Feeling Shut Down? How to Feel Your Feelings without Going Numb

When facing stressful situations overcoming emotional numbness can be very challenging.

Have you ever had an experience of emotional numbness or feeling flat? Maybe feeling so overwhelmed by whatever you are thinking and feeling because of some stress or a hard time that you’re walking through. You realize that you can’t deal with this so you just turn your heart off, turn your mind off, turn it all off as a way to just get through the day? 

Today I want to talk to you about emotional numbness, what it is, why we experience that as introverted Christian women, especially if you are also a highly sensitive person and I also want to give you some practical things that you can do to overcome it. 

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Last year, I was right in the middle of a really hard time, deep in the bit in the pit struggling to do life. I reached out to a friend looking for some help and support, and I kept explaining to her that I just felt flat. 

Then my first session in therapy I said the same thing, I just feel flat. I’m not feeling any highs or lows. I really didn’t understand why that was happening and I was having a hard time figuring out what to do about that. 

Well, I have since learned that there is a term for this. It’s called emotional numbness, and it is very, very common for introverts to experience this, especially those of us who are also highly sensitive. The reason that this happens is because it’s a coping mechanism for dealing with life. 

We’ve talked before about how as Introverts and HSPs, you feel things very deeply. You have strong empathy and we have strong compassion. When you feel something, you really feel it, and that can be overwhelming when you are walking through something hard. 

Especially when it’s your own stuff. I think sometimes we can manage a little bit better when it’s other people’s stuff, but when it’s your stuff it really can be challenging. I want to begin this conversation just explaining a little bit about what emotional numbness looks like. 

What is Emotional Numbness

I’m making general statements based on my personal experience and some research that I’ve done. If you don’t check every single box that I mention, that doesn’t mean that you’re not experiencing emotional numbness. 

If you have something on this list that I didn’t mention, that doesn’t mean that you’re not experiencing emotional numbness. I just want to give you a general idea and I want you to take this information and see how that can apply to you.

The first thing is that at its core emotional numbness is using other stuff to change how you feel without actually dealing with the issue. For example, if you are walking through a health crisis, you might overshop instead of dealing with whatever feelings are coming up for you around this health crisis. 


This often looks like over – [fill in the blank]. You can see this with alcohol or over-drinking. We see this with TV, over-indulging in screens as a way to check out from reality. Over-eating, over-working, over-exercising, whatever it is. 

It’s too much of something to help you avoid what you actually need to be dealing with. Anytime that you’re having this problem, you need to pause, evaluate, and get it in check because it’s not healthy for you. 

Lack of Interest

Another thing that happens with emotional numbness is that you don’t have an interest in the things that you used to enjoy. For example, maybe you’re somebody who loves music. You love going to concerts, practicing playing instruments, and singing but you find yourself not interested in any of that. That can be a sign of emotional numbness. 

I want to pause here really quickly and point out that a lot of this stuff could also be depression. Some of these things are also symptoms of depression, so I will always encourage you to get that checked out. 

Take the time to go to your mental health provider, your doctor, or whoever is involved in your care and get that evaluated. Listen, yes the things that I’m going to share are helpful for the general population. If you have some other things that are going on, you need to address them with your doctor before taking my advice. 

If you are depressed, which is where I was last year, none of this other stuff was going to work.  I was too depressed and I needed to get treatment for that before any of this stuff would work. I’ll hop back off the soapbox now. 

Feeling Distant

Another way that emotional numbness can show up is that you feel distant from others. Not because you are distant from others, it’s that you’re having a really hard time engaging and connecting with the people in your life. 

You are feeling distant from the people who would be your safe people or your go-to people on a “normal” day or situation. Nobody understands what you’re dealing with and you can’t connect with anybody. That’s what you should look for.

Feeling Emotionally Flat

Also, feeling flat emotionally, where you just feel bleh all the time. You’re not having any highs or lows. You’re just here, existing. That flat feeling is, I think, probably one of the biggest signs of emotional numbness. 

You also might be in a situation where you prefer isolation to being with people. I know that sounds a little counterintuitive because I’m talking to introverts and as introverts, you don’t like being with a lot of people anyway. 

But this is not that. I am probably the most introverted person that most of the people in my life know and I have my friends and my close circle that I enjoy being with. This year, one of my close friends and I are going to a new taco place every single month to get out and try things. 

I like hanging out with her. She’s my friend, I love her. When you are dealing with emotional numbness, you don’t even want to be around your safe people. You don’t want to be around the people who are in your house. 

The last thing is difficulty experiencing positive emotions like joy or excitement. You’re not feeling those highs or even the lows. Feeling the lows is a lot better than feeling nothing at all. These are different ways that emotional numbness can show itself in your life. 

Why Do You Go Emotionally Numb

Why do people go emotionally numb and why is it that introverts and HSPs tend to default to emotional numbness when things are hard? Well, like I said before, it’s a coping mechanism. A way to cope and deal with stressful situations and seasons. At its core, it’s a way of protecting yourself. 

It is protection from trauma and negative emotions. It is how you keep yourself safe when things are too much for you to handle. If you’re experiencing trauma or you’re in crisis mode, it is too much for you to handle. That’s a normal response, trying to protect yourself from it all. 

You’re feeling it so deeply because you are wired that way. Your emotions are really deep and they can be overwhelming but you don’t want to live like that forever. It’s dang near impossible to exist and live like that, so you flip off the switch. You tell yourself that it’s too much to deal with. 

Sometimes it’s perfectly fine to flip that switch. In a moment of crisis or if you are in an emergency some things need to be done to make sure that the people involved are safe. Going numb in that instance can help you to stay focused. 

Sometimes I have to pause my downward spiral to go and deal with my children because they need something from me. The problem is that you can’t go numb for too long. If you are numb for a year, that’s too long. Even a month can be too long. 

If you are going numb for so long that you’re not dealing with whatever that thing is, that’s a problem. The other problem that I have seen, and I have experienced this too, is numbing too many of your emotions or all of them. 

That’s where I was, after decades of trying to cope with hard things, I numbed everything. The only emotion that I could feel was despair but everything else was numb. I didn’t have hope, I didn’t have joy, I didn’t have peace, and I didn’t even really have anger. When despair got to be too much, I went back to flat.  

You have feelings for a reason. God gave you your emotions and your feelings for a purpose, you need to have them and experience them. If you are having a hard time managing your emotions you might need to get help and support for that. 

Sometimes emotional numbness is due to poor mental health. This was me last year when I was deep into depression and struggling with anxiety. I didn’t have the bandwidth or the resources within myself to be mentally healthy, and because I had poor mental health, I couldn’t cope so I flipped that switch and went numb. 

That was the only way that I was going to be able to function. I was only functioning below the bare minimum, that’s all I could manage. When you have poor mental health it’s more likely that you’ll go numb. Again go get help and talk to a medical or a mental health professional. 

Talk to your doctor, go to therapy, and do whatever it is that you need to do to support yourself and care for your mental health. It is important and it makes so many things easier and better when you’re able to get the help that you need. 

Another reason why you often go numb is because, in general, people don’t cope well with stress. We have really unhealthy habits where we do too much of whatever the vice is. You may not cope well with stress, but that’s an easy fix. You can learn how to cope with stress. 

If you don’t know how to cope with stress, any little amount of stress can send you into emotional numbness. It doesn’t always have to be big things, it can be small things. When life is just too hard and you feel like opening your eyes in the morning and starting a new day is too much it’s easier to go numb. 

When it’s too hard to do life it’s easier to not feel those things than it is to try to walk through your day and life carrying all these really deep and heavy emotions and feelings. 

Managing Emotional Numbness

Now that you know what emotional numbness looks like, and why you go numb, it’s time to think about what can we do to manage that. I’m going to give you a new term and it’s called distress tolerance. 

Distress tolerance is the ability to manage your emotions when you’re in stressful situations and seasons. The way to manage or combat emotional numbness is to increase this distress tolerance. 

The lower your tolerance is the more difficulty you’re going to have coping with stressful situations. The higher your tolerance is, the easier it is for you to manage your stress. I hope that makes sense. 

Take some time to evaluate your ability to manage stress, to get a realistic picture of what your distress tolerance is. We often think that we have a high distress tolerance when we don’t. I would have probably sworn up and down before last year that I had a high distress tolerance.

People say things like, “You are so strong. You handle stress so well.” Well, I actually wasn’t handling the stress well. I was numb. I wasn’t falling apart or freaking out so it looked like I was handling stress well. 

Be careful that you’re not mistaking your emotional numbness for a high distress tolerance. You want to be really honest and clear about where you are. I want to give you some ways that you can increase this distress tolerance.

Own Your Feelings

Number one, give yourself permission to own your feelings without judging yourself. If you are angry, own it. If you are depressed, own it. If you are flat-out miserable with every aspect of your life, own it. 

Don’t judge yourself, shame yourself, or critique yourself for how you feel. You’ve got to acknowledge it if you want to deal with it. Own those feelings. No judgment allowed. Just own it and name it. This is what’s going on, this is how I feel. 

Feel Your Feelings

Then the next thing that I want you to do is to feel all the feels. Whatever you are feeling, feel it completely. If you are angry, feel it and be angry. If you are sad, feel it and be sad. I don’t know where this idea that it’s a sin to be angry came from. 

Feelings are not a sin, they’re just feelings. Now, you can act on those feelings and that action can be sinful, but your feelings in and of themselves are not sinful. God gave them to you. When scripture says to be angry and sin not, that’s exactly what it means. 

It’s okay to be angry. The problem is when you act on that anger in sinful ways. Be angry but don’t sin. Be sad but don’t sin. Be miserable but don’t sin. Be lonely but don’t sin. Whatever you’re feeling, feel it all. Feel it deeply so that you can process it and work through it. 

The reason that you’re going numb is because you’re overwhelmed by those feelings and you don’t know what to do with them. So name them, and feel them so that you can process and deal with them. 

This is a great place again for counseling or therapy. They are a great place to process your feelings. Coaching is also a great place to process some of these things. Counseling is going to help you look into your past and heal some things so that you can move forward. 

Coaching is more about growth. When I work with clients and we’re looking at their feelings and their thoughts I’m not trying to help them resolve something in their past. I’m giving them tools on how to identify their thoughts and line them up with the word of God so that they can move forward with their lives with peace. 

If you’re interested I’d love to work with you. I’ll help you look at all the thoughts that are going on in your mind, name them, and learn how to renew your mind one thought at a time. This will help you have the right mindset, increase your distress tolerance, and have peace.

If you aren’t sure what to do with your overwhelming thoughts and emotions. Do you want to climb out of your pit of despair and move forward with support? Book a Mindset Coaching package and we can work on managing your emotions and renewing your mind together.

Know Your Triggers

The third tip for dealing with your stress levels and increasing your distress tolerance is to know your triggers. I feel like I say this one a lot. Know the things that trigger you to feel certain things. Know what it is that’s going to cause you to start that spiral into the pit of despair

Know what’s going to trigger you to want to overeat, over-drink, or whatever it is that you overdo when you’re overwhelmed. Know what is going to cause you to not be able to cope with life. Know what you can’t handle so that you can have a plan when you get triggered. 

Know what your triggers are so you can recognize them before it becomes a problem. I’m finally at the place where I know what my triggers are after a year of working on my mental health. I know when certain things happen, I tend to feel and think specific things and I can catch myself before it spirals into the pit of despair. 

Sometimes I’m able to actually avoid it all together, where I don’t even have to deal with it. So, know your triggers, and keep track of them, so that you can have a plan on how to care for yourself. 

Doing More and Less

The more practical way and maybe the more fun or “easy way” of managing emotional numbness and increasing your distress tolerance is simply to do more of what lowers your stress and less of what makes it go up. 

What is it that helps you to feel calm and to relax and wind down? What is it that helps you to feel safe and feel like yourself? What do you enjoy doing? Do more of that. What are the things that are stressing you out? Do less of that. 

This is not permission to avoid all people at all costs. That’s not possible. Think of it like things like exercise. I don’t care who you are exercise is a great way to lower your stress levels. Journaling is a great way to lower your stress levels. Do you know why? 

Writing things down can help with figuring out how you feel about what’s going on and where your triggers are. It’s a great tool to lower stress. Getting outside is also helpful. When I am having a rough day I will go for a walk right. 

If I can’t manage to go for a walk because my little guys are at home and I don’t have anybody to watch them, I will just go stand outside. Just go stand outside in their fresh air, in the sunshine. It works wonders for your mood and for your stress level. 

Try to make sure that you’re getting adequate sleep. You are not a robot. You can’t just run and run, you need seven to nine hours of good sleep. Whatever you need to do to get the rest that you need, figure that out and make it happen. 

Reading is something that I enjoy that can really lower your stress. Don’t read a suspense, psychological thriller, or a horror story. Choose something that’s not going to make you stressed out. 

Reading is a great way to get your mind off of your stuff and take some time out and chill. I also like to paint or go to museums and look at art. Figure out what the things are that will lower your stress. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention prayer, just sitting alone talking to God. It doesn’t have to be prayer, it could be worship, going to church, or anything to support your faith and help you connect with God. All of these things are ways to decrease your stress levels. 

I know that times are hard. I know that so many of us are facing impossible situations, but we don’t have to walk through those things in misery and despair, feeling alone, and numb. God doesn’t want you to live life walking around dealing with emotional numbness. 

He wants you to have a full and abundant life, and that includes feeling all the things that he has created you to feel. I hope that something here was encouraging and informative for you. To help you make some changes so that you can move forward and begin to manage your stress well and deal with your emotions in a healthy way.

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