Emotional Numbness Symptoms, Causes & Statistics

Understand emotional numbness symptoms, including 8 causes & common questions.

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 8 Possible Emotional Numbness Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. FAQs
  6. Statistics
  7. Related Articles
  8. References

Emotional Numbness Symptoms

Emotional numbness is the experience of not having a normal range of emotions. People are typically distressed by feeling emotionally numb. Other psychological symptoms are often present. The numbness may occur periodically (perhaps alternating with episodes of sadness or irritability) or may be present most of the time. It often impairs the ability to interact with other people. Psychiatric causes can often be treated effectively, but it may take some time to get back to normal.

Common characteristics of emotional numbness

Symptoms that can be associated with emotional numbness include:

Emotional Numbness Causes

Causes of emotional numbness can be found below, described in order from most to least common. These may include psychiatric disorders, grief, neurologic disorders, and drug use [1].

Psychiatric disorders

Psychiatric disorders related to emotional numbness may include:

  • Depression: Although depression often involves intense feelings of sadness, it can also be associated with emotional numbness. Other symptoms will be present, such as guilt, disturbed sleep or appetite, and a lack of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable.
  • Other disorders: Many psychiatric disorders can involve some degree of emotional numbness. The numbness may occur as part of a dissociative episode, which involves feeling detached from the self or surroundings [2]. Emotional numbing, with or without full dissociation, can occur as part of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Grief

Emotional numbness can be part of the process of grieving for the death of a family member or friend. It can occur following the death or as part of grieving in advance of an expected death. People who are grieving about their own terminal illness may experience emotional numbness as well.

Neurological disorders

Various types of dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease, can lead to emotional numbness and a lack of emotional expression. This often upsets family members more than the people who are actually affected by the emotional numbness. Associated symptoms include difficulty with language and memory, lack of motivation, and lack of normal inhibition in social settings.

Drug use

Using drugs can alter brain processes, leading to emotional numbness [3,4].

  • Recreational drug use: Recreational drugs can produce emotional numbness. In some cases, people choose to take drugs in order to feel numb and escape unpleasant emotions.
  • Antidepressant medication use: People who are prescribed antidepressant medications may experience some degree of emotional numbness as a side effect.

8 Possible Emotional Numbness Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced emotional numbness. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Acute stress disorder

Acute stress disorder (ASD) is a psychological condition caused by trauma, especially by any violent attack such as robbery, assault, or combat. "Acute" means that clear symptoms appear within days of the traumatic event. Most susceptible are those with a previous history o...

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Depression

Depression is a mental disorder in which a person feels constantly sad, hopeless, discouraged, and loses interest in activities and life on more days than not. These symptoms interfere with daily life, work, and friendships.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, depressed mood, headache, anxiety, irritability

Symptoms that always occur with depression: depressed mood

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Seasonal affective disorder

Seasonal affective disorder is mood disorder marked by seasonal onset. While summertime sadness is possible, the vast majority of seasonal affective disorder begins in the winter and resolves by summer.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, loss of appetite, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, sleep disturbance

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Holiday blues

The holiday blues is a mild form of seasonal affective disorder.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, loss of appetite, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbance

Symptoms that never occur with holiday blues: severe sadness

Urgency: Wait and watch

Emotional Numbness Symptom Checker

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Substance-induced depression

A depressive episode is a mental disorder in which a person feels constantly sad, hopeless, discouraged, and loses interest in activities and life. These symptoms can be triggered by the use of, or withdrawal from alcohol, drugs or certain medications.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, loss of appetite, depressed mood, irritability, anxiety

Symptoms that always occur with substance-induced depression: depressed mood, substance-induced depressed mood

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Pregnancy- or childbirth related depression

Depression is a mental disorder in which a person feels constantly sad, hopeless, discouraged, guilty, and loses interest in activities and life on more days than not. These symptoms interfere with daily life, taking care of your baby, work, and friendships. Postpartum or peripartum depression occurs in mothers or future mothers and is linked to pregnancy and childbirth.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: fatigue, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, impaired social or occupational functioning

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Mild bipolar disorder i

Bipolar disorder is a common, lifelong mental health condition of variable severity that can run in families, characterized by episodes depression and mania that last for weeks or months. Symptoms often start in adolescence or young adulthood.

Mania is a state of ele...

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Premenstrual dysphoric disorder

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) describes a set of severe, debilitating symptoms that appear seven to ten days before a woman's menstrual period begins.

It may be caused by an abnormal reaction to the natural female hormone changes, creating a deficiency in the mood-regulating brain chemical serotonin.

Risk factors include a personal or family history of PMDD, postpartum depression, and/or general depression, as well as cigarette smoking.

Physical symptoms include headaches, abdominal pain and bloating, back pain, and breast tenderness. Psychological symptoms include severe depression, anxiety, and irritability.

Because symptoms tend to get worse over time, medical help should be sought so that quality of life can be improved.

If symptoms persist for a year or more, a diagnosis of PMDD may be made.

Treatment includes improving the diet, adding vitamin and mineral supplements, and getting regular exercise.

Birth control pills to regulate the menstrual cycle may be prescribed, along with anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen. Antidepressants in the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor class (SSRI) are helpful in some cases.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, stomach bloating, anxiety, depressed mood, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)

Symptoms that always occur with premenstrual dysphoric disorder: impaired social or occupational functioning, symptoms of depression, anxiety and emotional lability

Symptoms that never occur with premenstrual dysphoric disorder: constant sadness, disapearance of periods for over a year

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Emotional Numbness Treatments and Relief

Emotional numbness is not intrinsically dangerous, but it can feel very unpleasant and may be associated with more dangerous psychiatric symptoms. Seek emergency treatment if you are considering hurting yourself or attempting suicide. Hospitalization may be necessary to ensure your safety.

At-home treatments

There are some things you can do on your own to help with emotional numbness, such as:

  • Avoid recreational drug use: These can cause emotional numbness and possibly full dissociative episodes [3,4].
  • Find support: If your emotional numbness is associated with addiction, attending support groups can be helpful.
  • Address dissociation: For dissociative episodes, try using sensory experiences to connect with yourself and the surrounding world.
  • Use technology: Try using smartphone apps to learn exercises for meditation and stress relief, which can help with symptoms of mental illness including emotional numbness.

When to see a doctor

In some cases, even if emergency care isn't necessary, you may need evaluation and treatment. Make an appointment with your medical provider if:

  • You are distressed
  • You are having difficulty interacting with other people
  • You have previously been diagnosed with a psychiatric illness and now are experiencing worsening symptoms
  • Forgetfulness: You are having cognitive difficulties such as forgetting recent events.

Medical treatments

Your medical provider may prescribe one or more of the following treatments, depending on the cause of your emotional numbness:

  • Therapy: Starting a therapy program can be helpful for psychiatric causes of emotional numbness. Therapy will involve specific strategies such as behavioral and cognitive techniques. Your provider may recommend a particular type of therapy based on the psychiatric diagnosis.
  • Medication: Starting a psychiatric medication or adjusting one that you are already taking can also be helpful. This can be done in conjunction with therapy.
  • Medication changes: If you recently started an antidepressant medication and now are experiencing emotional numbness, your provider may decrease the dose or switch you to a new medication.
  • Treat addiction: If your emotional numbness is associated with drug addiction, you can start addiction treatment including medication and/or therapy.
  • Support for the terminally ill: Referral to a palliative care physician can be helpful for talking about a terminal illness.

FAQs About Emotional Numbness

Here are some frequently asked questions about emotional numbness.

Why do I feel numb all over my body?

Full body numbness can be caused by a variety of conditions. Transient full body numbness can be caused by dissociation following a traumatic incident or even by antidepressants in treatment for depression. If you are experiencing full body numbness, you should contact your general provider. If you have a plan to hurt yourself or others you should immediately contact a crisis hotline or suicide hotline.

Why do I feel so empty?

A feeling of emptiness can be a symptom of depression and can be particularly pronounced after starting an antidepressant as it is one of the last symptoms of depression to be affected. In most people it passes with time and continued use of an antidepressant and/or counselling. Report this symptom to the clinician helping you manage your illness.

Why do I not have any emotions?

Emotion blunting or emotional flattening is often described as feeling like you have no emotions. It is also described as feeling something in your head, but not in your heart. It can be associated with depression, exposure to trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or nothing significant. If you are experiencing emotional numbness, you should speak to a professional such as a counselor, therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist to help you.

Can stress cause emotional numbness?

Yes, stress particularly rapid-onset stress can cause emotional numbness. It is theorized that in times of significant stress, the body shuts down the emotional responses so an individual can continue to function. It is healthy and normal to process these emotions after the fact and may require identifying a safe space or speaking with a trusted friend about one's emotions.

Emotional Numbness Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced emotional numbness have also experienced:

  • 10% Fatigue
  • 7% Depressed Mood
  • 3% Difficulty Concentrating

People who have experienced emotional numbness were most often matched with:

  • 40% Depression
  • 30% Acute Stress Disorder
  • 30% Seasonal Affective Disorder

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).

Emotional Numbness Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your emotional numbness

References

  1. Mental Disorders. World Health Organization. Published April 9, 2018. WHO Link
  2. Dissociative Disorders. National Alliance on Mental Illness. NAMI Link
  3. Miller MA, Bershad AK, de Wit H. Drug Effects on Responses to Emotional Facial Expressions: Recent Findings. Behavioural Pharmacology. 2016;26(6):571-579. NCBI Link
  4. Murphy A, Taylor E, Elliott R. The Detrimental Effects of Emotional Process Dysregulation on Decision-Making in Substance Dependence. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience. 2012;6:101. NCBI Link
  5. Kilian S, Asmal L, Goosen A, Chiliza B, Phahladira L, Emsley R. Instruments Measuring Blunted Affect in Schizophrenia: A Systematic Review. PLoS One. 2015;10(6):e0127740. NCBI Link