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5 Ways to Get Your Feelings Flowing

Try these everyday activities to ease your emotional numbness.

Key points

  • Emotional numbness protects people from emotional overwhelm.
  • Someone who is emotionally numb may turn to harmful activities like drinking, drugs, self-harm, or risky activities just to feel something again.
  • Emotional books and movies may help someone who doesn't feel safe to experience strong emotions about their own life yet.

Emotional numbing is an internal protective mechanism. You cope with feeling too much by feeling nothing at all.

This is wonderfully adaptive in the short-term—it gets you through intensely stressful situations, without the interference of pesky feelings. Unfortunately, you can’t hit a “Resume Emotion” button when the stressful event is over. You find yourself living in an emotionally muffled reality, suffering from a psychological, spiritual, and even physical sense of deadening.

Talk therapy is generally prescribed to heal emotional numbness. It can be extremely helpful to discuss your feelings and find the root cause of your emptiness. This process is very beneficial but rather slow, and you might be looking for short-term relief. This can lead people to turn to harmful activities like drinking, drugs, self-harm, or risky activities—just to feel anything again.

The desire to feel again is perfectly natural. You’re human, and you’d like to feel like one. So while you patiently attend therapy, laboring away at your emotional wellness, here are a few safe alternatives to get your emotions temporarily flowing.

Get a (Small) Jolt of Adrenaline

Turn to the activities that got your heart racing as a kid. Ride your bike up a big hill and coast down (safely) feeling the wind whipping in your hair, making your eyes water. Go to an amusement park and ride a roller coaster. Go down the big slide at the pool.

Even in the depths of emotional numbness, few of us are completely immune to a few moments of genuine, terrifying fun. Motion and movement allow us to feel the reality of our bodies—not just the emptiness of our feelings. Numbness makes us feel dead—but activities with a safe element of perceived risk help us feel momentarily alive. So while you responsibly chip away at your therapy work and take your prescribed medication, don’t forget to go race some go-carts as well.

Enjoy a Fictional Emotional Catharsis

It might not feel safe to experience strong emotions about your own life yet. Utilize emotional books or movies to get the feelings flowing. This allows you to experience emotion without needing to confront the reality of your own life (until you’re ready). Watch a movie so funny that you laugh until you wheeze. Or, read a book heart-wrenching enough to induce a snotty, cathartic cry.

Play With Temperature

Feelings aren’t amorphous invisible forces—they’re physical. One route to reconnecting to your emotions is reconnecting to your body. Heat and cold can help you feel grounded in your physical reality. Take a hot bath or sweat it out in the sauna. Put an ice pack on your face or take a cold shower to zap yourself awake. Remind yourself that even when you feel emotionally empty, your body is brimming with complex biological processes and sensations.

Spend Time With Animals

We all need companionship. But let’s face it: People are difficult. When you’re emotionally void, building human relationships is like biking up a very tall hill with half-deflated tires. Definitely possible, but slow and arduous! Spending time with a domestic pet can allow you to experience love, joy, and even silliness outside the context of human relationships. If you don’t have a pet of your own, consider volunteering with a local foster or shelter program.

Turn Up the Music

Create a playlist that promotes the feeling you would most like to experience. If you long to feel happy and carefree, make a dance mix of your favorite upbeat jams. If you’re desperate to let out some sadness, queue up the weepy tunes. Too exhausted to build a custom playlist? You can find pre-curated emotion-themed playlists on most major music streaming services. Put on your headphones, press play, and feel.

Hang in There

It will be tempting during this process to seek out positive emotions while avoiding uncomfortable feelings. It makes sense. Who wants to feel yucky things? But this pattern of avoidance can also sustain emotional numbness. You cannot selectively numb our emotions, only feeling what’s easy and smothering what’s painful. You can have the entire range or nothing at all. So be mindful of your tendency to turn away from sadness, anger, and despair. During this process, feeling and tolerating any emotion is a success.

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