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Can Stress Make You Zone Out

author
Danielle Fletcher
• Wednesday, 18 November, 2020
• 7 min read

Ever spaced out over a long, difficult book and realize you haven’t read a single word in 10 minutes? It’s also pretty common to experience prolonged spaciness or brain fog if you’re dealing with grief, a painful breakup, or other difficult life circumstances.

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Contents

In these cases, zoning outran serve as a coping tactic of sorts, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Zoning out is considered a form of dissociation, but it typically falls at the mild end of the spectrum.

This can happen when your brain recognizes that toucan complete your current task, whether that’s folding laundry or walking to work, without really thinking about it. Still, the following factors canmakeyou more prone to zoning out, even when the task really does require your full attention.

A similar process might also happen during high-focus activities, like a precise dance routine. This is often a coping tactic that helps you keep stress and overwhelm at a distance until you feel equipped to deal with them.

If you’ve gone through any kind of trauma, this tendency to zone out might border on more severe dissociation. In the face of extreme stress, some people respond by shutting down, or completely detaching.

Shutdown dissociation can affect function in the central nervous system, which can lead to a more total absence of presence. Plus, when you’re really involved in doing something you enjoy, whether that’s drawing, working out, playing video games, or reading your favorite book, you might feel totally absorbed and not notice what’s happening around you.

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If youzoneout to cope with something difficult, like an argument with your partner or a lecture from your boss, you might feel less distress at the moment. Maybe youzoneout while driving on the freeway because you’ve driven the same route every day for the past 7 years.

Still, even though you know the road well, losing focus while driving can easily lead to an accident. Dissociation can have a protective function when people, especially children, can ’t escape from a traumatic or distressing experience.

Logging these episodes can give insight into any patterns of mind wandering and help you take note of your thoughts before zoning out. If you’re washing dishes, for example, stay present by thinking about the fragrance of the dish soap, the roughness of the sponge, the temperature of the water, and the satisfaction you feel when you get a filthy pot sparkling clean.

Good self-care techniques can help you manage stress and overwhelm more easily, which can make zoning out less likely. Short, frequent breaks to stretch, rest, and have an energizing snack can increase your productivity and concentration.

Generally speaking, you don’t need to worry about zoning out occasionally, especially if it happens mostly when you’re engrossed in a task, and it doesn’t seem to have any negative effects on your daily life. But frequent daydreaming, mind wandering, or brain fog can sometimes be symptoms of other issues, including ADHD and depression.

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It’s important to talk to a healthcare professional if your zoning out is accompanied by other systems, including: If your child appears to be daydreaming but doesn’t respond when you try to get their attention, it’s a good idea to see their pediatrician.

Getting in the zone while enjoying a good run and realizing you’ve lost track of the last few minutes probably isn’t something you need to worry about. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health.

Spacing out might be a medical emergency or the warning sign of a serious health problem, but most of the time it isn't. A transient ischemic attack is a brief reversible stroke that does not cause permanent damage.

If you experience this problem, you might feel dizzy or lightheaded, or you might lose focus or general awareness for a few seconds or minutes. Hypoglycemia, which refers to low blood sugar, can cause you to lose your sense of awareness for a brief period of time.

Occasionally, however, migraines can manifest as unusual symptoms such as spacing out, even in the absence of pain. If you experience transient global amnesia, you will not remember events even if you seemed to behave appropriately and safely to those around you.

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Some people who have transient global amnesia might get lost or cannot do complex tasks during the episode. Extreme fatigue can take such a toll on your body and mind that you might space out even while you appear to be awake, as your brain struggles to maintain alertness.

Mind-altering drugs such as marijuana, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and even alcohol can have unpredictable effects and may cause users to become unaware of behavior or to forget events. Spacing outran occur when you are mentally or emotionally consumed by matters besides those which others expect you to pay attention to.

This can happen if you are a student in class while you are watching or listening to something you consider a bit boring or during driving. Stress is a common distraction that can be overwhelming to the point that it is difficult to pay attention to your tasks and responsibilities- especially if they aren't very important.

If there isn't an obvious reason- such as a big project you are working on, then you should mention the problem to your doctor. If you have noticed that you misplace objects during episodes of spacing out, or if you have been told that you behaved in an odd, or violent manner that is uncharacteristic for you, then you definitely need further evaluation.

If you found that you lost control of bowel or bladder, then you certainly need a medical evaluation by your doctor. If you have noticed any injury, particularly if you do not remember how it occurred, then your spacing out episodes could become more and more dangerous for you and it is time to make every attempt to put a stop to them.

In cases of severe anxiety, a person may feel as though they're going crazy. Derealization is also completely subjective, making the experience sometimes very difficult to understand unless you've experienced it.

It's not entirely clear what occurs in the brain to cause people to enter a trance-like state and feel out from reality. It is believed to be a natural coping mechanism created within our bodies.

During intense periods of anxiety (as occurs with panic attacks), the mind seems to decide it's going to tune the world out in order to, at least temporarily, eliminate thinking about the anxiety inducing stimuli. Since the mind keeps working during this ‘tune out, ’ the world becomes a place that feels unreal.

For those who have not personally experienced derealization it may help to imagine being transported into a place that you do not recognize nor do you understand. Your brain’s failure to process the information being taken in by your sense (sight, sound, etc) results in even the most familiar places looking unfamiliar and strange.

You may feel like you're watching something going on with no understanding of what it is, or that the world is a dream that you aren't able to escape. In some cases, derealization may be combined with depersonalization, which can make it feels like you're watching yourself.

Other anxiety symptoms may make the feeling of derealization worse. During anxiety attacks your pupils may dilate, and this can cause unusual vision.

Anxiety may also weaken your muscles, making you feel lighter. There are countless ways that your anxiety symptoms may interact and potentially exacerbate one another.

If your derealization is so persistent that it's altering your sense of reality, or if it lasts for a long period of time, you should contact a doctor immediately. Doctors and psychologists generally agree that the best way to stop derealization is with mindfulness.

Jonathan Small wood, a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany and Jonathan Schooler, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, may be the world's leading experts on zoning out, which they call “the offline mode.” By monitoring the brain activity of study participants as they complete random tasks, the researchers have found that our minds spend up to 13 percent of the time offline.

It allows us to float along internal streams of consciousness without being distracted by dull external stimuli. It decides that nothing too important, difficult or dangerous is happening out there, and cuts the connection between the external and internal worlds.

As detailed in the March issue of the journal Los ONE, Small wood, Schooler and their colleagues found that under normal circumstances, our pupils dilate in response to changes in our surroundings. The neuroscientists believe that the brain's locus coeruleus-norepinephrine (LC-NE) system, which controls attention and the response to stress or stimulation, may be the part that reconfigures itself when youzoneout.

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