Intense emotions such as emotional pain, anger or sadness can be useful as they can help us work through our life challenges. However, sometimes strong emotions can negatively affect our normal functioning, so we have to numb ourselves emotionally in order to cope and continue with our lives.
Emotional numbness is one of many defense mechanisms that our mind uses to avoid overwhelming emotions. Emotional numbness means that we have lost the ability to experience emotions on a psychological and emotional level.
Numbing in Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, and Anxiety
People who survive trauma and develop PTSD usually experience very intense emotions such as overwhelming anxiety, fear, sadness. These feelings can stick with a person for a long time, sometimes even for a lifetime. Therefore, many trauma survivors develop emotional numbing as part of the avoidance of PTSD symptoms.
Emotional numbing generally refers to symptoms that point toward difficulties in experiencing positive emotions. The specific symptoms of emotional numbing include:
A loss of interest in activities a person once enjoyed
Inability to experience positive feelings such as love, joy, and happiness
Feeling detached from other people
Feeling empty and “flat” inside.
However, studies have found that numbing and other emotion suppression techniques may make some PTSD symptoms worse. Moreover, it has been found that emotional avoidance can cause the development of PTSD symptoms after the traumatic experience.
Also, depression and anxiety are two of the most common causes of emotional numbness. Some medications used to treat depression and anxiety may affect how the brain processes emotions, causing emotional numbness.
In addition, severe and acute stress can also trigger feelings of numbness. In a highly stressful situation, stress hormones flood your body and affect the limbic system, the brain’s center responsible for emotions. In addition, stress can also affect the other hormones in your body, which in turn can cause emotional numbness.
How does the Stress Response in Your Body Look Like?
The hypothalamus of the limbic system sends nerve signals to the pituitary gland, which communicates with the adrenal glands (situated on the top of the kidneys). Signals sent through this body’s communication system can either activate or suppress certain glands and organs. This is the first step of the stress response. Moreover, in a situation of intense stress, your body can become overwhelmed and fatigued which drain all of your energy and create emotional numbness as well.
Numbness Relief Options
If you struggle with emotional numbness, you can try a few options to cope with this feeling.
1. Change the Medications
If you are taking medications to treat depression or anxiety, talk to your doctor. He or she can prescribe new medication. In addition, they can offer some useful coping strategies.
2. Stay Active
Although physical activity may be the last thing you want to do when you are feeling numb, this is one of the best things you can do. Regular daily exercise can flood your brain with endorphins which will boost your mood. Moreover, running, swimming, walking, yoga, and any other form of exercise are great for stress relief and shifting focus on positive thoughts and feelings.
3. Get Enough Sleep
At least eight hours of sleep each night could help improve your mood and boost your energy.
4. Connect with People
Relying on your social support system can help you feel connected and accepted. Sharing your feelings with the close people may help you overcome your emotional challenges and provide comfort and relief.