Times of uncertainty bring a rise in anxiety and other mood related issues. During times of high stress we tend to search out the easiest form of comfort to calm our nerves. The self-care trend has peppered our newsfeeds and inboxes and is an extremely positive movement. Self-care means that you are stepping back and really taking care of yourself. Or are you? Sometimes, what you think is self-care is actually self-numbing and the difference between the two is huge.
I speak from personal experience. An accident in 2014 turned my life upside down. What I knew to be my safe, comfortable reality had suddenly flipped on its head and down the rabbit hole I went. I had so many new things thrust at me at once as I learned how to heal and accept the new version of myself brought about by a traumatic brain injury along with physical injuries. My body and mind had to process my new reality immediately. This meant my anxiety vaulted through the roof. My doctors, neurologists, psychologists, and physical therapists focused on getting my body to a new normal. They never focused on my emotional well being and I was left alone to navigate uncharted territory.
I was given permission to drink alcohol because I no longer took medication that prevented its consumption. Permission granted because I, as legal adult, had the opportunity to imbibe when I felt the desire. Permission granted because I had not shown any signs of alcoholism in my life.
At first, I had a glass of wine with dinner, then I had two glasses. Eventually, my wine glass would be full after dinner and throughout the evening. Then it was full before dinner, and earlier in the afternoon. Every day. I found myself buying wine by the gallons every week and my alcoholism reared its ugly head. What I did to myself was something called self-numbing. I did not learn how to deal with the emotional trauma that came as a result of my accident. Drinking wine made me feel better, helped with my anxiety, made me relax, or so I thought. What it actually did was make me numb. It was a quick escape from my new reality. I turned to wine almost all day long and it was a big problem.
It took an ultimatum from my husband to make me see how terrible the situation had actually gotten. It was then that I realized I needed help and needed it fast. A few days later I arrived at an amazing inpatient treatment center where the next 30 days would change my perspective and my life. I learned what it was to self-numb and more importantly, how to turn self-numbing behaviors into self-soothing behaviors.
Numbing your emotions will definitely distract you from the root of the real problem you are having. However, it will only make things worse. Emotional numbing happens when you disassociate from stressful or traumatic experiences. Disconnecting from your body or your mind can feel like creating a safe space or buffer zone around your problems. Unfortunately, this does not solve the underlying reasons behind the stress and anxiety that so often push people into self-numbing behaviors.
What Does Self-numbing Look Like
The main symptom of self-numbing is diminished emotional response. This can be triggered by many different things such as:
The symptoms to be aware of include:
People self-numb in a variety of ways. These can be anything from drinking alcohol or taking drugs to excessive shopping, over-eating, micromanaging, hyperfocusing, or throwing yourself into your work. Self-numbing is a comfortable place to go to, albeit extremely dangerous. Everyone has experienced a level of self-numbing behavior at one point in their lives but some people get too comfortable in this state and it turns into a coping tool to remain numb. After all, it is easier to self-numb than deal with emotionally difficult problems that cause anxiety and stress. While this works temporarily, not addressing the underlying cause of your avoidance behavior complicates things and can cause long-term emotional health issues.
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