It’s very common for us to feel emotionally numb or disconnected at some point in our lives. This feeling often happens after a particularly stressful or traumatic event or can be associated with depression. We might describe feeling “empty”, “detached” or just feel “nothing”.
This sensation is often due to a reaction called the freeze response or “hypo-arousal”. This response can happen when we feel so stressed or overwhelmed that our brain goes into a kind of hibernation mode as a way of protecting us from experiencing distress so intensely. Some people may only feel this way a couple of times in their life, perhaps after a traumatic event, but for others, it may not take very much stress for them to go into a freeze state which can last for longer periods of time and become a habitual way of coping with with distress.
Sadly, when feeling numb, it’s common for people to turn to unhelpful ways to “feel alive” again which might include impulsive or risky behaviour, stimulant drugs or self-harm. This might feel helpful in the short term, but in the long term is likely to cause more difficulties.
In my next post, we’ll think about some helpful things you can do to help yourself when you notice feeling disconnected. Of course, if you notice feeling emotionally numb or depressed for long periods of time, it’s important to reach out for support from your GP or mental health service.