It’s hard when we can’t enjoy the things we used to. Social interactions may leave us feeling empty, unfulfilled, or isolated. Being around our friends and loved ones, just doesn’t feel the same. The things and hobbies we used to love now feel like a hassle. Though we may want to feel something—or anything at all—we just can’t. And so we may feel disconnected from things we love like relationships and maybe even ourselves because we feel numb.
Feeling numb and mental health
This feeling, or anhedonia—the loss or reduced ability to feel pleasure—is a common experience for many people who live with depression and other mental health conditions. When we feel numb, life may feel limited. We may feel stuck like we can’t move. Or we may feel a heaviness like a dark cloud constantly raining over us. The numbness often impacts our senses. Colors appear more dull, food tastes bland, or we may feel very little from the touch of someone else. And we miss the feelings that we used to have because it feels like no matter how much we try nothing brings them back.
For individuals with severe depression, research has linked these experiences to changes in our brain. And while this may be our current experience, it’s possible to try to overcome this feeling of numbness. People find that treatment including medications and therapy can help reduce the feelings of numbness.
Lack of motivation
Because doing the things you used to love don’t make you feel good anymore, you may lose the motivation to do them at all. For example, if reading books once made you happy and now it doesn’t you may give up on your love of reading. If you can’t find the benefits of doing hobbies, activities, chores, etc. then it may feel like unnecessary work. You may even start to wonder: What’s the point? And let go of things because they no longer feel important to you.
One way to motivate yourself when you feel numb is to do those things anyway. This is called behavioral activation—or a therapy intervention that helps increase motivation. Your hobbies, activities, etc. were things that you once enjoyed and it’s possible for you to enjoy them again. Try not to be discouraged if this doesn’t work the first time. It may take time for you to remember why you enjoyed the things you liked or for those feelings to return. It might be helpful to track how long you felt numbness and motivation so you can remember that it does end and your feelings do come back.
If your thoughts are making you feel especially unmotivated, you can also try to reframe your thoughts. This interactive tool can be helpful in dealing with and reframing negative thoughts such as “I don’t enjoy anything anymore.”
Isolating from others
One of the most difficult parts of feeling numb is how it affects our relationships with others. We may feel as though we don’t have the energy to maintain friendships and build new connections. Or we may lack the motivation to go to social events and hangout with friends and loved ones. Maybe we have to fake our interactions with others because we just don’t feel anything anymore. These experiences isolate us from friends, family, loved ones, and others. This may also make us feel exhausted and disconnected from ourselves because we are pretending to have feelings that we aren’t experiencing.
Telling the people you love about what you’re experiencing can help. It’s good to be honest about how colors, flavors, and activities don’t feel the same and that is why you haven’t been around. This helps them understand why you’ve withdrawn and might give you the motivation to reengage. Joining a support group and talking about these experiences with others who understand will also help you feel less alone. Feeling numb makes it difficult to enjoy life to its fullest. But with time and support this is a feeling that is possible to overcome.
Feeling numb is a common experience among people experiencing mental health conditions like depression, PTSD, or psychosis. If feeling numb is starting to have an impact on your quality of life, consider taking a mental health test. This can help you find out if you may be struggling with one of these conditions.
- Bottaro, A. (2022, April 27). What is Anhedonia? Verywell Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/anhedonia-definition-5189496
- Brody, B. (2020, October 20). What is Anhedonia? WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/depression/what-is-anhedonia
- Gorwood, P. (2008, September 10). Neurobiological mechanisms of anhedonia. Dialogues Clin Neurosci (3), 291–299. doi: 10.31887/DCNS.2008.10.3/pgorwood https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181880/
- Newman, T. (2018, January 31). Understanding anhedonia: What happens in the brain? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/32073