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How to Heal Emotional Numbness in 3 Steps

Common Signs of Emotional Numbness

  • Everything seems useless
  • You’re often bored and restless
  • Every day feels the same
  • You aren’t interested in anything, even things you used to love
  • Decision-making feels so overwhelming or pointless that you put it off
  • You don’t feel like doing anything
  • You feel empty

Reasons for Emotional Numbness

  • Depression
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Spending a lot of time alone – either in childhood/adolescence, or as an adult
  • Emotionally / physically distant parents
  • You experienced trauma, and your brain is trying to protect you from the emotional pain it caused
  • As a survival tactic or coping mechanism, you purposely avoid sadness / anger / etc.
  • You tend to oscillate between very intense emotions and emotional numbness.
    • You have intense emotions for long periods of time, don’t know how to regulate them, and become exhausted
    • Then you or your body shuts them off entirely

Here's a 3-step plan for how to heal emotional numbness.

Step 1: Meet your Basic Needs

Emotional numbness often dovetails with feelings of pointlessness or uselessness, which often contributes to neglect of your basic needs. After all, if there’s no point to anything, why shower, right?

So, before you do anything else, work on consistently meeting your basic needs:

  • Eat 3 meals a day, and snacks where appropriate.
  • Drink water. The Mayo Clinic recommends about 11 glasses per day for women and 15 glasses per men.
  • Sleep. The CDC recommends that most adults get at least 7 hours of sleep per night.
  • Move. According to The Mayo Clinic, 30 minute of moderate exercise a day is ideal. But if that feels like too much, start with 10-minute walks around the block, or 5 minutes of stretching a day. Anything and everything helps.
  • Take care of your hygiene. Brush your teeth at least twice a day. Shower at least every couple of days. Change your clothes. These may sound like simple tasks, but for someone with depression, they can be Herculean.
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Why Does Any of This Matter?

Physical and emotional health are inextricably linked.

The more you take care of your physical heath, the more your emotional health is likely to follow.

Doing these things will help you on your path to healing emotional numbness.

What If I Can’t Get Motivated to Do Any of This?

Then just do a little.

Start with just one goal.

If you usually drink 2 glasses of water a day, see if you can move it up to 3. Then, one you’re drinking 3 a day, try 4.

Track your progress on a goal tracker, calendar, or chart. Reward yourself when you complete a goal a certain amount of days.

Find a ‘buddy’ who wants to work on the same goal, and check in with each other about your progress.

Finally, remind yourself of why it’s important to take care of your basic needs.

Step 2: Identify Your Values

Once your basic needs are mostly or better met (it doesn’t have to be perfect!), it’s time for Step 2: Identifying Your Values.

For this step, you have two options.

Option 1

Journal about what you value most in life. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • If you were to be stranded on a desert island, what three things would you bring with you? What do these things tell you about what’s important to you?
  • Which political issues do you care most deeply about?
  • What would you do if money were no object and other people's opinions didn't matter?
  • What qualities do you most appreciate in others? In yourself? What does that say about what you value?
  • Who in your life is most important to you? What makes them important?

Option 2

Using this free PDF, sort every single value on these cards into three categories: Very Important to Me, Important to Me, and Not Important to Me.

You can print and cut out the cards if you’d like, or just divide a piece of paper into 3 columns and write the answers in the columns.

Once you’re finished, see if you can narrow down the “Very Important to Me” column into your top 5 values.

Step 3: Live by Your Values

Now that you’re aware of your values, the next step is to figure out how to relate them to your daily life.

You may want to track things you do that are aligned with your values in a journal, or in the notes app on your phone.

If you can’t currently think of anything you do that aligns with your values, come up with a list. Work on completing some of the items on the list.

Examples of Value/Action Lists

If you value Adventure

  • Try cooking a new recipe each week.
  • Make a bucket list of things you’d like to do / places you’d like to visit in your life.
  • Explore different sexual fetishes or kinks.
  • Watch travel or adventure shows and documentaries.

If you value Nature

  • Take walks around your neighborhood or in nearby parks (wearing masks, of course!)
  • Listen to bird or ocean sounds while going about your daily activities.
  • Find out how to donate or volunteer to nature-related organizations that relate to your specific interests.
  • Make a bucket list of National Parks or natural landmarks you’d like to visit.

If you value Family

  • Text your family members memes or jokes that you think they’ll find funny.
  • Mail them postcards or little gifts.
  • Watch a TV show ‘together’ via Zoom, or a have a virtual movie night.
  • Write a letter or email to a family member sharing how much you appreciate them and what you love about them.

Practice Patience

You wouldn’t go to the gym once and expect to walk out with 6-pack abs, right?

Well, the same principle applies to our emotional health.

Even if you don’t notice a difference in how you feel right away, keep doing steps 1 and 3 anyway.

Track your progress by writing it down, sharing with your buddy, or telling supportive loved ones or professionals.

Trust the process.

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About Rebecca

Rebecca Ogle, LCSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social worker and therapist in Chicago, IL.

Rebecca provides therapy to people with anxiety, low self-esteem, and people pleasing tendencies. She uses a feminist and social justice lens, and interventions based in CBT, mindfulness, and motivational interviewing.

For helpful, free content, follow her on Instagram @rebeccaoglelcsw or go to her website.

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