Feeling emotionally numb or feeling no emotions can be a symptom of several different medical conditions. It may also occur as a side effect of some medications.
Emotional numbness creates a sense of emptiness, isolation, or emotional disconnect from the rest of the world. The numbness can be unbearable for many people who experience it.
Find out what it’s like, why it happens, and how to manage and prevent it.
Emotional numbness, also sometimes called emotional blunting, can be difficult to imagine if you have not experienced it.
Some people describe it as feeling emptiness or despondency, while others report feeling isolated. Some feel as though they have no future or that there is no hope for the numbness to ever fade.
“Often I feel invisible, like I’m a ghost. I watch my family engaging with each other, but feel like there’s an invisible barrier that keeps me from joining them,” describes Amy H., who has experienced emotional numbness from depression. “I’m like a submarine drifting undetected, picking up on other people’s emotions like sonar. However, if you were to ask me what my own feelings are, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.”
Rebecca C.* has a similar experience with numbness caused by depression: “The world around me often seems slightly superficial, [like] I am simply going through the motions and can’t connect to my environment,” she explains. “It makes me feel as if there were analog TV static in my brain. I am unable to communicate or think deeply.”
Some people describe emotional numbness as feeling unfocused or ungrounded.
“It basically feels like when you zone out before you go to sleep,” Amanda D. said. “Feels like being unfocused. And sometimes, especially right when you are going through it, it’s really hard to understand how the world keeps moving when it should have stopped.”
*Some names have been changed at the request of interviewees.
There are a number of different things that can cause emotional numbness to occur. While depression and anxiety are the
- Stress and stress hormones: Elevated cortisol levels can lead to emotional numbness in some people.
- PTSD: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which may change your stress hormone levels, can be
tiedto depression, anxiety, and symptoms like emotional numbness.
- Medication: Some medications used to treat anxiety and depression affect how the brain processes mood and emotion. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) affect serotonin levels in your brain, which could also alter dopamine levels. Most evidence is anecdotal, but a
2021 review of researchsuggests this could explain medication-induced emotional numbing.
- Depersonalization-derealization disorder: People with depersonalization-derealization disorder may experience numbness in their minds or bodies.
- Fatigue: Experiencing physical fatigue and burnout
could leadsome people to have emotional blunting.
Despite how it may feel, emotional numbness is not permanent. Treatment is available to provide both immediate relief and long-term remission.
The first step in treating emotional numbness is to identify and treat the underlying cause. A healthcare professional can help with this, or they may refer you to a mental health professional.
You’ll be asked what medications you take and what other symptoms you have. If your doctor thinks one of your medications is to blame, they may substitute it with something else.
If you do not already have a mental health professional, the FindCare tool can help you locate one in your area.
Immediate relief options
To start getting more immediate relief from emotional numbness, you can also try several treatment options:
Make an appointment with a mental health professional
While antidepressants typically take up to 6 weeks to start working, your doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medication like benzodiazepines or beta-blockers for you to take while the other drug builds in your system.
Rely on your support system
Even if you’re having trouble connecting, reach out to the people who love you. They may be able to help you connect, and you may find relief in telling them what you’re going through.
When you’re feeling numb, the last thing you may want to do is get up and move, but it’s one of the best things you can do.
Running, swimming, yoga, and kickboxing classes are all great for stress relief, but even just taking a walk around the neighborhood can help flood your brain with endorphins. To get the best results, exercise daily.
Get plenty of sleep
For long-term methods of treatment and prevention of emotional numbness, you may want to follow these tactics:
Eat a healthful diet: By eating nutrient-dense foods, you fuel your body to work at its best. Specifically, fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, and other antioxidant-rich foods
Minimize stress: Minimizing stress or improving how you manage it can positively affect your body, reduce stress hormones, and help you regain emotional feeling. Reduce the stressors in your life, and practice stress-busting techniques like meditation or mindfulness to better manage stress.
Learn to identify and express emotions: For those who have been emotionally numb for an extended time, it can be difficult to identify or process different emotions. A mental health professional can help with this. Make an appointment with a professional in your area who can help you tap into your emotions.
If you’re experiencing emotional numbness, know that no matter how you feel, you aren’t alone, and it won’t last forever.
Reach out to the people you love and make an appointment with a mental health professional. They can help you bridge the gap and bring you one step closer to feeling your feelings.