When we’re low or sad or tired it can feel like we’re emotionally drained, like we’re emotionally numb to everything that’s going on around us. This is something that is very common with people who suffer from anxiety and depression and can be quite distressing to experience.
As with a lot of symptoms of anxiety, the triggers lie within our caveman brain. This is the survival-driven part of our brain that our newer, rational cortex grew on top of. Its primary concern is keeping us alive, so when our brain perceives a threat, it releases these stress chemicals and activates a response called the fight, flight or freeze response. The stress hormone cortisol or the chemical adrenaline are released and this puts our body on high alert, and as a result, our body prepares to either fight, flight or freeze.
How Can Anxiety Cause Emotional Numbness?
There are a few ways in which anxiety might cause emotional numbness, the first being that the stress response that keeps us alive is in a part of the brain called the limbic system. The limbic system is also the emotional centre of our brain, so when we’re constantly overstimulating this part of our brain with hormone floods and spikes in activity, we’re going to affect the emotional section too, often leaving it too overstimulated and making us feel emotionally numb or apathetic.
Another reason is that when we’re in this survival mode our body is operating at a very high level in order to stay alert and aware of dangers. In short bursts, this is fine, but when we’re dealing with anxiety these episodes can last around 10 minutes and happen quite frequently. Our heart rate is up, we’re hyperventilating, our muscles are tense and working really hard to stay taut and alert. Physically, it’s like we’re working out, except it happens over and over again and each time our blood sugar and energy levels drop. So, we feel drained emotionally and physically, leaving us fatigued and numb and disinterested in whatever happens next.
How Can I Stop This Symptom?
As this symptom stems from our fight, flight or freeze response, the main thing that we can do to combat it is to focus on our breathing and allow yourself to focus on the present moment. This should calm our central nervous system, distract our mind from the perceived threat, and deactivate our fight, flight or freeze response allowing our emotional centre to level out, and reduce the risk of overstimulation.
Of course, in order to prevent the symptoms of anxiety occurring in the first place, you need to manage or build strategies to tackle your anxiety. There are several options available including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), mindfulness, medication and group therapy. If you’re unsure, please contact your GP for more information.