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When numbing replaces healing and how to fix it



“... jogging was no longer enough. She had to run, and fast. Only fast running would do.”


(Stephen King, ‘The Gingerbread Girl’)





As I go deeper into my study of mental well-being and stress management one theme seems to come up over and over again - numbing vs healing.


I'm not a therapist or a counsellor and my intention is not to give advice on psychological problems, I live it to specialists.


What caught my attention are coping mechanisms we develop do deal with ongoing stress and daily struggle, while feeling overwhelmed or scared of taking some actions.


My observation is that almost everyone does this. Numbing is part of our lives and I guess it’s ok, like with so many other things, if it’s small scale, just from time to time to relax and give our brains some rest. It's like watching a favorite tv series, even one episode after another the whole night, even the whole week - it's ok as long as it has an end and you won't immediately replace it with another one. Or one beer or glass of wine from time to time, even getting drunk on your night out are ok, but if you can't imagine surviving a day without it, well, it's not a good sign.


Sometimes stress or pain take control and our automatic response is to curl into a ball to protect our vulnerability. Sometimes a challenge or number of tasks we need to take care of seem overwhelming and paralyzing. Or we are just so tired…


I did that, not once, not twice...


Choosing numbing activities that feel safe but at the end don’t give us satisfaction. Deep inside knowing that they’re just substitutes, fillers but still hanging there, in the “in-between” state, not feeling strong enough, good enough or ready enough to make the next step.


The trap here is that at the beginning the things seem to help.


You tell yourself that after a long, stressful day at work you just want to watch a silly movie.

You go for a run or to the gym to get rid of negative energy.

You play a video game.

You can't wait to go back to the novel you just started.

You deep clean your house.

You go on a trip...


It's all just to relax. And as I said at the beginning, all of it is ok and normal. But if done for a wrong reason, exactly - to numb feelings, stop thinking about challenges, procrastinate, it does not do any good. You may find yourself repeating it over and over again, more and more intense, for hours, the way it doesn't leave space for anything else. You escape reality and push away action.



There is a solution though.


It’s crucial to be aware of why we choose to do things and how we feel after. If it’s truly for pleasure and relaxation that’s great, it heals our tired and spinning heads and helps us get better perspective and become stronger. But if deep down you feel you escape reality, I would encourage you to stop for a moment and ask yourself about the real reasons. It’s often painful and hard but it looks like the healing can only start there.


Self-awareness is the key here.


Sometimes it's difficult to immediately name what we're trying to escape, but in many cases, if we stop for a moment and allow ourselves to be honest, we can see what it is.


How can we practice self-awareness?


  • First of all - eliminate distractions, stop numbing. Dedicate some time for yourself.

  • Start an internal dialog - you can practice mindfulness, write a journal and describe or draw your feelings. Grab and name them.

  • Ask yourself what do you escape, what are you trying to postpone and why. It may be a quick realization or a longer process, take your time, it's ok.

  • If what you know now scares you, take a deep breath. You don't need to act immediately, with the knowledge you have you are already making progress, now just look around. You are capable of dealing with the challenge, you just need some support. What could it be? Can you deal with it yourself? Maybe you can talk to someone?

  • You can try to deal with it yourself - it all depends on what the challenge is:

  • Sometimes chopping a big goal into small pieces can help move forward. It doesn't feel so overwhelming anymore and the steps seem more achievable.

  • As Yoda said in Star Wars: "Named must your fear be before banish it you can." We all know Yoda was a wise...man. Name your fear and start asking questions - why am I so afraid? What is it exactly I'm so afraid of? If I take action, what is the worst thing that may happen? If it happens, what then? How would I feel if I'd succeeded?

  • Organize your thoughts, make a plan, create a vision board.

  • Find out what motivates you. Celebrate small successes.


There is much more you can do! Look around and find what works best for you.


You may consider coaching. There are different areas coaches specialize in (e.g. life, relationship, transition, wellbeing, business). Coach focuses fully on you and helps you achieve your goals by leading you through self-discovery journey to find true motivation, explore options and support you in taking action.

If the problem is deep you don't feel strong enough to overcome it and can't be addressed by a coach, maybe a counselling would be a good idea. It's nothing bad, your goal is to be happier, remember?


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