What's Emotional Numbness?

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated March 26, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Feeling emotionally numb can be overwhelming. People describe this type of numbness as being unable to feel emotions, including pain, stress, or joy. It can occur regardless of your surrounding circumstances, and it has been described by many people as a sense of emptiness or isolation and a lack of hope that doesn’t seem to lift. We want to encourage you and let you know you’re not alone. Many may experience negative emotions that align with or that are adjacent to emotional numbness, even if there is seemingly no cause. 

Below, we’ll discuss what it means to feel emotionally numb, possibly empowering and validating your experience, as well as how to recover from feelings of numbness and depression using online therapy.

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Are you feeling emotionally numb?

What does it mean to feel numb?

Emotional numbness, also known as emotional numbing or emotional blunting, can appear in a range of ways, possibly affecting both your mental and emotional health. Many find that emotional numbness can produce a sense that they have no emotions at all or that the emotions they do have are somehow “muted.”

The severity of emotional numbness depends on the underlying cause and can range from mild, short-term detachment to long-lasting disconnection. Some people describe emotional numbness as being inside a vacuum, with nothing seeming to be around them but void and uncertainty. 

While experiencing emotional numbness can be disconcerting, it can often be managed with the right supportive strategies in place. Understanding what you’re feeling and the range of possible causes can be a strong first step in finding a plan that works for you. 

Possible triggers

The triggers for emotional numbness can vary. For instance, self-harm and drug abuse in depressed patients can be a coping mechanism leading to emotional numbness. In addition, emotional numbness can be an emotional response to traumatic experiences, a survival mechanism against uncomfortable emotions, or a symptom of mental health illnesses. Possible situations that may trigger emotional numbness can include:

  • A major depressive episode
  • Severe anxiety disorders or a panic attack
  • Prolonged stress
  • Trauma
  • Substance abuse
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Seizures
  • Grief, which can manifest as physical or emotional pain 
  • Overwhelming stress causing a spike in stress hormones, which can be noticed as feeling emotionally overwhelmed at all times
  • Migraine disorders 
  • Side effects from antidepressant treatments or other medications
  • Underlying mental health conditions that are linked to symptoms that could lead to feeling emotionally numb
  • Depersonalization-derealization disorder (DPDR)
  • Bipolar disorder 

Whether it's an acute episode of intense negative feelings, a defensive response built up over long periods of stress, or one of the clinical characteristics of a mental health condition, identifying the root of emotional pain or numbness is one of the first steps toward managing it.

Seeking help via a skilled mental health professional can be a step to take that can help you to elevate your quality of life. Reaching out to services such as the Crisis Text Line (741741) might be a helpful start if you begin to experience emotional numbness.  

Managing feeling numb

The road to recovery from any mental health condition or mental illness can be challenging. For this reason, working with a mental health practitioner to manage symptoms of emotional numbness may be helpful. There are many ways to work through the feelings of numbness, which can be made more effective once the root cause is identified. 

Below, we’ve listed a few supported methods that you can rely on if you begin feeling disconnected:

Change your routine

When we experience this, it can create a physical disconnect that can make daily tasks seem difficult. You might try switching up your routine and doing something new, even if it’s as simple as taking a different route to work. Sometimes, a lack of variety within our routines can be uninspiring and may preclude these feelings—so adding little moments of inspiration and change in your day can help.

Start a journal

A journal can be one of the best ways to work through feelings of numbness. Every day, you can sit down and reflect on the events that occurred throughout your day. An example prompt could look like: “How do I feel about this recent event?” With practice, you can begin to identify and work through thoughts and emotions you may not have been aware of before journaling.

Do things that you used to enjoy

Feeling numb can prevent us from enjoying activities that might usually bring us joy and positive emotions. Over time, we may stop engaging in these activities, which may cause us to feel worse. To combat this, you may try to challenge yourself to get back into these hobbies. 

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Take time to relax and take care of yourself

You might benefit from taking some time to figure out what is adding to your stress and how you can potentially minimize stress in your life. You can instead focus on activities that you know can provide temporary relief and improve overall well-being. Even if it’s for five minutes, taking a few moments to reduce stress can add up over time. 

Prioritizing self-care can look like the following, for many:

  • Stretching your body when you wake
  • Practicing mindfulness meditation for a set amount of time
  • Pray, show your gratitude, or engage in positive affirmation recitation
  • Take a warm shower or bath 
  • Eat a healthy breakfast 
  • Listen to some uplifting music
  • Read a book that stretches your imagination 
  • Sleep or indulge in intentional relaxation

Honor the feelings that do rise up

Sometimes, we can experience emotional numbness because we refuse to let ourselves fully experience emotions that we believe may be unimportant or useless. However, emotions can hold important information for us to process as we make sense of the world around us. Still, allowing yourself to process an emotion does not mean dwelling on the emotion. When we dwell on how we’re feeling, especially regarding more difficult feelings of sadness or shame, we can become stuck in an unhealthy thought pattern. Working with a mental health professional to navigate the more challenging emotions may help you learn more from what you’re feeling and can help you process in a healthy way.

Get out of your comfort zone

When we leave our comfort zone, we can create new neural connections in our brains. These new connections can help move us out of a place of emotional stagnation and into one of new perspective and excitement. 

Not sure where to start? It can look like chasing whatever it is that excites you and terrifies you. You can also make a list of these exciting activities that may have just come to mind and commit to crossing one off as you’re able to. 

Sometimes we can let fear control our choices in life. When we choose to venture outside of comfort, we can discover amazing things about ourselves and possibly break through the fog of numb feelings.

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Are you feeling emotionally numb?

Emotional numbness therapy

 Experiencing emotional numbness can be draining for someone experiencing depression or major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder(s), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and related mental health disorders. If you are experiencing more severe and impactful feelings that last, you might consider various treatment options. A mental health professional trained in treating emotional numbness can help create a treatment plan. Speaking with a licensed online therapist may give you a new perspective and a personalized treatment plan in a potentially more convenient way than in-person therapy.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

Is online therapy effective?

Research referenced by the National Council on Aging suggests that online therapy can be a powerful tool to reduce depression symptoms—including feelings of numbness. Psychologists also seem to agree, as reference from the APA showed that 96% of the psychologist respondents believed that teletherapy was effective for their patients, with 93% continuing the offering even after the pandemic came to a close. 

If emotional numbness has become a concern in your life, you might consider beginning your healing process with an online therapy platform—such as BetterHelp. BetterHelp is the world’s largest e-counseling platform. Licensed specialists at BetterHelp can provide psychotherapy services and treatment for emotional numbness and other mental health concerns. 

Takeaway

If you’re living with emotional numbness or similar symptoms, using the tools in this article can be a helpful place to start. For example, lifestyle changes may help improve mental health, while a therapist can act as a support system. Online therapy has been shown to be an effective way to address this and related symptoms in one’s life. For more information and additional resources to get started today, contact a BetterHelp mental health professional.

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