How do you know if you are using an activity in order to numb and avoid feeling versus to just relax?
Numbing serves as a protective factor to avoid feeling all the feelings we don’t want to feel. Sometimes, people use food as a means to numb emotions. So you had a stressful day at work, how about a nice big bowl of ice cream? You may find it a lot easier to stop by the drive thru when you are feeling upset. Or perhaps you are bored, and all you can think about is eating chocolate.
Additionally, we are quick to consume media these days. The term “binge” is now applied to watching multiple shows in a row on Netflix or other on-demand platforms. But have you ever stopped to notice if you are doing something such as binge watching in order to numb your feelings or escape reality?
Numbing can take many other forms such as drugs, alcohol, gambling, working too much, over exercising, pornography, or fantasy football to name a few. The thing you are doing to numb can be neutral (not necessarily bad in and of itself), but it comes down to why and how you are using it.
Brene Brown, research professor and author, points out the fact that we cannot selectively numb emotions. She writes in Daring Greatly, “Numb the dark and you numb the light.” If you begin to recognize how you are numbing through eating, watching TV, or another way, you can begin to learn why you are numbing. Thus, you can open yourself up to experiencing the whole spectrum of emotions instead of escaping both positive and negative emotions.
Once you have gained some awareness around what you do when you are numbing, you can begin to use mindfulness to combat numbing. By being intentional and present with the activities you choose, you can allow yourself to feel your feelings instead of defaulting into numbing. Be present to the joy that the things you do brings you. If you are having a rough day, sit with your negative emotions and ride them through. Chances are they won't last as long as you think and you will thank yourself later when you are able to lean more fully into your positive emotions.