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What is Emotional Numbness and How To Deal With It?

The term emotional numbness refers to a state of being in which you do not feel or are unable to express any emotions. Many times, feeling emotionally numb can be a temporary or passing feeling. However, for some people, emotional numbness is often used as a strategy to protect themselves from further physical or emotional pain. Even though this may provide temporary relief, emotional numbness can have long-lasting consequences. Alternatively, emotional numbness or the general lack of emotion can be a symptom of many different medical conditions and sometimes even a side effect of some medications. Here’s everything you need to know about understanding emotional numbness and how to deal with it.

What is Emotional Numbness and What Does It Feel Like?

What is Emotional Numbness and What Does It Feel Like?

Emotional numbness is a term used to refer to a general lack of emotion. While it can be a defense mechanism to cope with a previous heartbreak or trust issues, but emotional numbness can also be a symptom of many different medical conditions. It can even be a side effect of certain medications. Emotional numbness can create a sense of isolation or emotional disconnect from your family or even the rest of the world. This numbness can be unbearable for those who experience it.(1, 2, 3, 4)

It can be difficult to understand or imagine what emotional numbness feels like if you have not experienced it yourself. Some people describe it as being a feeling of utter hopelessness, emptiness, or despair, while others simply feel being isolated from the whole world. Some people report feeling like they have no future or there is no hope for the numbness to end.

Emotional numbness can also be caused by depression, where you may feel like you are simply going through the motions and unable to connect to your environment.(5, 6, 7)

Many people describe emotional numbness as feeling ungrounded or unfocused. It may feel like you have zoned out, just how it feels before falling asleep. For those who are going through emotional numbness, it might be challenging to understand how the world just keeps moving on when it seems to have stopped for them.

Symptoms of Emotional Numbness

The symptoms of emotional numbness can vary from person to person. Some of the common symptoms include:

  • Experiencing an inability to fully participate in life.
  • Inability to access your feelings.
  • Feeling detached or distant from others.
  • Having difficulty in experiencing and expressing positive feelings such as happiness.
  • Feeling ‘flat,’ both emotionally and physically.
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed.
  • Preferring to be left alone instead of being with others.

People with emotional numbness can use various strategies to avoid having to confront their emotions. And even if they do so unconsciously, they may keep using avoidant behaviors and stay away from people or situations that may force them to come to terms with their emotions.(8)

Causes of Emotional Numbness

There can be a number of different things that cause emotional numbness. Usually, anxiety and depression are the two most common causes of emotional numbness. Severe levels of acute elevated stress or periods of nervousness can also cause a person to become emotionally numb. People diagnosed with anxiety disorders are also likely to experience emotional numbness as a response to extremely high and persistent levels of stress, fear, or excessive worry. High levels of anxiety are also linked with avoidance of negative and positive emotions.(9) A special mention must be made of high levels of stress for a prolonged period of time as a cause of emotional numbness. If you are feeling emotionally or physically exhausted, burnt out, or overwhelmed, you may feel like you are numb inside or detached from your feelings.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, which can also be associated with anxiety and depression, can also cause you to feel numb emotionally.(10, 11) People with post-traumatic stress disorder are known to turn to emotional numbing as a way to help manage the physical and emotional pain. This can end up manifesting as avoiding feelings, thoughts, or even conversations related to a traumatic event of the past.

People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) may also experience periods of emotional detachment or numbness, and it may feel like their feelings are not their own.(12, 13)

Even people coping with the death of a loved one may go through a period of time where they feel completely disconnected from not just the world but their own emotions as well.(14) Grief is therefore also associated with being a cause of emotional numbness in some people.

Studies have also shown that people who were emotionally or mentally abused as children are more likely to experience emotional dysregulation, including emotional numbness, as adults.(15) Physical abuse also has a role to play as feeling numb is often used as a coping mechanism by people who are physically abused. Emotional numbness helps them avoid having to deal with a scary and dangerous situation.(16)

People with schizophrenia are also likely to go through periods of time where they feel complete disinterest or apathy along with emotional blunting or numbness.(17)

Even substance abuse can cause emotional numbness. People who take substances like cocaine or marijuana, or other types of drugs can alter their brain’s reward system, which makes it harder to feel pleasure without taking that drug. Substance use can often produce a complete detachment from one’s own emotions as well as cause an overall lack of interest and motivation.(18) So, while emotional numbing shuts down or blocks negative feelings and experiences, it is important to realize that it also shuts down the brain’s ability to experience pleasure, any positive interactions, and social activities as well as intimacy.

As mentioned earlier, feeling emotionally numb can also be due to a side effect caused by certain medications. These medications are usually those used in the treatment of anxiety and depression.(19) If you are taking an antidepressant and you start to feel emotionally numb, you should let your doctor know. They may change your medication or alter the dosage.

But how does emotional numbness take place? Let’s take a look.

How Does Emotional Numbness Occur?

There are many ways in which emotional numbness can develop. Since stress is the number one cause of emotional numbness, it is no wonder that stress hormones have a role to play. Stress hormones can flood your systems and cause many types of reactions within the body that cause emotional numbness. For example, stress hormones are known to affect the limbic system. The limbic system is located near the center of your brain, and it regulates your emotions.(20, 21) Stress hormones can also affect other hormones in the body, which in turn can impact your mood and emotions. Both these effects can cause you to feel emotionally numb.

In some cases, the body becomes so stressed that you feel overwhelmed, emotionally and physically exhausted, and burnt out. This depletion of both physical and emotional energy can cause emotional numbness.

Treatment: How To Deal With Emotional Numbness?

Despite how you may feel at the time, emotional numbness is not permanent. Treatment is available to provide people suffering from emotional numbness with both long-term remission and an immediate relief from their symptoms.

The first step in the treatment of emotional numbness is to identify and treat the underlying cause. You need to consult a doctor if you feel you are emotionally numb, as only a professional can help you go through with this. Your doctor may further refer you to a psychiatrist or therapist. You will be asked questions about your overall health and what medications you take, along with information on your symptoms. If your doctor suspects that one of your medications is to blame, they may change it with an alternative.

To get immediate relief from emotional numbness, there are several treatment options:

  • Consult a Doctor: To begin with, you need to make an appointment with a psychiatrist. Your psychiatrist will change your medications or give you new drugs if your emotional numbness is being caused as a side effect of your medicines. They will also teach you coping techniques to help you get in touch with your feelings again. The medications that are prescribed to you may be fast-acting and can provide quick relief. While antidepressants usually take around six to eight weeks to start working, your doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medications as well in combination as the other medicine starts to build up in your system.
  • Regular Exercise: When you feel emotionally numb, the last thing that you may think about or want to do is to get up and exercise. However, it is, in fact, one of the best things you can possibly do. Swimming, yoga, running, and kickboxing can all be great stress busters. Event taking a walk around the neighborhood can help flood your body with endorphins, which are the ‘feel-good’ hormones of your body. To get the best results, it is a great idea to exercise every day.(22, 23)
  • Catch Up On Your Sleep: It is important to get at least eight hours of good quality sleep every night. This can help enhance your mood rapidly.(24)
  • Depending On A Support System: Even if you have trouble connecting with others, you should still reach out to your loved ones. They can be your family members or friends. This is because having a support system can help you feel connected, and you may find some relief in sharing your feelings and experiences with them.

Emotional numbness needs long-term care and treatment as well. For long-term treatment and prevention of emotional numbness, here are some tips:

  • Eat a Well-Balanced And Healthy Diet: You need to provide your body with healthy and nutrient-rich foods that will ensure it keeps working at its best. This also includes the body’s mood regulation and improvement. You can include many mood-boosting foods in your diets, such as dark chocolate, fatty fish, bananas, berries, oats, nuts and seeds, and even coffee.
  • Lower Your Stress Levels: This can be easier said than done. However, you have to make a conscious effort to reduce your stress levels. Stress is one of the biggest contributing factors to emotional numbness, and reducing or better managing your stress can have a positive impact on your body. This will reduce the levels of stress hormones in the body and also help you regain emotional feelings. Reduce the stress factors in your life and also practice stress-relieving tactics such as meditation and mindfulness to at least better manage your stress if you can’t get rid of it completely.
  • Learn to Identify and Express Your Emotions: For people who have been feeling emotionally numb for a prolonged period of time, it can become challenging to identify or process the different emotions that they experience on a daily basis. A therapist can help you deal with this. Make an appointment with a doctor in your area who can help you deal with your emotions and better understand yourself.


If you are experiencing emotional numbness or you feel detached from everything and everyone in your life, it is essential to know that no matter how you are feeling, you are not alone in this, and it won’t last forever. Reaching out to the people you love and making an appointment with your doctor can help. A therapist or psychiatrist can help you get back in touch with your emotional feelings again. Visiting a therapist will also help you re-learn how to fully participate in your life and also start experiencing positive feelings like happiness. If you prefer being alone and avoiding talking to others or on a particular topic, seeking treatment for emotional numbness can help you get past these challenges as well.


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  2. Fujiwara, T., Mizuki, R., Miki, T. and Chemtob, C., 2015. Association between facial expression and PTSD symptoms among young children exposed to the Great East Japan Earthquake: a pilot study. Frontiers in psychology, 6, p.1534.
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  6. Leahy, R.L., Tirch, D.D. and Melwani, P.S., 2012. Processes underlying depression: Risk aversion, emotional schemas, and psychological flexibility. International Journal of Cognitive Therapy, 5(4), pp.362-379.
  7. Kerig, P.K., Bennett, D.C., Chaplo, S.D., Modrowski, C.A. and McGee, A.B., 2016. Numbing of positive, negative, and general emotions: Associations with trauma exposure, posttraumatic stress, and depressive symptoms among justice‐involved youth. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 29(2), pp.111-119.
  8. Glover, H., 1992. Emotional numbing: A possible endorphin‐mediated phenomenon associated with post‐traumatic stress disorders and other allied psychopathologic states. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 5(4), pp.643-675.
  9. Tull, M.T., Gratz, K.L., Salters, K. and Roemer, L., 2004. The role of experiential avoidance in posttraumatic stress symptoms and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and somatization. The Journal of nervous and mental disease, 192(11), pp.754-761.
  10. Litz, B.T., Litz, B.T. and Gray, M.J., 2002. Emotional numbing in posttraumatic stress disorder: Current and future research directions. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 36(2), pp.198-204.
  11. Jatzko, A., Schmitt, A., Demirakca, T., Weimer, E. and Braus, D.F., 2006. Disturbance in the neural circuitry underlying positive emotional processing in post–traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). European archives of psychiatry and clinical neuroscience, 256(2), pp.112-114.
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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 15, 2022

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