As a therapist, I spend a lot of time asking people to tell me about their feelings. Sometimes my prompts are met with tearful reaches for the tissue box or angrily furrowed brows. Other times I see a blank, flat expression. “I don’t know what I feel.” If you have ever experienced this, or are going through it right now, I’d like to provide some helpful tips about what to do when you feel emotionally numb.
Many people describe a kind of numb-ness to the experiences they’ve had. They worry about what it says about them that they don’t have a lot of feelings about something it seems like they should have some sort of emotional response to. Or they do feel frustrated by the inability to access and identify feelings that they know are there.
If this is you, you aren’t the only one.
Numb Isn’t All Bad
The numbness that people experience serves a purpose. When you experience something difficult, your body may start to implement protective measures. For some, feeling all the feelings associated with a challenging circumstance would be completely overwhelming. Maybe it would be beyond your ability to calm yourself down or prevent you from continuing to function in the way you need to keep life moving forward. Sometimes numb is a way that your body is coping so that you can keep moving forward in the ways you need to. It’s serving a purpose.
But living in the numb can’t last forever. So, how do you find your way back to feelings in a healthy way?
3 Things You Can Do When You Feel Emotionally Numb
1. Establish Safety
Feelings can be felt when you are safe and regulated. This means that a time of heightened stress, trauma or crisis may not set you up well for processing. First you need to establish safety. Work toward stability by spending time in a calm space, taking time to rest, and doing the things you know your body needs. Identify people you feel secure with that you can ask for support.
2. Work on Coping Skills
Part of establishing safety is helping your body regulate. If you’re experiencing that “numb” feeling, then your body is most likely in the “freeze” state of fight, flight and freeze. To get yourself out of freeze, you have to calm your nervous system down. Coping skills can help communicate to your brain that you are safe and there is not an immediate threat. A therapist can help you identify regulating coping skills that work for you. To get you started, try these deep breathing exercises. (https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/deep-breathing-worksheet.pdf )
3. Get In Your Body
When you’re having a hard time connecting to your emotions, one of the best places to start is with your body. Research shows that all of our systems are interconnected (biology, psychology, spirituality, interpersonally), and humans are very embodied. So increasing your bodily awareness can help you increase awareness in the other areas as well. To get yourself back in your body, do something sensory. Mindfulness exercises are a tool that many therapists will recommend. Follow these steps while engaging your senses in an intentional way. Hold play dough or clay. Sit in the grass bare foot. Do something that engages your senses and try these mindfulness steps for even as little as 5 minutes. Practicing this regularly will begin to help you reach new attunement with your body.
Numbness isn’t all bad – it actually means your brain is doing its job in many ways. But unaddressed emotions won’t lay dormant. This numbness is an indication that your body doesn’t feel safe. So it’s important to work towards safety and regulation to be the healthiest you can be! Counseling is a great way to address these goals and more. If you’re looking for someone to walk with you through this part of your journey, we’re here. Call (225) 341-4147 to make an appointment.