Archive for September 2013

grounding techniquesAround the time that I started this blog (back in late January/early February), I started experiencing very bad dissociation for the first time. I’ve written about my experiences with dissociation for Summer Beretsky’s blog Panic About Anxiety before, so I won’t rehash that for you in this post. I’m not experiencing the sort of acutely disturbing dissociation that I described in that post. Instead, I’ve been experiencing a sort of low-grade depersonalization for the past few months.

Unlike my bad experiences where I feel like I’m a video game character, lately I find myself just zoning in and out of awareness more often. A good example: once in awhile, when I’m alone, I’ll forget where I am or how I got there. The memories flood back almost immediately, but it’s unsettling, and it used to cause me a great deal of anxiety. Occasionally, it feels like I’m not physically present, but merely an observer to some alternate reality. It’s sounds a bit odd, but I’ve come to accept it just comes with the package of chronic anxiety.

Luckily for me, while I can’t seem to escape these experiences, I can certainly control how they affect me. Unless I’m in a particularly troubling situation, I’m generally not scared of these dissociative episodes anymore. To combat my anxiety, I’ve learned a host of grounding techniques that have really helped me. I wanted to share a few concrete examples with you today.

Also, just a quick note: grounding techniques are often prescribed for sufferers of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), but I’ve found them useful in many different contexts. They are especially effective at diminishing the effects of my dissociation, but are also great for keeping panic attacks at bay as well.

Mental Grounding is all about keeping your mind focused in the present reality. Here are some examples:

  • Orient yourself in your physical surroundings. Sometimes I get so lost in my anxiety, I lose tract of myself and where I am. Try asking questions like, “Where am I?” or “How did I get here?” Sometimes just providing yourself with an answer to these simple questions is enough to pull you back down from your anxious plane. 
  • Orient yourself in the present moment. Similarly to losing myself, sometimes I also lose track of time (on a small scale and a large scale). If you have a watch or cell phone, check the time. Remind yourself of the date and day of the week. Ask yourself what month it is, and why you like or dislike that month.
  • Be intellectual. I use this tactic a lot. Remind yourself that you’re not actually floating away from the present moment, you’re just experiencing anxiety/dissociation. A typical reminder I might give myself goes something like, “Justin, you are present in this moment right now, you just feel otherwise because of your anxiety. You are experiencing dissociation, which is a common phenomenon among sufferers of anxiety like yourself. There is no danger.”
  • Keep your mind occupied with other, more difficult, things. During some of my worst panic attacks, I find doing mental arithmetic helps me stay grounded. Starting at 2, begin doubling numbers until you lose track of where you are or can’t do the mental arithmetic anymore. When you reach that point, start over. Keep going until you get bored. Chances are, if you are able to feel boredom, you’ve outlasted your anxiety. (This doesn’t work as well for dissociation, unfortunately.)

Physical Grounding is about taking advantage of your senses to bring you back into the moment. Here are some examples:

  • Try the “3 by 5” technique. List three things you can see, hear, taste, touch and smell. 
  • Become more aware of your body. Think about your arms as you move them around, and pay attention to how they feel. Touch your face and note how it feels. Does your skin feel warm or cool?
  • Take a hot shower. The constant flow of warm water on your body will keep you grounded in the moment.
  • Try a progressive muscle relaxation. The goal is feel your muscles tense and relax. It’s tedious and often doesn’t hold my attention very well, but if you can manage to concentrate, it really does help relieve anxiety (and definitely keeps you grounded).

Try out these different grounding techniques and see which ones work well for you. Some will work better than others. Maybe you’ll even come up with your own techniques.

Do you have any other grounding techniques that work well for you? If so, leave them in the comments below!



photo by: aguscr

fear of small talkAs a social phobe, I have a pretty profound fear of small talk. I’m afraid that I will sound boring or unintelligent. I’m also quite afraid of awkward silences permeating my conversations. For some reason, I’m always convinced that if I allow silence in a conversation, it means I’m inherently a bad conversationalist. I worry that my social ineptitude will prevent me from making friends and forming meaningful relationships.

Obviously, these obsessive thoughts are spawned from a place of catastrophizing, self-deprecating anxieties. My perceived social ineptitude is not a concrete being; it’s just a (flawed) social perception. It’s an opinion I have of myself. It’s not a fact.

I’ve argued for paradigm shifts before when I wrote about not being so hard on yourself. This is another time for one of those paradigm shifts. Unfortunately for most of us, some of our so-called “core beliefs” are so ingrained in our psyches that challenging them with rational thinking is analogous to breaking down a brick wall with a feather. Sometimes, we need a catalyst to overturn (or even simply budge) our core beliefs.

For me, that catalyst was online dating.

As part of my exposure therapy plan from my summer therapy sessions, I had devised a list of small-talk-related situations that caused me anxiety, ranked in order of distress. Dating was near the top of the list. There’s something about sitting down with someone whom you’ve never met (or never spoken to one-on-one) and having to forge conversation that makes me want to crawl out of my skin. What if I run out of things to say? What if I’m uninteresting? What if I laugh too much, or too little? What if my eyes start watering and I look like I’m crying? What if I say something ignorant or offensive without realizing? Obsessive thoughts cloud my mind.

As the old adage goes, “Practice makes perfect.” I think dating — and more generally, small talk — is no different. The first date I went on this summer, I was terrified. While I was waiting at the bar for my date to arrive, I seriously considered just running away and pretending something had come up. But I didn’t. I stayed there, and it was a fairly pleasant time.

The more dates I went on, the easier it got. But over time, I found that it wasn’t just dating that was getting easier. I was (and still am) becoming more confident in my social skills. I may not have the best social skills, but honestly, I could be a lot worse off. I started realizing that it wasn’t always my fault if conversation died out. I realized that, even if I did make ignorant statements or ask unintelligent questions, other people were making the same sort of statements and asking the same sorts of questions at the same (or even a higher) rate.

I’ve now been on about a dozen dates this summer. And I’ve never run out of conversation; I’ve never had a particularly awkward moment; I’ve never said anything offensive. I’ve even felt at times like I was the one driving the conversation, not the other way around like I was used to. I learned that I am perfectly capable of maintaining a conversation, and also that it takes two people to have an awkward silence, not just one.

This isn’t to say that I’ve mastered my social anxiety. I’m far from that. But what I have managed is to start seeing myself in a new light. Instead of focusing on my failures, I have begun to start focusing more on my successes.

Dating may not be your catalyst of choice, but I think there is an outlet waiting for you. There’s an outlet that will teach you to see yourself in a new light. You just have to go out and find it.

What was your catalyst? Have you been able to overcome any of your core beliefs? Let me know in the comments!

photo by: » Zitona «