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  • Writer's pictureDr. Tamara Dickson

Techniques For Stress and Dissociation

Dissociation. dis-sO-see-A-shun (noun) The action of disconnecting or separating, or the state of being disconnected.

There are kinds of mild or normal dissociation that everyone can relate to, like daydreaming or mind wandering which takes you out of the here- and-now. Other times, dissociation is a way of protecting yourself from extreme stress and negative emotions from a traumatic event or period. By disconnecting from your surroundings, the negative feelings, memories and sensations become easier to bear. Symptoms of dissociation are:

Feeling like the world isn't real Spacing out Feeling as if you are disconnected from your body, watching it from the outside, having an out-of-body experience Feeling disconnected from your surroundings Memory loss of the event, your sense of self, what your were doing

Dissociation can happen during a traumatic event or period as well as anytime afterwards when thinking about it or being reminded if it.  It can be a concerning and scary experience when it continues to occur long after the event or when people are engaged in everyday activities.

For anyone dealing with anxiety, PTSD, self-harm urges, or extreme stress that results in feelings of dissociation, there are some grounding techniques to help distract the mind and return your focus to your body in the present:

1. Put your hands in water or hold a piece of ice. Change from warm water to cold or alternate hands holding the ice, noticing how the temperatures and sensations change.

2. Enjoy household scents: coffee, tea, a candle, soap, perfume, or an herb/spice. Try to name its qualities (warm, sweet, spicy, sharp, citrusy) 3. Move your body: Try jumping jacks, jumping up and down, push ups, jogging in place, or stretching different muscle groups one by one. Pay attention to how your body feels with each movement, how your hands or feet touch the floor, the feel of the air or the floor.  4. Think in categories: Choose one or two broad categories, such as “musical instruments,” “ice cream flavors,” “mammals,” or “baseball teams.” Take a minute or two to mentally list as many things from each category as you can.

5. Try the 5-4-3-2-1 method Working backward from 5, use your senses to list things you notice around you. For example, you might start by listing five things you see then four things you hear, then three things you can touch from where you’re sitting, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. If this is too complicated, try simply describing the things around you, using all five senses in as much detail as possible. 

Grounding techniques can be really effective. It helps to to start as early as possible, when you first notice you're feeling badly or dissociating, and to keep your eyes open.  

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