Feel Like You Don’t Exist? Becoming Mindful to Re-Establish Connections
Ever get the sense that you aren’t controlling your own behaviors? Do you feel like an onlooker of your own life? Instead of genuinely experiencing your day, do you objectively visualize yourself at work, picking up the kids from school, buying groceries, going to the gym, or sitting on the computer, as if you aren’t really part of those experiences? Have aspects of your life taken on a dreamlike quality? These conditions, although disturbing, can go away on their own. They can be alleviated using mindfulness techniques that connect you with your surroundings.
If you have an anxious disposition, where you have previously suffered panic attacks or tend to worry over what others might consider “little things,” you may be prone to forms of unhealthy anxiety such as depersonalization. You feel withdrawn and numb doing activities you used to find a pleasure, like yard work or cooking family meals. People with depersonalization report feeling spacey and not present in the moment, almost like watching themselves in a movie. You could also feel that you are disconnected from reality, known as derealization. Everyday static things, like a red stop sign, or even your house number, can change in color and become blurry. People you normally interact with seem non-emotional and robotic in their response patterns.
Your brain is on hyper-alert to threats, trying to protect you from a distracting world of conflicting stimuli. However, it has caused you to feel dissociated in the process. You now need to be proactive and get your brain back in sync with external stimuli (people and things), but on your own terms. Here are some tips for intentionally re-connecting:
Practice regular meditation. You don’t need to take a multi-week class or memorize chakras to take 10 minutes per day to focus on your surroundings. Meditation can be done anywhere (in the shower, sitting in your backyard or on an airplane). Focus on your breathing (deep and relaxed), your body (the warm water on your arms, shoulders, fingers, legs, toes), and your surroundings (listen to the rustle of the trees or birds chirping in your backyard, the hum of the air system or background conversation on the plane). How does your chest feel when you breathe in deeply? Again, the goal is to connect yourself to the sights and sounds of the moment.
Examine objects. Hold something soft and warm, like a heated towel. Or round and spongy, like a stress ball. Focus on the shape and color of your chosen object. Squeeze or pull it where possible. Think about the object’s characteristics (round, square, hard, soft) as you look at it in your hand. What do you want to know about the object?
Be intentional about your day. We all have competing demands at work and home, but deliberately plan some of your activities (alone, or with friends and family). Go for a run on a nearby walking trail, walk through the neighborhood, attend a sports event, start a new hobby (scrapbooking, refinishing furniture) that seems interesting. Find social groups geared for your specific interests (hikers, bikers, writers, history buffs, dog lovers) in the community and plan an outing.
Journal. That’s right- start writing! Just as you allow random thoughts to cross through your brain when you meditate, set aside some time each day to free associate with pen and paper. Jotting down your thoughts as they come can free your mind of the clutter that keeps you in a cycle of anxiety and negativity. The act of writing down what comes to the surface can help clarify your daily intentions and goals, pushing less important things to the back burner. Don’t stop to edit and polish your words, since they are not meant for public consumption. The act of writing allows another opportunity to connect your mind’s thoughts with the external world (putting words on paper). Expand this as a mindfulness exercise- how do your hands feel when you write with a pen? Is it different with a pencil?
Literally, stop and smell the roses. In other words, slow down. You’ll find that you connect better with your surroundings when you savor the little moments. Appreciate the here and now. The present is more exciting when it’s not buried under thoughts about the past and future. Don’t kill your moments of joy by anticipating “what ifs”.
These practices have a common thread- they require you to be deliberative in your connections with the world. Don’t allow external stimuli of people, places and things to overwhelm you. This can cause distressing anxiety reactions such as feeling disconnected from reality. Meditation, journaling and other forms of practicing mindfulness can be easily integrated into daily life as you continue your journey of actualization and authenticity.