Emotional numbness or emotional blunting refers to having limited emotional responses to internal and external events. It may be a symptom of a medical condition or a side effect of some medications.
Emotional numbness can create a sense of emptiness, isolation, or disconnect from the rest of the world. You may notice other people react to events in a different way, and it may be difficult for you to understand why you don’t feel the same way.
Not everyone experiences emotional numbness in the same way. In general, you may feel limited when it comes to emotional experiences. You may have a muted response to events you used to react to, or you may experience the emotion and yet have no outward expression of it.
You may be in a situation that typically calls for sadness or joy, and you may not feel either. This may make relating to others more challenging.
Other signs of emotional numbness may include:
- persistent low energy and motivation (avolition)
- indifference toward the things or people you used to care about
- a sense that nothing really matters
- feeling detached from yourself and the things in your life
- flat affect or the inability to experience the full range of emotions
- difficulty recognizing your own emotions or how some things make you feel
- lack of facial expressions that reflect how you feel
Emotional numbness, sometimes called emotional blunting, can be difficult to imagine if you have not experienced it.
Some people describe it as feeling empty or discouraged, while others report feeling isolated.
“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 as a symptom of 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.
A number of factors may lead to emotional numbness. While living with depression and anxiety is the
- Stress and stress hormones: Elevated cortisol levels may lead to emotional numbness and lack of emotional response in some people.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD may change your stress hormone levels and has been
linked tosymptoms of depression and anxiety, including emotional numbness.
- Medication side effects: Medications for anxiety and depression may affect the level of mood-related hormones and brain processes. 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 while you take these medications.
- Depersonalization-derealization disorder: People with depersonalization-derealization disorder may experience numbness in their minds or bodies.
- Fatigue: Experiencing chronic physical fatigue and burnout
could leadsome people to have emotional blunting.
Emotional numbness is often temporary. It may last a few hours to days at a time. Treatment is available to provide both immediate and long-term relief.
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.
They may ask about all the medications you currently take and those you’ve taken in the last year. They may also want to explore what other symptoms you experience. If your healthcare professional thinks one of your medications is involved, they may switch you to a different brand or type, or adjust your dosage.
If you do not already have a mental health professional, the FindCare tool can help you locate one in your area.
Immediate relief options
Getting an appointment with a mental health professional
A mental health professional can offer coping techniques to help you work on your emotional experience. Some professionals, like psychiatrists, may prescribe medications, but talk therapy can also help.
While antidepressants typically take up to 6 weeks to start working, your professional may prescribe anti-anxiety medication like benzodiazepines or beta-blockers for a short time while the other drug builds in your system.
Relying on your support system
Even if you’re having trouble connecting, consider reaching out to the people who love you. They may understand what you’re going through and help you connect. You may find relief in telling them what you’re going through.
Running, swimming, yoga, and kickboxing classes may help you with stress relief. Even taking a walk may help flood your brain with endorphins, feel good chemicals. Regular activity may be more effective.
Long-term care options
For long-term treatment and prevention of emotional numbness, consider these:
- A balanced diet: Nutrient-dense foods fuel your body to work at its best. Specifically, fatty fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, and other antioxidant-rich foods
may improvemood regulation.
- Manage stress: Relieving stress or improving how you manage it may positively affect your body, decrease stress hormone production, and help you work on your emotions. Practicing stress-busting techniques like meditation or mindfulness can help.
- Self-awareness exercises: A mental health professional can help you engage in regular mental exercises that will aid you in rediscovering your emotions and your link to the world.
Depending on its cause, emotional numbness may be a temporary experience. Usually, addressing the underlying cause may help you find relief. For example, if blunting is related to depression, receiving treatment for this condition can help you decrease emotional numbness and other symptoms.
Working with a mental health professional can help. They can support you in bridging the gap and bringing you one step closer to feeling your feelings.
How long does emotional numbness last?
Emotional blunting is usually temporary and may improve once you address the underlying cause.
You may feel emotionally numb for a few hours or days at a time, or in some cases, for longer than that. If you live with untreated depression or PTSD, you may feel emotionally numb for as long as the condition goes without professional support. Treatment is available and effective.
How do I get my emotions back?
Addressing the underlying cause of emotional numbness is the first step toward getting relief. Regular physical activity, a balanced diet, support from your loved ones, and working with a mental health professional can help.
Why do I feel numb in my relationship?
Feeling emotionally numb may have different causes. If you feel detached and indifferent about your relationships, it could be a sign of a mental health condition, like depression or anxiety, or the result of past trauma or medications. A mental health professional can help you explore possible causes. Once you address those, you may find relief.
How do you numb emotional pain?
Emotional pain may be hard to cope with, but often going through the experience helps you heal. If you live with conditions like depression, PTSD, or anxiety, a mental health professional can help you develop coping skills to manage emotional pain.
For severe symptoms, medications may help. If you’re mourning a loss, a therapist may also help you work through your grief.
Can numbness be caused by trauma?
You’re not alone — support is available
If you feel like you’re having a mental health emergency, you can:
- Call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 for English and Spanish.
- Chat with professionals at Lifeline Chat.
- Text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
- Check out Befrienders Worldwide or Suicide Stop if you’re not in the United States and need to find your country’s crisis hotline.
If you decide to call an emergency number like 911, ask the operator to send someone trained in mental health, like Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) officers.
Emotional numbness or blunting refers to difficulty experiencing and expressing the full range of emotions. You may feel detached, indifferent, or empty.
Causes of emotional numbness range from side effects of medications to symptoms of mental health disorders. In most cases, you may experience relief once the underlying cause has been addressed.
Talk therapy, self-care, and in some cases, medications may help.