The Psych Central Report

Coping with Dissociation as a Student
Part I

November, 2004
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Dissociation is the coping method of choice for many of us, but what happens when dissociation begins to interfere with our responsibilities and our daily lives? At this point, dissociation itself becomes something to cope with. Dissociation can present challenges in many arenas, not the least of which is academically. So how does one cope with dissociation as a student?

The up-side of dissociation. As you probably are already aware, dissociation can serve a number of useful purposes. There are times when dissociation can help even with school work. Sometimes dissociation, in fact, is a key to getting through school. When you are dealing with stress in your life that overwhelms you, putting up your dissociative defenses can allow you to block your stressors from your mind long enough to focus on your school work. In this case, dissociation is a valuable tool and is by no means a reason why you cannot succeed in school. At other times, dissociation can interfere. There are many ways to minimize the negative impacts of dissociation while maximizing the positive.

Coping with dissociation during lectures.

One time in particular that dissociation can have a negative impact is during a lecture. It can be very hard to stay focused on what an instructor is saying. This happens for a number of reasons. Sometimes we get a little bit dissociative just because we are bored with the lecture. Other times, we dissociate during lecture because the level of stress and pain in our lives is high and dissociation has become the norm. This dissociation, during lecture, can take the form of completely "spacing out" and being unaware of what is happening around you, being unable to focus on what the professor is saying because your mind drifts off to your worries and thoughts of painful things, or in persons with DID perhaps switching. All of these forms of dissociation have their place in coping, but can be very problematic to the dedicated student who wants so much to succeed in school.

There are some tricks for coping with dissociative responses during lecture. I find that it helps to always sit on the front row in class, and near the center. This way, it becomes easier to focus your attention on the professor and the professor is often more likely to make eye contact with you. This will help you remember to be mindful of where you are and what is happening around you. Sitting on the front row is by no means a cure-all, though, and dissociation can still happen.

Another thing I have found helpful is to bring a cold drink to class. I prefer drinks with a very noticeable and interesting flavor. When you feel yourself starting to dissociate a bit, grab the drink and take a sip. Notice the coldness in your mouth. Notice the sweetness of the drink. Doing this has helped me through many a long lecture! And making it a caffeinated drink occasionally when I've had a long night of insomnia can help with focus as well.

Another method that I find very effective is to tap my foot or shake my leg. Sometimes I get excessive in doing this and drive the person next to me nuts by shaking the table, so I have to keep an eye on that! However, I find that moving my leg helps me to stay more focused and present a lot of the time.

Arguably the most effective method of coping with dissociation, for me, has been note-taking. I do not enjoy taking notes, but I know that if I make a point of doing it anyway, I will pay more attention to the professor. That way, even if I am a bit dissociative, I am jotting down things that I can review to jog my memory later. Also, focusing on writing down what the professor says helps draw me more into what s/he is saying and focus my mind there instead of letting it drift. Even when I don't review the notes, it is still an effective tool in dealing with my dissociative responses and getting the most out of lecture.

Stay tuned for Part II in December's issue!



Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 18 Apr 2010
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