Dissociation and Grounding: The Truth About Managing Life’s Challenges

Are you feeling overwhelmed by life’s challenges? Do you want to escape or detach from reality when life becomes too much? If so, you may be experiencing dissociation. Dissociation is a common reaction to stress, anxiety, and trauma. However, with the right strategies, you can ground yourself and manage the ebb and flow of life’s challenges. This blog post explores the truth about handling life’s challenges through dissociation and grounding. We’ll discuss the effects of dissociation, the benefits of grounding, and how to use grounding techniques to bring yourself back into your body.

Dissociation is a spiritual experience in which we become disconnected from our physical bodies and the present moment. It is a state of being that leaves us feeling like an outside observer looking in on our own lives. Medically dissociation is closely connected to anxiety, and it’s easy to see why!

When a person dissociates, they usually do so because they have been triggered by a stressful situation in which they feel trapped. Dissociation is a freeze response. We have all experienced dissociation at some level or another. Whether you caught yourself daydreaming in the middle of a task or zoning out during a boring conversation, we’ve all done it. The difference between mild detachment and dissociation is our ability to ground ourselves back into our bodies.
Mindfulness can help us to recognize when we are starting to dissociate, as it helps us to stay present and aware of our thoughts and emotions. When we become mindful of our dissociative thoughts and feelings, we can more easily recognize and address them before they spiral out of control.

The first time I dissociated was in second grade. I don’t even remember why I was triggered. I remember my mom snapping me out of an episode at the dinner table. She was alarmed because I was staring off into space and didn’t respond when she called my name several times. I remember looking at her and explaining that I had learned a trick. When upset, I could leave my body and go somewhere less intense. I’d dissociate during class when I was confused by the subject being taught, during lunch when it was too loud, and at home when my parents were arguing. It was incredibly effective because I don’t remember much about the second grade.

Dissociation can be challenging to recognize because it often manifests as a coping mechanism for handling difficult emotions and situations. When someone dissociates, they may have an out-of-body experience, feel like they are on autopilot, or space out. They may also feel disconnected from their body, lose time, or have difficulty focusing or concentrating. Other signs of dissociation include heightened anxiety, depression, fatigue, forgetfulness, and confusion.
Looking back at some of the events I have worked to remember about that time, I realize that I was living in a very stressful home environment and did not have the resilience to handle what I was experiencing. When we see children, we often assume they have easy, happy-go-lucky lives. Children can also experience stress that adults do not understand. This is why having structure and support helps to create resilient children and adults who can handle the ebb and flow of life’s challenges.

Dissociation is a response to overwhelming traumatic situations. Honestly, today’s society is traumatizing. In the past ten years, we have witnessed extreme human rights violations, and many people feel overwhelmed by daily life. As a result, we are experiencing what I like to call socially acceptable (and even encouraged) dissociation. Apps that you can endlessly scroll down and ones that take us to fantastic places that are infinitely more attractive than the ones we live in encourage us to dissociate. Escaping from the physical reality when you’re a spiritual being feels easy at the moment but ultimately does more harm than good.

When you return from a dissociative episode (especially one where you feel like you’re missing time), you miss out on events and information that would help you to navigate the human experience more effectively. Enter the cure: grounding with mindfulness.

Since dissociation takes you out of the physical experience, practice mindfulness to become more aware of the body and its sensations. Paying close attention to the body can help you identify when you might be dissociating. For instance, if you find yourself spacing out or feeling disconnected from your body, these are signs that you might be dissociating. Take a step back, take a deep breath, and reconnect with yourself by engaging in grounding activities such as journaling, meditating, listening to music, or engaging in physical activity.
One of my favorite grounding activities is grounding with my five physical senses.

How to Ground with the Five Senses

Here is how it works:
I realize I am about to start dissociating, and I tell myself to stop. Sometimes, I say it out loud, and the sound of my voice pulls me back just a bit more into the present moment. Then I look around and name five things I can see, four things I can touch, three things I can hear, two things I can smell, and one thing I can taste. This usually helps because my brain has to actively engage my body in the world around it.
If you are driving and start dissociating, reading road signs out loud is another skillful and effective grounding tool.

The 20th-century philosopher John Dewey once said, “Man lives in a world of surmise–of mystery–of uncertainties.” Nothing is ever certain; reality frequently changes all the time. We have to be able to roll with it. This is why analogies for life and human nature often incorporate water. Bruce Lee also encouraged we should “be water, my friend.” This is much easier said than done for obvious reasons, but this highlights the importance of creating and maintaining a mindfulness practice.

When we are in a moment and have not practiced coping with challenges, we won’t suddenly start at that moment. I have experienced this time and time again. Dissociating might have been effective, but it is not a skillful way of dealing with our problems. Truthfully, there is discomfort in meeting our challenges, sitting with them, and finding a way to meet whatever need arises from a place of mindfulness, gentleness, curiosity, and kindness for yourself. Even more, we can find comfort in the understanding that the more we remember how to sit with our emotions instead of running from them, the easier it will be to manage life’s challenges.


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