How I Cured My Anxiety, Depersonalization, and Intrusive Thoughts
Guide to Treating Your Anxiety or Depersonalization
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. Approximately 18% of the adult population—or nearly 40 million people—suffer to some extent from anxiety but, although these disorders are highly treatable, the majority of sufferers don't get treatment.
But why suffer for endless years if relief from the troublesome symptoms or even complete recovery is at an arm's length? This article lists the many ways people have found relief from anxiety disorders and related symptoms, including the notorious depersonalization; from supplements and prescription medications to relaxing techniques and many more tools that have proved to be successful in attenuating anxiety.
Just as anxiety manifests differently for every individual, different treatments suit different people. If you try one solution and it doesn't work, then don't lose hope: simply try another (but not necessarily at the same time and of course, consult your physician). Finding the methods that work for you requires research, tenacity, and an open mind, but the methods described in this article will give you hope.
In this article, you will find (in this order):
- a definition of depersonalization
- a list of lifestyle changes to help alleviate anxiety
- herbal remedies to assuage anxiety
- helpful over-the-counter supplements
- medications your doctor may prescribe
- cognitive therapy approaches.
Defining and Finding Relief for Depersonalization
Depersonalization is a glitch in the mechanism which is responsible for one's sense of self-awareness. It is when your thoughts and feelings seem unreal or feel like they belong to someone else. In other words, it's when one feels unpleasantly disconnected from the outside world. People who suffer from depersonalization say it's surreal, like living in a dream or a movie. This feeling plagues a legion of individuals. If you suffer from depersonalization, do not forget you are not alone in this.
Depersonalization can be a thoroughly frightening and disabling experience and I should know, because it got me, too. My depersonalization occurred when I was using cannabis to fight anxiety and intestinal pain. At first I thought I was going crazy, that I had triggered some serious psychiatric condition (this was before Harvard's 2013 study that found no evidence linking cannabis with schizophrenia). But as time passed, I started to realize that the only thing that had really changed was the way I perceived the world around me.
Since perception defines your emotional connection with the outside world, it is no wonder that depersonalization can make you feel like a piece of furniture. Be aware that although you may think you are going crazy, the chance you are psychotic are slim. Psychotic people are usually not aware of their delusions: this is a paradox worth remembering. Try to remember also that everything is in its right place (including your emotions, personality, and cognition) but you just need to find all of yourself and re-personalize.
In searching for a way to re-personalize, I experimented with many techniques and substances. This article is filled with tips that greatly helped me in returning to my normal self— better yet, to a more educated self—and hopefully they will help you, too.
(Note: Since depersonalization is more of a side effect of anxiety than a symptom, the following advice is oriented to dealing with the underlying anxiety fueling the dissociation.)
Cures for Anxiety: Lifestyle Changes
In order to reduce your anxiety and feelings of depersonalization, the first thing you need to do is start taking care of your body. A healthy lifestyle will boost the regenerative ability of your brain: the healthier you live, the more you will feel psychological relief.
Some simple steps you should incorporate into your daily routine:
- Drink water. The link between water and stress reduction is well researched and documented. Hydration affects cortisol levels which, in turn, affects anxiety levels. Drinking enough water and substituting sweet drinks with water will help you with many bodily processes and aid in clearing your system of toxic waste. Proper hydration has been proven to help reduce the severity of anxiety attacks. Avoid sugary drinks to prevent complications arising from excess carbohydrate consumption such as mood swings.
- Avoid alcohol and tobacco. Alcohol is a notorious depressant. Although you may find a short relief from anxiety, alcohol will make it worse in the long run. The same goes for tobacco and other recreational drugs. Many might seem helpful at first, but they usually just cover the symptoms like a blanket and let them stack up until they become too overwhelming to handle.
- Exercise. Exercising daily will help you achieve a better attitude, improve your health, and distract you from all the anxious thoughts going through your head. Studies show that it takes a little more than 20 minutes of exercise to reduce anxiety. For me, exercising proved to be just as good—if not better—than using anti-depressants. Furthermore, aerobic exercise promotes neuronal growth and so compensates for the neurotoxicity induced by chronic depression/anxiety arising from increased cortisol levels (hypercortisolemia).
- Occupy yourself. Don't think about your anxiety/depersonalization, don't try to analyze every possible trigger of your anxiety, and don't analyze your thoughts all the time, but rather keep yourself occupied with something you like to do. Even if you don't feel like doing anything, force yourself to try something different. A shift in focus will distract you from anxious thoughts and help you slip into doing something pleasing and productive, which is essential to any recovery.
- Rest your mind. Make sure you are getting enough rest because when you rest, your mind rests as well. Alternatively, meditation allows you to empty your mind and relax your body. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Not only does meditation ameliorate many symptoms common to, albeit not limited to, anxiety (such as limited focus and alertness), but it has even proven to elicit morphological changes in the brain by facilitating the thickening of gray matter (a brain region associated with intelligence). Meditation is therefore a must-try practice.
Consult Your Doctor
Always consult with your doctor before taking any new remedies (herbal, supplemental, or prescriptive).
Herbal Remedies Used to Treat Anxiety
There are a large variety of herbs which have the potential to alleviate nervousness and anxiety to a noticeable extent. The major advantages of an herbal anxiety remedy are that they are considered to be relatively safe and rarely pose a risk of developing dependence since they're mostly made from plants (as opposed to some potent alkaloid tincture or other concentrated derivative intrinsic to prescription medication). Furthermore, unpleasant side effects are also quite infrequent, making most herbal remedies a generally well-tolerated treatments, although you should always check with and inform your doctor which remedies (herbal, supplemental, and prescriptive) you are using.
I have experimented with a wide range of herbal remedies and often found them more efficient than actual prescription medications, especially in the long run. The following have proven to work most efficiently:
Humulus lupulus (Hops): If you want to experience the tranquilizing benefits of hops, you'll need to use the oil (via an extract or a tincture). Although you'll find it in beer, there is no evidence that beer will help your anxiety.
Lactuca Virosa (Opium Lettuce): Do not be frightened by the name, as this plant is no relative to opium (papaver somniferum), although it is known to have some of opium's beneficial properties. Lactucarium, the milky fluid secreted by this plant, has been appreciated for its analgesic, sedative, and anti-inflammatory uses for centuries. Two or three grams of leaves made into a tea will give you pleasant relief!
Lavandula (Lavender): There have been many scientific studies conducted in stressful places (doctors' offices, exam rooms, etc.) on the soothing, anti-anxiety effects of lavender oil. In one German study, lavender pills (which are not available in the U.S.) were shown to reduce anxiety symptoms in a group with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) as effectively as Ativan (a prescription medication like Valium).
Matricaria recutita (Chamomile): Available as a tea or in capsule form, compounds in chamomile bind to the same brain receptors as drugs like Valium. In one study at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, there was a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms in those participants suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) who were administered chamomile supplements for two months.
Melissa officinalis (Lemon balm) is available as a tea, capsule, and tincture, and has been used for hundreds of years to reduce stress and anxiety and help with sleep. In one study, participants who took 600 mg of lemon balm extract were significantly calmer than those who took a placebo, although some research indicates that overuse will add to anxiety, so proceed with caution.
Mitragyna Speciosa (Kratom): Another plant with opiate-like properties, this tea, sold as a legal high, does in fact act upon some of the opioid receptors in your body (delta receptors and slightly mu receptors), but lacks any of the traditional opiate side effects such as the risk of developing addiction (although it is possible to become addicted with frequent use of heavy doses, especially with the use of strong extracts). Its anxiolytic and antidepressant effects make it popular among anxiety sufferers and quitting opiate-users. I find it very effective at alleviating anxiety and great for use at work as it is pleasantly stimulating in lower doses and comfortably sedative in higher doses. Works great for sleep in higher doses, too.
Passiflora (Passionflower) is a sedative which some studies have found can reduce symptoms of anxiety as effectively as prescription drugs. It's also used for insomnia and the German government has approved it for nervous restlessness.
Piper methysticum (Kava) (also known as Kava Kava): The Kava root has been extensively researched for its beneficial effects on stress, insomnia, and anxiety. As with all these substances, consult your doctor first, especially if you drink alcohol, have liver problems, or use other medicinal substances.
Scutellaria lateriflora (Skullcap): An herb of the mint family with broad medical applications, it has proven to possess antitumor, anti-angiogenesis, hepatoprotective, antioxidant, anticonvulsant, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. Furthermore, it has exhibited noticeable anxiolytic properties without any potentially harmful or unpleasant side effects and thus is a benign alternative for anxious patients.
Helpful Over-the-Counter Supplements for Anxiety
Proteins, minerals, vitamins, and other substances are essential for a brain to function properly. The chance that your anxiety, or at least part of it, can be traced to a vitamin or mineral deficiency is quite high. Here are some over-the-counter and natural ingredients to help alleviate anxiety.
Aniracetam is a nootropic (memory/learning-enhancing) dietary supplement that is immensely useful when your thinking is fogged by anxiety. Depersonalization often causes brain fog and therefore I found taking a supplement of aniracetam extremely helpful for learning/working.
Do not underestimate the power of simple supplements such as B-complex: its deficiency can cause symptoms of mania, psychosis, fatigue, memory impairment, irritability, depression, and personality changes. Supplementation of B-complex has been shown to reduce confusion, depression, and work-related stress. I recommend using the sublingual form due to its high bioavailability (easy absorption). It is difficult to overdose on B-vitamin since it is water-soluble, so don't be afraid to incorporate it into your daily diet.
BCAA (branched chain amino acids): Comprised of three amino acids (valin, leucine, and isoleucine), this supplement will be useful not only to body-builders who are looking to gain some muscle tissue, but also for anyone struggling with fatigue or depression. I found it especially effective in reducing physical fatigue: 500mg two to three times daily makes all the difference when I go jogging.
Centrophenoxine/Meclofenoxate: Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors reduce the breakdown of acetylcholine, an essential transmitter involved not only in muscular function and other somatic aspects, but also in cognitive processes such as memory. Additionally, this supplement was proposed to cause an increase in density of dopamine receptors. Overall, its an interesting nootropic which seems to help with focus and the storing of new information into long-term memory.
Choline is an essential nutrient for brain health, intelligence, and synaptic plasticity. A choline deficiency can impair memory and reasoning and affect mood and focus. We derive choline from foods like eggs, beef liver, dairy, soaked nuts and legumes, and cruciferous vegetables, but most people do not get the daily recommended amount so unless you have a consistently healthy diet, supplements such as Alpha GPC and Citicoline are excellent sources of choline.
GABA is a supplement that is essential in regulating anxiety. It does not readily cross the blood-brain barrier in lower doses but it indirectly calms you down (exactly how is yet to be explained). 500mg once or twice a day should be enough (morning/evening before sleep). This dose can be exceeded but it may have paradoxical effects and work against you by increasing anxiety.
L-Theanine is extracted from green tea and evokes a focused state of relaxation without making you tired or over-stimulated. Research shows that that it helps moderate heart rate and blood pressure, and some studies show that it reduces anxiety. In one study, anxiety-prone test-takers were calmer during a test if they first took 200 milligrams of L-theanine. Along with its nootropic properties, it is also a worthy mood-enhancer. You'd have to drink a lot of green tea to feel the effects, but it's also available in a capsule. 400-800 mg daily should do the job nicely.
Not only does lecithin reduce the frequency and severity of migraines, but it also helps you to achieve an overall calm state of mind. I found it to be outstanding in reducing panic attacks (which many people experience as a result of depersonalization). The cholinergic system is involved in memory and learning among other sympathetic and parasympathetic responses. Therefore lecithin will positively address cognitive impairments such as brain fog. Take daily anywhere from 1200mg to as much as feels comfortable.
A magnesium deficiency can precipitate depression and anxiety, so make sure to keep proper levels in check. You can ingest enough magnesium in daily portions of green vegetables, but if you don't have the time to eat this way, a supplemental magnesium can act as a gateway to sleep and calmness. Try 250 mg at first and work your way up slowly as high doses can lower your blood pressure and consequently make you tired.
Omega 3-6—also known as and found in fish oil—is a dietary supplement that helps people suffering from anxiety and also actively participates in prevention of cancer, inflammation, and depression. In one study, students who took a daily dose of 2.5 mg a day for three months experienced significantly less anxiety before an exam than those taking a placebo. There is not really an upper limit on intake, but 300 mg of EPA and DHA daily should suffice.
Piracetam is another nootropic from the racetam family that improves cognition. It acts as a positive allosteric modulator of the NMDA glutamate receptor, which proved essential in learning and memory. 1.2 g to 12 g is a typical dose range. Efficiency varies among individuals, so you will have to find the right dose for you. Combines well with Aniracetam, Lecithin, Alpha GPC, and Centrophenoxine because they work in synergy.
Prescription Medications for Anxiety
If you choose to visit a doctor hoping to find help with the management of anxiety, these are some of the prescription options your doctor will most likely be choosing from. However, I do not advocate the use of prescription medications as they are often addictive and have many unpleasant side effects, both short and long term. Prescription medications only create a room for your anxiety to hide in and as soon as you quit (or if you do not increase the dose to counteract increasing tolerance), the anxiety will escape its room and haunt you once again, often to a greater extent than before.
Benzodiazepines: Strong anxiolytics, anti-convulsants, and hypnotics that enhance the effect of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). These are very helpful—especially with panic attacks—and do great with anxiety, too. Nevertheless, these are incredibly addictive and therefore I would not advise their use long term: a maximum of twice a week may eliminate development of any dependence upon this psychoactive drug, but even such a subtle regimen can become habitual if practiced long enough.
Bupropion: An atypical antidepressant and a successful smoking-cessation aid, Bupropion works by inhibiting the reuptake of the catecholamines dopamine and nor-epinephrine, thus making them more available to the receptors in the entrapped synaptic cleft. Because the role of these transmitters is mostly excitatory, anxiety and insomnia can be aggravated. In other words, this drug can aggravate or add to your problems. However, it might appeal to depressed patients suffering from fatigue and lack of concentration.
Buspirone: A psychoactive drug that has proven to be quite efficient at treating anxiety and to a lesser extent as an antidepressant. It also possesses nootropic properties by enhancing spatial learning and memory. It takes a couple of weeks before the anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects become fully noticeable, but it is worth a try as it has few side effects, especially since does it not affect sexual drive as many commonly prescribed anxiolytics tend to do.
Cerebrolysin: Neuropeptides from a pig's brain have been revealed to have neurotrophic properties (enhances neural formation) and therefore have found their place in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease among many other somatic/psychiatric maladies. Efficacy is high and a few administrations have a long-lasting effects, making it necessary to administer only a few times. No significant side effects have been noted and this medication is generally well-tolerated among a wide spectrum of patients. The only drawback which might deter some from using this approach is that the most prevalent and ergonomic form available is in vials which require to be administered intra-muscularly (IM) or intravenously (IV). In other words, it's usually taken via a shot, so if you have a problem with needles, this may not work for you.
Hydroxyzine: An atypical antihistamine that has proven to be successful in treating mild anxiety. It possesses hypnotic properties making it helpful to insomniacs. For me, it proved to be quite helpful; you may notice changes in appetite and drowsiness (both elevated).
Naltrexone: An opioid receptor antagonist that is used in managing opiate dependence, it is not an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) but several studies have proven that it can be helpful in treating depersonalization. This is because opioid receptors have the ability to alter perception (therefore while on opiates, you may feel depersonalized). It binds to the opioid receptors and blocks the access/function of any agonists trying to bind. Studies showed quite positive results for the participants who were treated for 6-10 weeks at a fairly high dose of 120 milligrams per day. Three individuals were relieved of their condition, while the other subjects experienced partial alleviation of symptoms. On average, a 30% decrease in depersonalization symptoms was reported.
Pregabalin: A GABA analogue (which does not alter the GABAergic system as it may imply but works via a different mechanism) used for peripheral neuropathy (nerve pain) management, but has proven to be great at relieving the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, too. Its efficiency is comparable to that of benzodiazepines, but with a lower addictive potential and a reduced list of side effects, it seems like a better alternative.
SSREs: Selective serotonin reuptake enhancers (like Tianeptine) work in an opposite way as do SSRIs. Instead of inhibiting the transmission at the synaptic cleft, SSREs enhance the uptake, which results in an uplifted mood rather than the emotional numbness experienced with SSRIs. So as far as prescription drugs go, this one ranks highest on my list. However, it might be hard to acquire in the U.S. as it is not available by conventional means.
SSRIs: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors were a favorite option prescribed by many doctors. These medications (such as setraline, fluoxetine, and paroxetine) increase the levels of serotonin in one's brain and thus were prescribed to relieve anxiety. However, SSRIs proved to have a low rate of efficiency (around 15%), ranking them below placebo, and many in many cases made matters worse. It takes couple of weeks before the body adapts to the medication and effects start to show (if any do). These medications usually possess horrible side effects including sexual problems. SSRIs also make you numb, and this is counter-therapeutic for depersonalization sufferers as they are looking for the exact opposite, to feel emotions to a greater extent.
Tramadol: A synthetic opiate with affinities for serotonin and norepinephrine systems. In addition to the binding of mu and delta opioid receptors, this medicine inhibits the uptake of norepinephrine and serotonin, increasing its availability to binding in the synaptic cleft and leading to a down-regulation of these receptor sites in the long run. It might be beneficial in cases where the receptor sites are hypersensitive. Although the chances of developing dependence is high (as it is with benzodiazepines in chronic use), it works great at alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety by enhancing focus, eliminating psychosomatic pain, and lifting mood.
Cognitive Approach: The Key to Recovery
So you are starting to exercise, drinking plenty of water, and supplying your body with essential vitamins: Good start, but you're not at the finish line yet.
Following these steps will help you reduce the severity of your anxiety, but will not eliminate it. In order for your anxiety to disappear, you will need to start thinking about and looking at anxiety differently and analyzing the sources of your anxiety in order to learn how to resolve them. Just like you must pull out weeds with their roots intact in order to prevent them from growing back, you will have to face the root of your anxiety. Your mind is a great device, but requires an even greater operator to master it.
Let's look at an example of maladaptive reasoning so you can see what I mean:
- Wanting everything to be perfect at all times and costs can be a great motivation, but only within limits.
- Trying to live up to unreasonably high standards and consistently obsessing about your failures or events you misinterpret as failures will trigger a difficult-to-reverse cascade of anxiety.
- What if it happened differently? Why me? Why am I so unlucky? Am I going crazy? Constantly asking yourself questions like this will successfully consume your focus and pull you out of reality and into a box filled with profoundly negative thoughts.
- As you might have noticed, negative thoughts can become quite a habit and habits are hard to break so in a sense, you become addicted to anxious thinking.
- Unfortunately, the thinking begins to projects into behavior and starts eliciting physiological responses characteristic to anxiety such as panic attacks, racing heart, and restlessness. Now the habit becomes even harder to break as you have associated it with strong emotions, further imprinting the experience into your memory.
- See how this becomes a never-ending problem that constantly gains in force? Therefore it is important to break the habit as soon as possible to save yourself from prolonged struggling and it is why some patience and time are required to break the habit as you need to replace that counterproductive practice with a healthier one.
Solution to example:
- Recognizing what the problem is and that it is an anxious response rather than a normal form of reasoning is the first move.
- The issue, in this case, is over-thinking and exaggerating, so you will want to rationalize the response by questioning the negative questions/exaggerations.
- You might want to ask yourself: What are the chances of me going crazy, considering that I have already experienced this without turning psychotic? Did it really turn out so bad?
- In other words, you begin fighting your anxiety (which skews your view on reality) by using evidence and reason to counter its proposals. By adapting approaches like this, you successfully break the vicious loop.
Techniques like this are often employed in cognitive therapy and I have found this approach the most effective, simply because once you learn to resolve a particular aspect of your anxiety it won't return. It is like learning to ride a bicycle. Sure supplements, exercise, meditation, and the rest will be a great help, but their drawback is that you will need to practice them infinitely as their effect is rather short-lived and relies on frequent practice.
But being aware of what anxiety is, how to distinguish it from your true self, and how to eliminate its very sources will be your best weapons against depersonalization/anxiety.
I highly recommend the Linden Method, which further develops these points and provides additional tips on overcoming anxiety/depersonalization. It supplied me with all the tools necessary for understanding and resolving my anxiety and taught me how to apply various cognitive therapies critical to recovery. I found it highly informative and incredibly helpful for my depersonalization; it certainly (and thankfully) subtracted a couple of months from my recovery.
Hope these tips will be of as much help to you as they were to me. Depersonalization and anxiety are not permanent if you are willing to reform your life. Additionally, anxiety tends to decrease with increasing age—perhaps due to becoming adjusted to the feeling—so there is always that to look forward to!
Good luck to you all and I wish you a huge anxiety relief!