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Is it normal to feel nothing at all?
“I feel numb”: understanding emotional numbness
There can be times in your life when it seems like you’re no longer reacting emotionally to the world around you. You may notice that people or activities that once made you feel happy are no longer making you feel that way. Instead, you might be feeling numb or a sense of disconnection from your surroundings. It’s important to remember that with the right treatment, these feelings can go away.
What causes emotional numbness?
There are a number of causes of emotional numbness. Some of the common causes include:
- severe stress
- severe nervousness
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- some medications
- depersonalisation disorder
It’s important to note that some medications that treat depression and anxiety have side effects that can include emotional numbness.
When you experience a stressful situation, your body can start releasing stress hormones. These hormones can affect your limbic system which is the control centre for your emotions and they can also interact with other hormones. Both of these processes can lead to feelings of emotional numbness.
Is it okay to feel nothing? Managing emotional numbness
Feeling numb may protect you from unpleasant emotions. When you feel nothing, you’re not experiencing pain, hurt or sadness and this might even feel like a temporary relief. But, there are a whole range of positives you miss out on too – happiness, excitement, joy and contentment. Feeling a whole range of emotions, in balance, is a natural part of being human. And in fact, we need both positive and negative emotions to grow as people.
It’s best to seek professional help to work out the underlying cause of feeling numb and find appropriate treatment. In the meantime, there are a number of things you can try, including making changes to your lifestyle and behaviours.
Seeing your GP
Your GP can assess you, as well as prescribe medications if necessary. They can provide you a mental health care plan, and this means Medicare may help pay for up to 20 sessions with a mental health professional. Your GP might refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist for further treatment and therapy. You can learn more about the difference between a psychologist or psychiatrist in this article.
Getting help now over the phone or online
If you or someone close to you needs help now, there are a number of phonelines and websites available.
For immediate help in a crisis:
For general mental health support:
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important when you’re feeling numb
Keeping up with self-care can help you form a more positive outlook on life. You can use this self-care planning editable document by The Black Dog Institute to help formulate a personal self-care plan, integrating the below ideas.
A healthy diet can help you manage your energy levels and make sure your body is getting all the nutrients it needs. For more information, read the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.
Exercise – regular moderate physical activity is one of the best ways to boost your mood. You should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise on most days of the week. When you feel nothing or feel down, it can be really hard to motivate yourself to get out and do something, so set yourself small but achievable goals. For example, challenge yourself to walk for just ten minutes. If you still feel bad, you can go home, but most often, you’ll find that you’re okay to keep going for a bit!
Connecting with others
Reaching out to your support system including your friends, family and colleagues is one way to help when you’re feeling numb. They may be able to help you feel a connection again and you might feel relief from talking to them about your symptoms.
Gratitude has been shown to increase positive emotions. It can really make you stop and notice the little things we take for granted every day and have a new appreciation for them. If you’re feeling numb, adopting a gratitude mindset can help reframe your thoughts and positively notice the small things that make our lives so much better. Think, a warm bed, delicious coffee, hug from a family member or friend, or just enjoying a bit of sunshine on your face. This article has some prompts and ideas to get you started on some daily gratitude practice.
Stress can be a major contributing factor to emotional numbness. One of the best things you can do is to start practicing meditation or mindfulness to help you reduce your stress levels. For more information, read about Mindfulness at SANE Australia
Other things you can do to reduce your stress levels include:
- resolving personal and relationship conflicts
- doing things you enjoy
- managing your workload
- taking time to relax
We also have some really good resources and activities you can try on our stress health guide, as well as programs and support our members can access if everything’s getting too much.
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified health care professional.
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