Emotional Numbing: What it Is, Why it’s Harmful, & What to Do Instead

Emotional Numbing: What it Is, Why it’s Harmful, & What to Do Instead

Emotional Numbing: What it Is, Why it’s Harmful, & What to Do Instead

Getting lost in a good book, watching funny videos, or taking a nap can be healthy coping behaviors — but constantly seeking to numb yourself from the uncomfortable can unintentionally create more of what you are trying to avoid.

Today, let’s dive into numbing, why it’s harmful, and some helpful strategies to create healthier coping habits.

What is emotional numbing?

Emotional numbing occurs when someone seeks to do something that takes them away from the present moment in an attempt to avoid feelings of stress, anxiety, worry, or other negative emotions.

For example, let’s say it’s the end of your workday. You finish your last task, and your mind is clear for just a few moments — until the negative thoughts creep back in.

Instead of sitting in the uncomfortable moment, you do everything you can to take it away. You pull out your phone, turn on the TV, grab an alcoholic beverage from the fridge, do some online shopping… you look for anything you can grasp to ease the discomfort.

Why is numbing yourself from the uncomfortable harmful?

Constantly seeking to numb yourself can interfere with your mental well-being, stop you from focusing on other areas of your life, and hinder self-growth.

This is because numbing is a form of emotional suppression, not emotional regulation. Many studies show that when we suppress our emotions, we feel them for longer, unintentionally magnifying what we seek to avoid.

Plus, emotions aren’t subjective — when you numb the bad, you numb the good, too.

How to avoid the desire to numb and create healthier coping habits

The next time you want to escape, numb, or avoid the uncomfortable, here are a few things you can do:

1. Sit in the suck. Remember: Your feelings and thoughts are not facts; they are simply information. Instead of doing something that pulls you away, try to do something that puts you in the present moment. Sit with your uncomfortable thoughts and recognize that even though you may feel uncomfortable, you are safe.

2. Find a healthy replacement. Do something pleasurable that keeps you in the present moment, such as taking a walk and noticing the sights and sounds around you or journaling to help make sense of your thoughts.

3. Focus on the good in life. Offset your brain’s negativity bias by making a list of what’s right and being as specific as possible. For example, if you have running water, you are doing better than a large portion of the world. You can flush your toilet, drink clean water, and keep your plants alive.

4. Challenge your negative mindset. Try asking yourself: Is it really as bad as I think? Is it possible that things may improve for me in the future? How can I reframe my thoughts and the story I am telling myself to make it better serve me?

5. Seek support. One of the hardest parts of dealing with uncomfortable emotions is feeling like we have to face them alone — but reaching out to a friend, loved one, therapist, or even a pet can remind us we have the support we need right by our side.

6. Practice radical self-care. Other than destructive behaviors, what is something kind you can do for yourself? No matter how small, the more you treat yourself with kindness and compassion, the better you will feel.

Moving forward

We all want to press the “off” button sometimes. Numbing only turns negative when it becomes something we do each and every time we have to face something uncomfortable. Over time, this sucks our time and energy away from things that keep us in the present moment — things that help us see the joy and beauty in life.

But with these strategies and a bit of time, you can work to increase your discomfort tolerance and strengthen your resilience muscles.

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Anne Grady is a Speaker, Author, and #TruthBomb Dropper.

Anne shares practical strategies that can be applied both personally and professionally to improve relationships, navigate change, and triumph over adversity. And she’ll make you laugh while she does it. Anne is a two time TEDx speaker, and her work has been featured in numerous media outlets, including Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fast Company and Inc. magazines, CNN, ESPN, and FOX Business. She is the best selling author of 52 Strategies for Life, Love & Work and Strong Enough: Choosing Courage, Resilience and Triumph.

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