Emotionally Numb after COVID-19 Marathon? You’re Not Alone.

“Going numb” is one way people adapt to a prolonged time of heightened emotional response. According to Tisha Bayless, LCPC, and a manager with Memorial Behavioral Health, feeling numb doesn’t mean you don’t care, and it doesn’t mean you don’t recognize the seriousness of the pandemic.

“We are human, and numbness can be our mind’s way of protecting us from emotional overload during times of crisis,” Bayless said. “Emotional numbness is a form of self-protection. When losses become too big for us to grasp, our mind must find ways of protecting us.”

One example of emotional numbness? When you avoid thinking about the people behind the numbers infected with and dying from COVID-19. But becoming numb or desensitized doesn’t mean we no longer care. In fact, because we do care, our minds unconsciously compensate and find ways to cope with the pain, grief and losses within our lives and the world.

Unfortunately numbness over time can desensitize us from both negative and positive emotions. We may eventually feel emotionally flat like we are “sleepwalking” through life. Emotional deadening can be a result of the longevity and severity of this pandemic. It’s easy to confuse this feeling with depression, job dissatisfaction or life dissatisfaction.

“It’s important to see the true function of numbing so that we don’t misinterpret or react based on misunderstanding,” Bayless said. “It’s important to see this as a natural coping mechanism that emerges after long periods of trauma and stress. Equally important is knowing how to connect with others and our emotions so that we can continue to enjoy life and experience happiness.”

Consider the five strategies below to help reconnect with your emotions in a healthy and positive way.

  1. Recognize your brain and body are simply adapting to prolonged emotional overload. Be kind to yourself and others.
  2. Use journaling to connect with your feelings associated with losses you’ve experienced. Consider losses beyond illness and death. Maybe you grieve social connections, strained finances, a sense of safety or loneliness.
  3. Prioritize human connections. Plan things safely with family or friends and bring some vibrancy and purpose back to your days.
  4. Focus on safety. Emotional numbing can easily lead us to take situations less seriously than we should. Now is not the time to let down on safety precautions.
  5. Plan activities that produce feelings of joy or pleasure. Allow yourself to be fully present and to feel and seek out positives in different and even difficult situations.

Need additional help?

Memorial Behavioral Health (MBH) has credentialed grief clinicians who provide telehealth and phone counseling appointments. Call 217-525-1064 to schedule an appointment. MBH also offers an emotional support hotline, available at 217-588-5509, to provide support to individuals experiencing anxiety or stress, even if they are not MBH patients.

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