Read below about emotional numbness, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your emotional numbness from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having emotional numbness

Take Quiz

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.

Characteristics

Symptoms that can be associated with emotional numbness include:

Emotional Numbness Causes Overview

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.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Emotional Numbness

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced emotional numbness. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Acute Stress Disorder

    Acute stress disorder describes changes in one's mood or memory for less than a month following an emotional or traumatic event.

    Acute stress disorder generally lasts days to 1 month.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    trouble sleeping, anxiety, irritability, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating
    Symptoms that always occur with acute stress disorder:
    impaired social or occupational functioning
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.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.

    Depression's course is highly variable, and it may last weeks, months, or years.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, headache, anxiety, irritability
    Symptoms that always occur with depression:
    depressed mood
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.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.

    This disorder is seasonal and likely to resolve within a few months.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, loss of appetite, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, sleep disturbance
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Holiday Blues

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

    The holiday blues are seasonal and last no more than a few months.

    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 Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having emotional numbness.

    Take Quiz
  5. 5.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.

    Any mood changes due to substance or medication withdrawal should dissipate within a few weeks (no more than a month) of stopping the use of the substance.

    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
  6. 6.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.

    Depression's course is highly variable, and it may last weeks, months, or years. Therapy and/or medication can be highly beneficial.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, impaired social or occupational functioning
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Mild Bipolar Disorder i

    Bipolar disorder, which is sometimes called bipolar affective disorder, is a mental condition where a person's mood swings between two extremes. One extreme is called depression, where people feel low, sad, and blue. The other extreme is called mania, where people feel high, elated, overjoyed, and are full of energy.

    Bipolar disorder I is a chronic (lifelong) mental illness.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, irritability, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping
    Symptoms that always occur with mild bipolar disorder i:
    periods of feeling very energetic and needing little sleep
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

    Premenstrual dysmorphic disorder is a condition that occurs 5-11 days before menstruation that causes depression-like symptoms, where you have depression-like symptoms, irritability, and tension.

    Symptoms of premenstrual dysmorphic disorder can be managed with a healthy lifestyle. In severe cases, antidepressants may be useful.

    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 schedule an appointment

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 by your emotional numbness.
  • You are having difficulty interacting with other people due to a lack of emotional expression.
  • You have previously been diagnosed with a psychiatric illness and now are experiencing worsening symptoms.
  • 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 visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having emotional numbness

Take Quiz

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