How to Deal with Apathy and Feeling Numb

If you are feeling unmotivated, disinterested, or disconnected from things like your job, your hobbies, or your relationships, you may be feeling apathy. Apathy is characterized by feeling indifference or emotional numbness towards aspects of life.

If you have been struggling with apathy, there are ways to recognize what’s causing it, to deal with your numbness, and to reconnect with a full range of emotions.

Tips for Dealing with Situational Apathy

Sometimes, apathy is the result of a difficult circumstance or event, such as the loss of a loved one, changing schools or jobs, or suffering a financial loss. This is called “situational apathy.” This kind of apathy can also show up when we have a repetitive, unstimulating schedule, don’t feel challenged, or if we feel stuck, overworked or burned out. If you think you are experiencing situational apathy, here are some healthy ways to deal with it:

Identify What Triggers Apathy

Sometimes it can be hard to tell what the cause is when you feel emotionally numb. Here are some questions to help you identify what’s causing feelings of apathy:

  • What was happening in my life just before I started feeling apathetic? Is there a clear starting point?
  • What parts of my life make me feel most numb or apathetic? Do I feel apathetic in all aspects of my life, or is it a specific situation or environment that makes me feel this way (for example, a class, or a task at work, or another responsibility)?
  • What parts of my life, day, or routine are still engaging to me?
  • What about the current apathy-inducing situation is changeable?

Once you know what triggers your apathy, you can work on changing your reaction to those triggers. If you feel apathetic about everything in your life, and if this feeling has persisted for a while, it’s likely time to seek support from a professional or from trusted members of your social circle.

Make Lifestyle Changes

If the feelings of  apathy you experience are  caused by something clearly identifiable, like a repetitive routine or burnout, it can be helpful to change up your routine. Try new things that challenge or fulfill you in different ways, such as a new hobby, a new exercise routine, or making new friends. Pay attention to how each new activity makes you feel. It’s okay to experiment with different things.

Try Changes at Work or School

Sometimes it’s work or school that leaves us feeling apathetic. If possible, look for ways to liven up your situation. For example, at school, sign up for classes that you’d be motivated to attend, join clubs that interest you, or find ways to manage your negative feelings around classes you can’t avoid. If you feel apathetic about your career, give yourself time to adjust to a role, find ways to manage the stress of your job, or reassess your career path.

Set Achievable Goals

Not all of us can immediately leave or avoid situations that make us feel apathetic, or change our lifestyles completely. It’s okay to start small. Create a to-do list of things you’ve been avoiding, or things you want to try. Set small, achievable goals that can get you moving in the right direction.

Practice Self-care

Finding ways to take care of yourself, especially after activities you find especially uninteresting or emotionally taxing, can help you recharge and improve your energy levels. Self-care may also make tackling difficult tasks more bearable.

Practice Self-compassion

Apathy can be frustrating to live with, especially when it affects your motivation and keeps you feeling stuck, or it impacts the way you interact with your friends and loved ones. It can also be frustrating if you try some of these coping mechanisms and don’t see the results you were hoping for. It’s important to be gentle with yourself and avoid negative self-talk. Extend yourself the same understanding and compassion that you would give to a struggling friend.

If you’ve made changes to your routine or lifestyle and still feel emotionally numb, disconnected, or unmotivated, it may be time to consider reaching out to a mental health professional for help.

When to Seek Help for Apathy

While apathy is sometimes the result of a distressing event or emotionally taxing situation, there are other times when apathy seems to have no external cause. This is called “persistent apathy,” and it can be a sign of a deeper mental health issue—especially if apathetic feelings seem to come on suddenly, or come in cycles, with no apparent trigger. Seeking help from a mental health professional can help you find the root causes of apathy, and can help you screen for related mental health issues.

Whether you are dealing with acute situational or persistent apathy, if it’s affecting your performance at work or at school, or disrupting your relationships, it’s important to seek help. Sometimes others can see things about our lives, routines and patterns we cannot see. Inviting someone to help us see our “blind spots” can be really helpful. This can be a friend, loved one, or professional.

If you have noticed a friend or loved one is disengaged or disconnected from you or others in their life, start a conversation with them. With empathy and without judgement, tell them what you’ve noticed, express your concern, and offer your support.

Left unmanaged, feelings of numbness or detachment can turn into feelings of hopelessness, which can escalate into suicidal thoughts if left unaddressed. Look out for these warning signs:

  • Passive suicidal thoughts, such as “life is pointless” or “I wish I were dead.”
  • Active suicidal thoughts, such as “I want to end my life” or “I have a plan to kill myself.”
  • Suicidal behaviors, such as reckless driving, unsafe sex, self-injury, or increased drug use. Suicidal behaviors can also escalate to planning a suicide attempt. For example, saying goodbye to friends and family, writing a suicide note, or finding the means to attempt suicide like stockpiling pills.

If at any point you or someone you know who is struggling with apathy starts to have suicidal thoughts or engage in suicidal behaviors, seek help immediately. Reach out to a mental health professional, a trusted adult, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.

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