Why am i emotionally numb

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  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

    Also visit the online treatment locator.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service), or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.

Also visit the online treatment locator, or send your zip code via text message: 435748 (HELP4U) to find help near you. Read more about the HELP4U text messaging service.

The service is open 24/7, 365 days a year.

English and Spanish are available if you select the option to speak with a national representative. Currently, the 435748 (HELP4U) text messaging service is only available in English.

In 2020, the Helpline received 833,598 calls. This is a 27 percent increase from 2019, when the Helpline received a total of 656,953 calls for the year.

The referral service is free of charge. If you have no insurance or are underinsured, we will refer you to your state office, which is responsible for state-funded treatment programs. In addition, we can often refer you to facilities that charge on a sliding fee scale or accept Medicare or Medicaid. If you have health insurance, you are encouraged to contact your insurer for a list of participating health care providers and facilities.

The service is confidential. We will not ask you for any personal information. We may ask for your zip code or other pertinent geographic information in order to track calls being routed to other offices or to accurately identify the local resources appropriate to your needs.

No, we do not provide counseling. Trained information specialists answer calls, transfer callers to state services or other appropriate intake centers in their states, and connect them with local assistance and support.

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Last Updated: 08/30/2022

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Freezing under stress: why it happens

In cinema, folk art, literature, etc. You can find a popular phrase about the body's response to stress - "fight or flight." But there is another reaction in which a person simply freezes. So the body subconsciously tries to protect us in a dangerous situation. Zaborona journalist Polina Vernigor literally freezes in certain stressful cases - she talks about her experience, the reaction itself and how to overcome it.

I have been harassed on the road many times. They seem to be following me. And every time this happened, I fell into a stupor: I could not only say about it or defend myself, but even move in general. It was as if I was aware that something bad was happening, but the brain simply turned off and took the position of “wait and endure”. On the one hand, this is a completely adequate reaction to stress, but on the other hand, the systemic manifestation of just such a fading may indicate serious problems.

What is the body's response to stress?

The stress response is how our body is used to behaving in stressful situations. Usually at this point you may not be fully aware of your actions. There are three such reactions: hit, run, freeze. As you can imagine, I have a third. In general, the stress response is an unconscious defense mechanism that allows you to assess the situation and triggers a number of physiological processes responsible for survival.

The autonomic nervous system is an important part of this process. It releases stress hormones - that is, those substances that stimulate our behavior in a stressful situation. The chemical effects of these hormones, such as rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, and trembling, are common physiological symptoms of anxiety and panic. However, while the fight-or-flight response is talked about quite often, the freezing response is less well known.

Torpor is triggered when it is not possible to fight or run from a situation or person. During fight and flight reactions, the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system is activated. However, if fight or flight fails to survive, the parasympathetic branch takes over. The parasympathetic branch is usually associated with a state of relaxation and balances the physical effects of stress hormones flooding our body.

  • Karl Bryullov, The Last Day of Pompeii (detail, 1830-33)

How to recognize this condition?

Our heartbeat and breathing slow down, we may notice that we are holding our breath. We may feel cold and also feel trapped in our own body.

Pain relieving hormones can also be released into our system to reduce the physical and emotional impact of the situation. In this case, you may not feel your body, touch it, pain, and the like. Memory impairment is possible - because of this, it will be difficult to remember the traumatic event or part of it.

Why do I feel this way?

Freezing is often associated with traumatic experiences. In such anxious situations, the physical effects of stress hormones are heightened, causing intense negative emotions and including shock, anxiety, panic, and horror. When the brain realizes that you are in a situation in which you cannot protect yourself or cope with excitement, it simply turns off - as in my case with harassment in vehicles. Thus, it seems to give us the opportunity to take a little break from the situation and calm down.

It can change our perception of reality, slow down the sense of time, we can feel a complete separation of mind and body. At this time, we seem to be watching the events that unfold in the film. This is called derealization - we wrote about it here.

Is this good or bad?

Neither. It's just normal - it's a natural reaction. In general, torpor has an adaptive function: it protects us physically, emotionally, and psychologically, and can also allow us to “feign our own death,” which will make it possible to escape from an attacker.

What can cause numbness?

Not only danger - it can be any situations associated with stress and anxiety in everyday life. Job interviews, exams, public speaking, relationship conflicts can all lead to freezing.

  • Karl Bryullov, “The Last Day of Pompeii” (fragment, 1830-33)

By the way, a very typical behavior for such a state is to constantly replay things in our head after a situation that we could have said or done differently.

While freezing serves adaptive purposes, it can be detrimental to our mental health. We may feel guilt, shame, and self-directed anger if we feel we have not protected ourselves. It is important to remember that freezing is an unconscious defense mechanism, and at that moment it gives us the best chance of survival.

How to get rid of it?

If we are talking about a specific freeze attack, then it should pass within 20-30 minutes. If this is too long for a particular situation, take a few deep breaths. You can use special breathing patterns, for example, inhale for seven seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, exhale for seven seconds and pause for seven seconds.

Next, try to pay attention to physical sensations. This will help "return" consciousness to the body. If there is no acute pain at the moment, try feeling your fingers and toes. If you feel, for example, an accelerated pulse, try to focus on it. Count the number of pushes.

When the state of freezing begins to gradually subside, and the stressful situation still remains, you will have energy for other reactions - fight or flight. It's important not to hold them back, as running, brisk walking, or even hitting with a pillow can help manage stress.

If you often feel numb in stressful situations, you should talk to a therapist about it. There is really nothing wrong with the reaction itself. But if, like me, you experience it regularly, it could be indicative of post-traumatic stress disorder or other issues related to unprocessed traumatic experiences.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help change the mental processes that cause this response. Sensorimotor psychotherapy focuses on addressing the sensory, emotional, and psychological elements of trauma. Dialectical behavior therapy is a common treatment for complex post-traumatic stress disorder. She aims to teach the client to overcome difficulties.

  • Alexandre Cabanel, Fallen Angel (detail, 1847)

How to help loved ones get out of their stupor and start acting?.


— Why can we fall into a stupor in response to severe stress or an external challenge?

- This is a natural reaction to a traumatic event. Even though mobilization is something that hasn't happened yet for most men, they may react to it as a trauma. They have not yet been called up, but they are already experiencing and perceiving mobilization as if it were happening to them.

Then men and women, who are worried that they may be left without a loved one, experience a phase of shock, when a person stops, may lose orientation in the environment and is unable to do anything or denies what is happening. At this time, the psyche is aimed at adapting to new conditions, to a new situation. Normally, this condition is short-lived.

The shock phase is followed by the impact phase, when the person begins to show emotions. This is a pronounced emotional reaction: fear, anxiety, anger, anger, crying, accusation. And after that, self-criticism, self-doubt, assumptions “what would happen if ...” may begin. This is a depressed state.

The third phase is the healing process. There is an adaptation to the situation, reaction of emotions. That is, a person begins to experience what is happening.

But everything can go according to a negative scenario, and then a person fixes on the trauma and closes in on what is happening. He may have anxiety, depression, psychosomatic disorders, personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder.

- Is it possible to say that men and women experience a period of shock differently?

— No such data, numbness is a human reaction [to stress]. In a state of severe stress, people's behavioral strategies can be different: someone begins to panic and tries to actively do something, someone begins to rationalize what is happening, someone enters a state of shock and denial, someone becomes depressed. condition. That is, everything here is very individual and depends on the personal characteristics and experience of a person. That is, many factors.

— Is it necessary to come out of the stupor on purpose, or is it better to allow yourself to live through it?

— If a person is in apathy for a long time or in a state where he cannot function and act, he should either try to get out of it on his own, or seek the help of a specialist.

A state must come in which a person will begin to express at least some emotions. Then adaptation will already occur or there will be a readiness for some actions that will help to cope with a stressful traumatic situation.

— How can a person who is aware that he is in a state of shock come out of it on his own?

— It is important to start expressing your emotions. You can talk to someone, you can write down emotions, you can express them in private, you can begin to translate it into some kind of mental activity and physical activity. You need to start doing something, at least little by little, in small steps to come to some action, not necessarily cardinal. But to do at least some everyday things.

— Can people around in any way influence a person's recovery from stupor?

— Yes, of course. You should not convince him of something, convince him, shake him and force him to do something, because he is in a very vulnerable state. First of all, you need to join him and try to talk with him about what is happening to him, perhaps, to speak out some of his feelings for him, to accept his condition, in which he is very ill and he does not know what to do next.

Only after that is it possible to talk to him about emotions [in relation to what happened]. You can either provoke a person so that he begins to say at least something, or start talking with him, and then gradually come to what can be done - not cardinal, not immediately leave, for example. If such a person is given arguments from the series “if you don’t do anything, then something will happen,” this can cause even more anxiety, even more fear.

— Where is the line between reasonable and unreasonable interference?

— In general, we cannot influence other people. No matter how a person behaves, it is his responsibility. We can offer help. We can explain something or, if his behavior seems irrational to us, give some arguments. We can try to delay his decision if he wants to do something in a panic. But we cannot decide for a person. You cannot take a capable person, put him somewhere and take him away. Therefore, sometimes you just need to accept that he behaves in one way or another.

— How to explain to a loved one that they need to save themselves from mobilization, if it is clear that they are afraid of it, see no reason to participate in the war, and do not share a pro-government position?

- The question is rather complicated. If we are talking specifically about a reaction to a traumatic situation, to severe stress and a person agrees that something needs to be done, but he is afraid, in a daze or goes into a depressed state, it is important to join him, support him, share his feelings, talk to him and discuss what can be done, how you can help yourself. It is very important here not to take a directive position and not to convince a person that he is wrong, that his feelings are wrong, that he should act, think and feel differently. And if his decision not to go anywhere is a balanced position, then it will have to be accepted.

But it is important to distinguish between decisions that a person makes in a balanced way and decisions made in a panic. Panic is a reaction to flee from some danger. Panic is characterized by the fact that it is illogical, irrational, and the only desire of a person in this state is to run away somewhere.

Applied to what is happening now, we can say that some people are running just to escape.

Learn more