How to stop numbing out, and deal with your emotions


Sometimes it can feel like our emotions are too big to deal with head on, so we resort to numbing them instead. Whether that’s with distractions like TV and social media, or more harmful devices like drugs and alcohol, many people struggle to find a healthy balance. No one likes to feel uncomfortable, but if we continuously refuse to confront our emotions, then we may end up with more serious problems like anxiety and depression.

There are ways to deal with negative emotions and allow yourself to feel. Not everyone is brought up with these skills, but everyone is capable of learning them. Click through this gallery for an introductory guide to confronting yourself in a gentle and healthy way.

Self-care crazeSelf-care craze

There has been a great deal of focus on self-care and how to soothe ourselves through difficult times, and of course that’s extremely important. However, one thing that we often miss in our self-care routines is time to just let ourselves feel.

Emotional escape artistThe common experiences of the sober curious
Even prior to the pandemic, many people had a tendency to numb their emotions. You might identify yourself as a bit of a hedonist, someone who loves good food, good wine, and good company. But there might be an element of escape artistry there too.


Soothing the painSoothing the pain

When we are confronted with uncomfortable feelings, we often turn to things that help us soothe the pain. That could be our favorite junk food or a glass of wine. It might mean spending hours and hours watching Netflix, going out with friends more often to avoid spending time alone, or living for your next vacation.


Too much distraction"I wouldn’t even know where to start"

Stimulating our senses is an effective way to run away from our pain. A certain amount of stimulation and distraction is healthy and normal–it’s not like we can spend 24 hours a day on a psychiatrist’s couch. However, it’s still important to dedicate some time to really deal.


Building strength
Building strength

When we avoid difficult emotions for too long, they can often get worse. Dr. Caroline Fenkel describes it this way: when you close the door on your emotions and go watch Netflix, your emotions are doing push ups in the other room. Once you let them back in, they’ve gotten much stronger

How to un-numb yourselfOutlook
The alternative, scary as it may be, is to feel your feelings. This is all very abstract at the moment, but there are more concrete steps you can take to start identifying the problem and deal with it.


1. Identify your numbing behaviorsAccept invitations

First of all, try to identify your go-to numbing behaviors. These methods of distraction and stimulation can look different for everyone, so take some time to reflect on this. There are a million different things a person might turn to, from food, to sex, to work. Immersing yourself in some kind of entertainment is a popular form of escapism. Maybe you always have a podcast playing or the TV on in the background, allowing little time for silence and reflection. Some people simply pack their calendars and make to-do lists so they’re always kept busy.


2. Name your feelings2. Name your feelings

We can often be quick to judge ourselves and push down our feelings. If we start to feel guilty, unworthy, depressed, or just mad as hell, it can be uncomfortable to explore that. It can be easier to swallow them and try to move on.Naming your emotions is a powerful therapeutic tool, and an important first step in addressing them. You might be aware of feeling angry, but try to be more specific. Do you feel betrayed, maybe disgusted? Or perhaps disappointment is what lies beneath the anger.

3. Make time9. Practicing self-care

If you have a strong habit of ignoring your feelings, then it can help to set aside a specific time period where you allow yourself to go after them. Find a quiet safe place without distractions.You might find that mindfulness meditation helps you get in touch with yourself. You can also put on some music that tends to make you emotional, or look at some olds photos. You might feel like crying, or even yelling! The idea is to let flow whatever comes up. Initially, you can set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes, whatever feels accessible for you.

4. Resist judgmentOne device at a time

We have a tendency to jump to the feelings we have about our feelings. For example, you feel angry, but straight away you start to feel guilty about feeling angry because you think it’s irrational. You feel sad about something in your life, but then you feel guilty because other people have it worse.It’s very difficult to truly absorb this fact, but we are not our emotions. We are complex beings who cycle through a range of emotions all the time. They may often seem “irrational,” but they don’t define us.You are allowed to feel whatever you’re feeling and it doesn’t make you a bad person. What you do with that feeling, i.e. your behavior, is what matters. You don’t need to feel bad for simply feeling.

5. Ask what they’re telling youCancer (June 21 - July 22)

Once you have identified your feelings, you can try to figure out what message they’re sending you. Turning towards your emotions, and analyzing them can give you essential insights into what you need at that time.If you notice you’re feeling anxious about the state of the world or about your appearance, you may realize that you need to take a step back from social media. Perhaps you realize that you’re feeling irritable and suffocated at the moment, and you need a bit of space from your partner.

6. Notice if you’re taking on other people’s feelingsCancer (June 21 - July 22)
On that note, it’s important to question whether or not you’re taking on other people’s emotions. Sometimes the people close to us can make us feel guilty or wrong for feeling a certain way, even with the best of intentions.

For example, you might feel humiliated after your partner cheats on you, and your friends say you shouldn’t feel that way. Just because other people don’t perceive you as being humiliated doesn’t mean your feeling is invalid.


7. Find a safe way to express themSleep hygiene
At this point you have taken some steps to identify and analyze your emotions. The next step is to decide what to do with them! Many people find it works to express the emotions, in a safe and mindful way.

This will look different for everyone. Find some activity or practice that makes it feel like the emotion is flowing out of you. This might be as simple as talking about it to a friend. Other methods include writing about it, painting something, punching something (an inanimate object, obviously), or dancing it out to a cathartic song.


8. Focus on the physical8. Focus on the physical

Our bodies and our emotions are intrinsically linked. Physical symptoms often give us hints about our emotional state, and we can also use our bodies to work through our emotions. Focusing on the physical sensations in your body is a semi-magical way you can regulate your emotions!Getting outside in the fresh air for a walk or run is one great option. If that’s not your style, try to engage your senses in another way. You could take a hot shower and pay attention to the way it feels on your skin, for instance. Another trick some people use to ground themselves is to hold an ice cube.

9. Allow yourself to take a break10. Practice

It’s okay to hit snooze on a feeling. We don’t always have the time or space to deal with a negative emotion when it pops up. It’s important to identify and accept that feeling, but you don’t need to fully engage with it immediately.Small irritations can sometimes be dealt with quickly, but bigger issues may need more dedicated time. It’s okay to allow yourself to address it when you have the time.

10. Practice10. Practice
It sounds like a lot of steps, but the more you do it, the more automatic it will become. It’s the same as building any other routine. The more you practice and work through your emotions, the more manageable it will become.The ability to face and process our emotions is essential for our long-term mental health. Stoicism can often be misconstrued as strength, but true bravery and resilience comes from addressing and dealing with your emotions.
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