Alcohol. Drugs. Sex. These are all the things that we immediately think of when we say someone is numbing themselves from emotionally dealing with whatever we are going through. But, what about overeating, isolation, social media or overworking. These are also ways in which we numb ourselves.
Why do we numb? Whenever someone is numbing themselves, it is often because they don’t want to face something that they are going through. At the root it is usually because of disconnection or loss. Disconnected from friends or family members. Loss of a loved one due to death or break up. However, someone can be numbing themselves because they don’t know how to connect and is feeling a void because of it. This can happen at the birth of a new baby and not knowing or feeling inadequate to being able to connect in a meaningful and loving way.
I have been there. I have numbed myself through overworking. There are times when I do it now. Usually it is because I don’t have a sense of control somewhere in my life, and by overworking, I don’t have to face that issue. There is something that I am worried about being disconnected from. At work is where I actually feel that I am in control and things are going as they should.
In a way, my overworking has helped me. The reality is that numbing is not always bad. At some point in our lives, the very act of numbing has helped us in some way to get us through something. Usually, it helps us to go on so as not to stop living or being in relationship with other people – even if only on the surface level. There are plenty of people who lead great careers, have great families, and secretly numb so that they don’t have to face something in their lives. And that is ok. The problem with numbing in the long term is that it not only physically isolates us, it also physiologically harms us as well. In neuroscience, we learn that consistent stress over time on our bodies, shuts down vital organs that we need to survive. Our bodies dump more sugar into our blood stream because our body thinks that we need to be ready to fight or flee. Can you see how this psychological response is necessary? It is a response to survival. However, on the other hand, the consistency of stress is detrimental to our health and wellbeing.
We can combat the emotional numbing to prevent the stressors from weighing on us over time. In the book, Belong, by Radha Agrawal, she says that everyday we should D.O.S.E. This acronym stands for Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins. These chemicals in the brain are responsible for our happiness and energy levels. Here is what you can do to activate them:
- Dopamine is activated by pleasure and reward. You can exercise, listen to music or just get active. This area of the brain motivates you to take action on goals and reinforces pleasure when you achieve the goal. The dark side of dopamine is the addictive tendencies to our phones. So, Put the Phone Down!
- Oxytocin is activated by physical touch. You can hug someone instead of shaking their hand. Positive human touch is vital for health and happiness. This hormone is known as the “cuddle hormone.” Social recognition, forming trust, reducing fear, and being generous are all by-products of oxytocin release. The dark side is being territorial over our friendships and communities. It inspires cliques, groupthink, or ethnocentrism. When you feel this way, go get a hug!
- Serotonin is activated by mood, behavior, appetite, and sleep. You can increase it naturally by going out and getting some sun. You can also exercise and journal daily on the things that you are grateful for. The pure act of gratitude activates serotonin. This reduces depression and regulates anxiety. It also helps with sleeping, eating, and digesting. The dark side is extreme mood swings. If you notice that, go outside and take a walk.
- Endorphins is activated by working out and getting the heart rate up. Exercise. Run. Dance. Burn calories. Laugh. It diminishes pain and triggers positive feelings. The dark side is eating disorders and finding safety in that. If you are addicted to working out – ask yourself am I doing this to feel good, or am I doing this because I feel bad about myself.
The next time that you are dealing with something that is emotionally challenging, try out one of these things to get your daily D.O.S.E:
- DOPAMINE: Get Sh*t done! Show up!
- OXYTOCIN: Give five hugs today!
- SEROTONIN: Go outside for twenty minutes!
- ENDORPHINES: Get your heart rate up! Sweat! Dance! Laugh!
There are things that numbing has done for us, in order to survive, but we can do other things that actually make us feel happy, relaxed and accomplished that are so much more fun to do.
Get your daily D.O.S.E!!!