Feel Numb, Emotional Numbness and Anxiety

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated May 18, 2021

feel numb emotionally anxiety

Emotional numbness, feeling numb, feeling emotionally empty, and devoid of emotions are common signs of anxiety disorder.

This article explains the relationship between feeling emotionally numb and anxiety.

Feeling numb, emotional numbness common anxiety symptoms descriptions:

  • Feeling numb, as if you have no emotions.
  • Your emotions are flat, muted, and empty.
  • Without emotion.
  • You feel emotionless.
  • You don’t care about anything, even the things you used to care about.
  • You don’t care about the things you know you should care about.
  • Your emotions are lifeless.
  • You feel disconnected from your emotions.
  • You feel disconnected from your emotional self.

Feeling numb emotionally can occur once in a while and not often, regularly, or all the time.

Feeling numb emotionally can occur with other symptoms or by itself.

Feeling emotionally numb can occur any time, including “out of the blue” and for no apparent reason.

Feeling numb can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves where it feels strong one moment and eases off the next.

Feeling numb can change from day to day and from moment to moment.

All of the above combinations and variations are common for emotional numbness caused by anxiety and stress.

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Causes of feeling numb anxiety symptoms

Medical Advisory

Here are four reasons why anxiety and stress can cause feeling emotionally numb:

1. Stress and feeling numb

Stress activates the stress response – the secretion of stress hormones – which gears the body up for action.[1][2] Stress hormones cause many body-wide changes, including:

  • Quickly converts the body’s energy reserves into “fuel” (blood sugar).
  • Alters brain function so that our attention is focused solely on working through the stress.

To name two.

Visit our “Stress Response” article for all of the ways stress hormones affect the body.

When stress is infrequent, the body has sufficient time to recover from these changes after the stress has passed. However, when stress is chronic, such as day after day for weeks, the body doesn’t have enough time to recover.

Incomplete recovery can keep the body chronically stressed, which we call “Stress-Response Hyperstimulation” since stress hormones are stimulants.[3][4]

Chronic stress (hyperstimulation) can cause changes of an active stress response even though one hasn’t been activated.

Chronic stress can affect the body in many ways, such as:

The Limbic System

The Limbic System supports many functions, such as adrenaline flow, behavior, long-term memory, and our emotional life.[5]

The Limbic System is stimulated by stress hormones.[5] As the degree of stress increases, so does Limbic System activity.

When the Limbic System becomes overly stimulated due to chronic stress, it can dull our emotions. Emotional numbness is a common indication of chronic stress.

Stress hormones affect other hormones

In addition to stress hormones affecting the Limbic System, stress hormones can also affect other hormones.[6] Hormones can affect mood.

As stress hormones remain elevated, they can influence other hormones, which can flatten emotions, making them feel numb.


Stress can drain the body’s energy. Chronic stress can tax the body so much that it becomes tired and drained of energy.

Fatigue can flatten emotions, making them feel numb.

As long as the body is exhausted, we can have feelings of emotional numbness.

Fatigue is a common cause of feeling emotionally and physically numb.

2. Behavior

Behavior (the ways we think and act) is a common cause of feeling emptiness and emotionally numb.

Dr. David Burns coined the phrase, “We feel how we think,,” which means our thinking drives our emotions.[7]  If we behave in anxious and depressed ways, that can affect our emotions, including creating feelings of emotional numbness.

For instance, feeling down and blue, or trapped and helpless can elicit feeling emotionally numb.

Furthermore, since anxiety also activates the stress response, overly anxious behavior can also create feeling emotionally empty and numb.

The coping mechanism we choose can either lift us emotionally or set us up for feeling numb.

Feeling numb emotionally is a common symptom of anxiety.

3. Medication

Medications can affect mood because of how they affect brain function.[8] Side effects of medications are a common cause of feeling emotionally numb.

4. Sleep deprivation

A lack of regular good sleep can cause sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation affects the reasoning (prefrontal cortex) and emotional (amygdala) parts of the brain.[9]

Research has shown the first signs of sleep deprivation are unstable and dull emotions.

Sleep deprivation is a common cause of feeling numb emotionally.

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How to treat emotional numbness

When feeling emotionally numb is caused by stress, reducing stress and increasing rest will restore the body’s energy. As energy is restored, feeling numb will subside, and normal emotions return.

When emotional numbness is caused by behavior, addressing the behavior, such as depression or anxiety, can restore healthy emotions.

Working with a mental health professional is the most effective way to address unhealthy behavior that causes feeling emotionally numb.

For instance, substance abuse and traumatic experiences often lead to anxiety, depression, and feeling emotionally numb.

When feeling numb emotions are caused by side effects of medication, talking with your doctor or pharmacist could bring other options. Sometimes a dosage change can help. And at other times, switching to a different medication can help.

When numb emotions are caused by sleep deprivation, restoring regular good sleep can bring a return of normal emotions.

The Recovery Support area has more information about how to get rid of anxiety symptoms, including emotional numbness. The Recovery Support area of our website has a great deal of in-depth self-help information.

We explain important recovery concepts in the Recovery Support area, such as:

  • containment,
  • passive acceptance,
  • the challenges of overcoming chronic stress and its symptoms,
  • how to extinguish fears,
  • how to overcome stubborn symptoms and fears,
  • how to overcome panic disorder,
  • how to overcome a fear of anxiety,
  • how to deal with anxiety sleep-related problems, and
  • a host of other important anxiety disorder recovery concepts, tips, and strategies.

You can sign up for a Recovery Support membership by clicking on the icon below.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our anxiety disorders signs and symptoms page.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including Feel Numb Emotionally, Emotional Numbness.


1. Folk, Jim. “The Stress Response.” Anxiety Attacks, Anxietycentre.com, 2021.

2. "Understanding the Stress Response - Harvard Health." Harvard Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2016.

3. Elbers, Jorina, et al. "Wired for Threat: Clinical Features of Nervous System Dysregulation in 80 Children." Pediatric Neurology, Dec 2018, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0887899418302716

4. Teixeira, Renata Roland, et al. “Chronic Stress Induces a Hyporeactivity of the Autonomic Nervous System in Response to Acute Mental Stressor and Impairs Cognitive Performance in Business Executives.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4373764/.

5. Bear,Connors, Paradiso (2016). Neuroscience: Exploring the brain - Fourth Edition. In The Mechanisms of Emotion (pp. 621 - 643). New York, NY: Wolters Kluwer

6. Ranabir, Salam, and Reetu, K. "Stress and hormones." Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Mar 2011, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3079864/

7. Burns, David. "The Feeling Good Handbook." Rev. ed. New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Plume, 1999.

8. Pringle, Abbie, and Harmer, Catherine. "The effects of drugs on human models of emotional processing: an account of antidepressant drug treatment." Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 17 Dec 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4734885/

9. Saghir, Zahid, et al. "The Amygdala, Sleep Debt, Sleep Deprivation, and the Emotion of Anger: A Possible Connection?" Cureus, 10 July 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6122651/