxious for a few minutes, but it would eventually pass.  Over time the urges to ask for reassurance ceased, and I began to feel confident in our relationship.  By accepting uncertainty, I was able to stop worrying, and get on with my life.

Uncertain about how to stop being certain?

There isn't really a trick on how to stop trying to feel certain.  When you catch yourself trying, stop yourself from further rumination and don't ask others for reassurance.  You will feel extremely anxious, but if you can endure the anxiety for a few minutes, it will pay off in the long run.  As things begin to turn out ok without worrying or getting reassurance, you will see that those behaviors are pointless and will do them less often, resulting in a new found ability to relax and be happy.

For more information on uncertainty and the traits that lead to anxiety disorder check out The Worry Cure: Seven Steps to Stop Worry from Stopping You by Robert Leahy.  I wish I could say that I came up with the uncertainty idea myself, but that's not the case.  The Worry Cure has lots of goodies for people who are predisposed to worry and anxiety.

Remember you WILL overcome your anxiety!  Never give up hope. I wish you the best this week. You are in my thoughts!

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