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SALT LAKE CITY — Have you ever found yourself feeling foggy, not able to think or focus, or caught yourself feeling spacey?
Or perhaps found that your thoughts are racing, making you anxious and distracting you from your work or other activities? If you answered yes to either question, you are a completely normal human being.
It is normal to sometimes feel disconnected from the people around you, your feelings, body sensations, thoughts or memories. This phenomenon is known as dissociation, and it is one of our brain's important functions. The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation defines dissociation as “the disconnection or lack of connection between things usually associated with each other.”
Dissociation can range from mild to severe, depending on the adaptations the brain has had to make to the environment and its circumstances. On the mild end of dissociation, many of us have experienced driving somewhere, finding ourselves in the parking lot, and having no recollection of the actual drive.
For someone who has had more traumatic events in his or her life, dissociation may be more severe. If someone grew up in a home where he or she was punished for expressing emotions, dissociation may be experienced as feeling disconnected or “pushing away” from emotions. The brain does this because it learned to adapt to the individual’s circumstances.
This phenomenon of disconnecting is not all bad. In fact, it is really a way of coping with stress. It helps us to get through tough situations and still function. But when it is happening frequently, problems can arise in many areas and can result in high costs. Too much disconnection or dissociation can result in numerous issues, including problems in relationships, at work, and mental health issues. Partners may complain about feeling emotional distance or feeling as though communication is not getting through to the other partner.
In other areas, someone disconnecting frequently may find he or she is not retaining important information, resulting in poor job performance or forgetting important tasks. Others may find that they are pushing away or “stuffing” emotions that are uncomfortable. This can result in eventual eruptions of emotions causing harm not only to relationships but also resulting in shame and a negative self-perception.
The good news: If disconnecting has become too frequent, steps can be taken to become more connected to the self, others and life in general.
Recognize that you’re disconnected
It’s hard to get reconnected when you aren’t even aware you are disconnected in the first place. This is where you will benefit from listening to feedback from others, noticing when you have the urge to escape or avoid something, are having trouble focusing, or feel clouded in your thinking. If a loved one ever says something like “I feel like you are distant” or “I feel so disconnected from you,” pay attention and ask what he or she is seeing in you that makes him or her feel that way.
If you notice that you often forget things, have trouble paying attention to others during conversations, or that your thoughts are racing, consider that you are not fully present all the time. Other clues that you may be disconnecting frequently include problems at work (ie. the boss says you are making a lot of mistakes or that you aren’t focused).
Practice paying attention
As simple as this may sound, paying attention on purpose can go a long way in improving one's connection to others, surroundings, and to the environment. You can pay attention to anything. One of the most effective ways to practice mindfulness when you want to become more connected and aware is to pay attention using your senses.
As simple as this may sound, paying attention on purpose can go a long way in improving one’s connection to others, surroundings, and to the environment. You can pay attention to anything. One of the most effective ways to practice mindfulness when you want to become more connected and aware is to pay attention using your senses.
Use sight to notice something interesting. Listen and really pay attention to the noises around you, trying to pick up on the sounds you didn’t notice before. Take time to really taste and enjoy a food you like, giving yourself a few extra minutes to savor the moment. Smell something that either calms you or energizes you, depending on how you are disconnecting in a particular moment. Touch an object with texture and take the time to notice everything about the object. Whatever you choose, it does not have to be time-consuming, and no one has to know you are doing it. Paying attention to what is happening in a given moment helps your brain to learn what it is like to be more connected and present, which can positively impact how you are present in other areas of your life.
Move your body
Getting the body moving is a great way to get connected to what is happening in the now. You don’t have to go to the gym or do a structured workout. Moving your body can be as simple as taking a short walk, moving around in place, or stretching. While you move, pay attention to any body sensations that you notice to combine this step with the previous.
If you feel that your level of disconnection is severe and it is difficult to practice any of the above skills, finding a professional who is skilled in treating dissociation could aid you in working through any difficulties with staying present and with the fallout that can often happen in relationships due to dissociation.
Anastasia Pollock, MA, LCMHC, is clinical director at Life Stone Counseling Centers. She is certified in EMDR through EMDRIA. Learn more about her by visiting lifestonecenter.com or email email@example.com.