To Numb or To Experience: Sometimes that is our Question.
PCC Coordinator: Shauna Summers, LCPC
I am a woman who appreciates clarity, therefore, I like to start with definitions of the terms I am using; to make sure everyone is on the same page. Emotional numbing is what we do when we don’t want to feel something uncomfortable; we avoid the uncomfortable. We as a culture have understood alcohol and street drugs to be ways to escape uncomfortable feelings. Now, with the opiod epidemic we are aware that overusing prescription medications (too often these are prescribed pain medications that are highly addictive) are being used the same way. However, these aren’t the only ways to “self-medicate” with comfort. It is common to be addicted to a pattern of behaviors. Examples include: shopping, working, gambling, spacing out on Pinterest/ Instagram/Twitter/Facebook/Blog reading/... (insert your social media of choice here) and so an and so forth. If you have a process addiction like one of these (or something else), it is important to understand the cycle.
Numbing out (Brene Brown) or dissociation as psychotherapy calls it is part of the fight or flight response in the brain. It’s really the fight, flight, or freeze response. We choose ‘freeze’ when fighting or fleeing isn’t an acceptable option. Our bodies stay while our minds stop paying attention. If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. “This is relatively common as 87% of the world-wide workplace is actively disengaged at work and over 50% in the US” according to a 2017 article in Leaderonomics.
Numbing out, dissociation, or active disengagement (Leaderonomics) threatens our work productivity in that everything takes at least twice as long as it world if we were focused and engaged. How many of us say we’re super-busy and wish we had more time? I say it. This pervasive avoidance, often feuled by anxiety, takes it’s toll on our physical, mental, and spiritual health. A big reason is because we are so focused on what we don’t have enough of, we don’t have the time or energy to add-in self-care things into our lives. If you have, Congratulations! Please share your wisdom with someone you know who needs it!
So now what? Well, there are some options to help us stay “present” and attentive. The bottom line is that new mental habits need to be learned - but, there are some tips and tricks to help you get there.
When your anxiety is triggered and you notice the ‘craving for relief’ try one of these ideas to help refocus you:
1. some hard tapping or pinching can help snap you out of it. If you're at work, head to the bathroom or to a private meeting room and do some firm tapping between your nose and your upper lip and underneath your bottom lip on your chin. You might also try taking your middle or pointer finger and firmly rubbing the space between your eyes to release stress;
2. Stop ruminating. Refuse to feed your fears by acknowledging them briefly right when they pop up, then quickly moving on.
3. If you can’t ‘quickly move on’ then try to work through your anxiety about X (ie: an email) using logic. Ask yourself some clear questions to help the mind stay engaged and on track to a solution. Does this really mean what I think it means? What steps can I take to solve or fix this? Is it really that bad? Sometimes just working through it step by step instead of glossing over X will help you feel better.
To numb or to experience? Experience is going to be the answer one way or the other. Might as well decide to enjoy it! Experience, dial in to your day to day stuff. Mindfulness, meditation, yoga, an accountability partner ... Get curious about what will work for you!