Psychology

Why Do I Feel Emotionless? Actionable Tips on Overcoming Emotional Numbness

You feel like the world around you is unreal. You feel disconnected from your body, and you struggle to understand what you feel. You ask yourself, “Why do I feel emotionless?”

Many people feel disconnected from the world around them, and they feel emotionally flat. Life to them feels empty and running on autopilot.

This sense of numbness makes it difficult to connect with other people and gives one a sense of isolation and loneliness.

Fortunately, emotional emptiness is temporary and treatable. This article will discuss the causes, treatment, and additional self-help strategies of emotionlessness.

What Is Emotional Numbness?

Emotional numbness is also known as affective or emotional blunting, and it refers to the process of shutting out feelings and emotions. The person experiencing emotional numbness might feel a deficit of emotional responses or even be cut off from their own emotions.

Sometimes emotional numbness is a coping mechanism for protecting a person from further emotional or physical pain. It can provide temporary relief but is dangerous in the long run as it can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol and drugs.

Is It Normal to Be Emotionless?

Feeling emotionless might sometimes be okay as it protects you from unpleasant emotions. It feels like a temporary relief, but you are also missing out on a lot of happiness, contentment, and joy.

Feeling positive and negative emotions is the natural balance of being human, which causes us to grow as people. When feeling emotionless, it is best to identify the underlying causes and find the appropriate treatment to combat them.

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Causes of Emotional Numbness

Several causes lead to emotional numbness. The most common reasons are alleviated depression and stress levels.

Emotional numbness gives you temporary relief by offering you a protective shield from pain, but with time, it gets in the way of how you express emotions.

#1 Anxiety

According to the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease publication, people with anxiety disorders are highly likely to experience emotional numbness.

Emotional numbness among people with anxiety disorders is a response to high-stress levels, worry, and fear.

#2 Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that is common among people who have witnessed traumatic events such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks, accidents, extremely painful or near-death experiences.

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PTSD affects one in 11 people in their lifetime, and approximately 3.5% of American adults have PTSD annually. Peer-reviewed studies show that many war veterans experienced emotional numbness even many years after. 

People with PTSD tend to relive their experiences through thoughts and flashbacks long after the traumatic event. They end up feeling sad, angry, afraid, or emotionally numb as a way of coping with the pain.

#3 Grief

Emotional numbness is a normal part of the initial grief process. It comes because one has not yet had time to process the cause of grief and the possibilities of the loss.

Sometimes you might expect to be overwhelmed with emotions when grieving, but you feel emotionless. When you feel numb due to grief, you should not judge yourself too harshly, as grief is not a linear process.

People process grief differently, and sooner or later, you will manage to move past the numbness. If the feeling persists, it would be better to seek guidance from a therapist.

#4 Physical and mental abuse

Victims of physical and mental abuse turn to emotional numbing as a coping mechanism to help them deal with the pain and avoid a potentially threatening situation.

Physical and mental abuse leads to anger and depression. The victim sometimes feels guilt or shame for being assaulted and might feel numb to cover the pain.

One can also shut out people and avoid doing activities they once enjoyed. Seeking help can help one curb the long-term effects of physical and mental abuse.

#5 Substance abuse

Most people who abuse alcohol and drugs find temporary relief from present complex problems. Though substance abuse offers temporary relief, it could lead to more harm than good in the long run.

Substance abuse alters the brain’s reward system, thus making it hard to feel emotion without the drug. It causes a lack of motivation and interest and emotional detachment from oneself.

#6 Medication

Sometimes, emotional numbness might be a side effect of antidepressants used for treating anxiety and depression.

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If you feel emotionally numb while on medication, you should see your doctor for professional medical advice. They can either adjust your medication or change it altogether.

#7 Stress and depression

High-stress levels lead to emotional and physical pain. It causes an overtaxing of emotional and physical energy, subsequently leading to emotional numbing.

Stress causes your body to release hormones that affect the limbic system, the part of your brain responsible for emotions. These stress hormones affect your mood and can cause you to feel numb.

Depression, on the other hand, is when you consistently feel sad, discouraged, and detached from the environment. These feelings cause you to lose interest in daily activities and disrupt your work and friendships.

Cases of severe depression make one’s mood flat and become emotionally numb. Luckily, depression is treatable through therapy, meditation, and exercise.

How to Tell if You’re Emotionally Numb?

Sometimes, emotional detachment comes in handy as it helps a person in crisis and helps one maintain boundaries. However, when it becomes a constant state of feeling numb, it affects our capacity to experience the depth of life.

Some of the significant signs and symptoms of emotional numbness you should be wary about are:

  • Inability to fully participate in life (you feel like a passive observer)
  • Feeling disconnected from your body, thoughts, and other people
  • Having a confused sense of time
  • Feeling like life is surreal
  • Withdrawing from activities you usually find enjoyable
  • Disliking people who express both positive and negative emotions
  • A sense of panic when substantial emotions break through
  • Feeling nothing in events that would previously elicit strong emotions
  • Becoming a thrill-seeker as an attempt to cover emotional numbness

Some extreme cases of emotional numbness may make a person feel suicidal. If you feel suicidal, please seek help immediately by calling a suicide hotline.

How to Feel Emotions Again

Despite how emotionally numb you feel, emotional numbness is temporary and treatable. Several treatment options help you manage the extent to which you disengage or avoid your emotions.

The first step to treating emotional numbness is identifying the underlying cause. The best way to do this is to find a psychotherapist who will help you find better ways to cope with emotions and overtaxing experiences.

tips how to feel emotions again

#1 Psychotherapy

The primary purpose of psychotherapy is to help you understand the underlying problem and find alternative and reliable problem-solving alternatives.

One of the most reputable online psychotherapy platforms is DoMental. This platform helps people suffering from mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, emotional pain, stress, and grief.

The platform helps people identify the root cause of the problem and develop skills and strategies to help them cope better with the pain.

On DoMental, you can reach a licensed counselor 24/7, and they can help you receive anonymous therapy regardless of how busy your schedule is.

The first step in psychotherapy is taking a questionnaire that asks questions on various mental health issues such as anxiety, sleep, depression, and how your mental state affects daily activities.

These questionnaires aim to collect helpful information about you and match you with the best therapist to work with you. This personalized therapy approach makes it easier to track a  patient’s progress.

#2 Change your diet

When you eat a healthy and nutrient-dense diet, it fuels your body to work at its best. We often crave high-fat and sugar-laden comfort foods when we are depressed. However, these foods are least likely to benefit your mental health.

Sticking to a healthy diet sets you up for reduced mood fluctuations and gives you an overall happy outlook on life. Researchers show that healthy diets help with mood and anxiety problems, and unhealthy diets increase the risk of dementia and mood fluctuations.

#3 Behavioral therapy

Behavioral therapy helps you understand your emotions and examine the causes of emotional numbing. Instead of using unhealthy coping mechanisms as numbness, behavioral therapy enables you to shift to thoughts of emotional competence.

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DoMental is the best online therapy program. The program gives you access to therapists who employ a personalized and mindfulness-based approach to help you find the ways you suppress your emotional experience. DoMental also has more affordable packages than other online therapy platforms such as Betterhelp, Talkspace, Brightside, Calmerry, Faithful counseling, and Regain.

There are three payment plans, and depending on your needs, you can opt for either 1, 3, or 6 months of therapy. Each program has good discount bonuses making it more affordable.

After purchasing a plan, you will be prompted to download the DoMental app, set up your account, and you will be assigned a therapist.

The therapists are reachable 24/7, and all the communication history is secure and encrypted. If need be, you can also change your therapist. The app stores a messaging history, thus highlighting your continuous improvement and personal history.

#4 Exercise

Exercise is probably the last thing at the back of your mind when feeling emotionally numb. However, incorporating a bit of regular exercise into your routine can help you get out of a slump. Exercising releases endorphins, one of the feel-good brain chemicals that make you feel better.

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Engaging in physical activity such as going out for a brisk walk helps get your mind off worries as you will focus on the activity rather than a cycle of negative thoughts feeding your numbness.

Meeting your exercise goals boosts your self-confidence. If you exercise, you also have a higher chance of meeting and socializing with other people, boosting your mood.

#5 Sleep

Having enough uninterrupted hours of sleep helps you function at your best. Sleep helps your emotional and mental health.

As you are sleeping, the brain’s activities fluctuate and help the brain’s emotional information processing. It also improves memory and enables better thinking.

During sleep, the brain assimilates and evaluates memories. Insufficient sleep is particularly detrimental to the consolidation of positive emotions, thus influencing the mood and the emotional reactivity tied to other mental health issues.

#6 Journaling

Journaling is one of the best ways to get in tune with your emotions. Writing engages the left (analytical and rational) part of your brain. This allows space for the right (creative and intuitive) part of your brain to process emotions without any mental blocks.

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Like tracking your emotions, a journal acts as a reminder that you once experienced different emotions and can feel them again.

#7 Minimize stress

Stress is one of the most significant contributors to emotional numbness. Minimizing your stress helps you eliminate unnecessary stress factors and manage the necessary ones better.

Sometimes people feel stressed over activities where they have no control. Doing activities that help you feel in control help reduce stress. Such activities include exercising, time management, and even cleaning.

Other ways to reduce stress are making time for your hobbies, going easy on yourself, understanding that the situation is not permanent, and eliminating your stress triggers.

A Word From RD

Emotional numbness is a coping mechanism in extreme stress and emotional burnout cases. It is often a symptom of people suffering from PTSD, stress, grief, depression, and anxiety, and it helps a person process shocking or upsetting information.

This mental health condition can strain your relationships with friends and family and demotivate you from activities you once enjoyed. However, it is possible to learn new coping mechanisms to help you deal with overwhelming circumstances.

Several options can help you deal with emotional numbness. The first step is talking to a mental health professional to help you understand the root cause and manage the situation effectively.

Lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet, enough sleep, and exercise also help relieve some stress and flood your body with endorphins that boost your moods.

Conclusion

If you feel emotionally numb, know that you are not alone in your journey, and it is not a permanent situation.

Now that you know the steps to take, you should start your path to healing. Reach out to your doctor and the people you care about, as they can be your support system and help you move closer towards emotional healing.

Sometimes emotional numbness is a symptom of a deeper underlying mental health condition. The input of a mental health professional can help you understand the underlying cause and guide you towards healing.

Edibel Quintero, MD
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel's goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
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