It was when I stopped searching for home within others and lifted the foundation of home within myself I found there were no roots more intimate than those between a mind and body that have decided to be whole.– Rupi Kaur
Whenever life would get overwhelming growing up, I would retreat from my problems by pretending they weren’t happening. Instead of facing the problem head-on, I would distract myself with too much TV, too much busywork, too much of everything. I didn’t know how to deal with my feelings, so it felt much easier to disconnect from them.
Later, when I developed panic disorder in my early twenties, this disconnection turned into dissociation. I struggled through several panic attacks a day and quickly became nonfunctional. As a result, I started experiencing depersonalization and derealization, which are states of dissociation that cause you to feel severely disconnected from yourself or your surroundings.
I was so detached from the world that nothing around me seemed real or familiar. And I was so detached from my sense of self that even having a body felt strange to me. Often, I did not even recognize myself when I looked in the mirror, a terrifying and disorienting experience.
All-day and all night I felt “up in my head” and “floaty.” I had a very difficult time connecting back to the world right in front of me.
Though we may not hear about it often, depersonalization is estimated to be the third most common mental health symptom behind anxiety and depression. It often occurs in response to trauma, anxiety, or depression. But it doesn’t have to be such an intense form of dissociation. We can feel disconnected on smaller levels throughout the day.
Have you ever been in the shower and questioned whether you had already washed your hair or not? Have you ever spent the day so wrapped up in work that you forgot to eat? These are examples of when we get disconnected from the present moment by becoming too “up in our heads.”
I spent about a year dealing with debilitating depersonalization. Along the way, I learned wonderful strategies to help ground myself back into the present moment. Here are a few ways to reconnect when you’re feeling disconnected.
1. Connect back to your body with physical activity.
Physical activity is an amazing way to bring your attention back to your body. When I would feel dissociated, I would hop into my yoga practice, holding poses like Warrior II or Chair for as long as I needed in order to feel my legs burn. It’s quite difficult to feel disconnected from your body when your legs are screaming at you.
Running, dancing, lifting weights, playing a sport, painting, singing. All of these are present moment activities that can remind us that we’re in our bodies. Find a physical activity that you enjoy and then get lost in it.
2. Spend time in nature.
Being in nature is a very grounding experience. One technique, called earthing, involves making direct contact with your body to the Earth. This can be done by simply walking or standing barefoot on the ground, as well as sitting or lying directly on the earth’s surface.
During the worst days of my dissociation, I would take off my shoes and stand barefoot in the grass. I would wiggle my toes and feel the earth beneath me. I concentrated on my connection to it, feeling the energy flow through me from my head down to my feet and into the ground. I would feel the breeze touch my skin, bask in the warmth of the sun, and listen to the birds chirping.
Everything in nature is always occurring right here, right now, so if we can focus our attention on this beautiful flow of life, we will jump right into the present moment.
3. Adopt a mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness, which involves becoming aware of moment-to-moment sensations, is a beautiful tool to anchor us in the here and now. It is so easy to become so consumed with thoughts of the past and worries about the future that we miss out on all that’s happening around us and within us at any given time.
While in the shower, for example, I’m often guilty of mentally rehearsing things I said that day or planning my grocery list, causing me to completely disconnect from the experience of bathing.
With mindfulness, I would focus on the sensation of water running down my body. What temperature is it? What pressure? I would focus on the smell of soap, the movement of my hands, and the sound of water rushing down the drain.
Mindfulness is our anchor to the present, and this awareness can be applied to every moment of our day.
4. Allow yourself to feel what needs to be felt.
Disconnecting from ourselves and our surroundings is often a way to avoid feeling uncomfortable or painful sensations. When my panic attacks were unrelenting, dissociation was a way for me to distance myself from the intensity of my fear. While this can be our mind’s compassionate way of dealing with stress, especially during or after a trauma, at some point it becomes necessary for us to process the underlying feelings.
When you feel disconnected, ask yourself: what am I avoiding? What am I distracting myself from? Then, allow the emotion to be in your body.
This can be extremely hard, I know, so try to find as much compassion for yourself as you can. I would imagine that the overwhelming tightness in my chest was being held by kind, loving hands. I would sit there with the tightness, naming it as it changed from heat to prickly to gripping.
If you’ve experienced trauma, I recommend seeking out the help of a counselor or mental health professional to assist you in processing the emotions.
Giving emotions space to live in our body can help us reconnect to what’s here, without needing to cover over it with distraction.
Though sometimes life feels overwhelming, and it may seem easier to disconnect, there are gentle and loving ways to ground back into the ever-changing present moment. Take it slow, be kind to yourself, and allow your connection to this earth, this body, and this life to transform you.