Hadley Tarantino, M.A.
8 Helpful Ways to Help You Through Dissociation
What is dissociation? Dissociation is the experience of being disconnected from present reality, or the here-and-now. Dissociative symptoms vary in nature and may present in many different ways. For example, it may be experienced as “spacing/zoning out” or feeling disconnected from one’s body. Others may feel as if they are an outsider observer in respect to one’s thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. Individuals or objects may be experienced as unreal, foggy, or visually distorted.
Dissociation is often found in proximity to trauma-related events. It may have served as a defense mechanism at one point to protect an individual from being present to traumatic or extremely stressful events. Often times dissociation is experienced when one feels threatened, unsafe, or stressed. A professional therapist can help with bringing awareness to these experiences and how to better understand dissociation.
If you find that you are experiencing dissociative symptoms, try some of these helpful tips to stay grounded in the present moment.
1. Use your 5 senses.
The five senses are a great way to stay rooted in the present moment and reduce dissociation. Try finding 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing to taste. You may want to create a “5 senses distress tolerance kit” with helpful objects, such as a fuzzy blanket or a colorful photograph you can focus on to bring you back to the present moment when you begin to dissociate.
2. Practice breathing exercises.
Breathing exercises can help you return to the present moment and increase your heart rate variability. If you begin to dissociate, it can be very powerful to focus on the breath. Try making a square in your mind, breathing in for 4 counts, hold 4 counts, breathe out 4 counts, and hold 4 counts. You can also focus on making your exhalations longer than your inhalations. For example, breathe in 5 counts, hold 7 counts, and breathe out 9 counts.
3. Practice acceptance.
Dissociation, like many other trauma-related symptoms, served a purpose at one time in your life. It had a function to keep you safe. One of the most powerful things you can do to reduce dissociation is to practice acceptance.
4. Use ice/water.
Some dissociative episodes may feel more intense than others. Splashing cold water on your face or holding ice cubes can be very helpful in bringing you back to the present moment.
5. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is not all about breathing exercises and meditative seating positions. You can practice mindfulness at any time of the day. Mindfulness is the practice of staying in the present moment with intention and without judgment. Try being “one-mindful” by doing only one task at a time, or try practicing non-judgmentalness on yourself and others.
6. Use affirmations.
Affirmations can be extremely impactful for those who experience dissociation. It is important to state affirmations in the present tense. If you notice you are beginning to dissociate, try repeating affirmations or mantras, such as “I am safe,” “I am in the here and now,” or “I am noticing my body.” Bringing awareness to different body parts is also another central component to reducing dissociation.
7. Describe your surroundings.
It is important to stay grounded in the present moment when feelings of detachment and disconnectedness arise. Try pointing out different things in your environment to help remind yourself where you are. For example, look for a certain color, texture, or shape in the room.
8. Seek professional therapy.
Therapists who specialize in dissociation can help you bring awareness to ways in which you are dissociating and why. They will also have helpful resources and skills to use at home. If you are struggling with dissociation and would like a complimentary consultation, please reach out at 818.925.0501 for more information.