Exhausted. Emotionally drained. Wrung out. Numb.
After periods of intense emotion, we sometimes encounter a type of barren place in our emotional landscape. In these ghost-town spaces within, one could almost expect some dry tumbleweed to roll by. It is quiet, flat and sparse. Generally, when we reach this particular emotional space, it is out of necessity.
Our minds and bodies go into emotional jet lag mode; all systems down; only the essential operations are at work.
Emotional jet lag can be a healthy defense mechanism, as long as it doesn’t become the go-to escape route from feelings. The technical term for this is dissociation, and we all do it. Have you ever been driving down the road and realize you don’t remember the past several miles?
You didn’t crash the car, you were aware and functioning, but your mind was far away. Perhaps you’re not even sure where your mind was, it was just in a zone of its own. This is a normal and very common form of dissociation that isn’t brought about by emotional overload.
Emotional jet lag, or dissociation, can also be brought about by intense experiences or the memory of intense experiences. On a lower end of the spectrum, even challenging emotions in our daily lives can bring about some degree of emotional jetlag.
Make sure that the jetlag isn’t actually clinical depression, however, as some of the symptoms can overlap. Sometimes depression can show up as feeling numb and detached, tired and drained.
If these feelings continue on for several weeks, it may be worth exploring with a healthcare professional or therapist.
A short duration of emotional jet lag that is due to recent stress in your life is completely normal and harmless. Some helpful hints for managing it are:
Observe and accept your current state of mind.
If you’re feeling disconnected or numb, and it hasn’t been going on for long, consider your recent life experiences. Have you been feeling highly stressed lately, sad or angry? Our minds and bodies aren’t meant to hold onto that level of intensity for long periods of time.
When it becomes too much, our systems go into self-protection mode and this can include emotional numbing. Simply observe yourself in a non-judgmental way. The moment you start to judge that you “shouldn’t” be feeling this way, step back from those thoughts and reaffirm that your feelings are acceptable.
Track your feelings in a journal to help you keep an eye on duration.
It is difficult to reflect back on an emotional state and accurately know when it started and the intensity levels over time. Emotions are rarely that concrete. Write down your feelings and thoughts so that you have a timetable to reflect back on.
If journaling isn’t your thing, try a simple chart format or even an emoji code in the calendar on your phone, to help you track your emotional state over the course of a month. If you find that your emotional state is a bit stuck in jet lag mode over the course of a month, talk to someone you trust about your feelings of disconnection and consider talking to a health provider.
Listen to soothing sounds.
A numb or disconnected self needs care, too. Listen to relaxing music or sounds of nature to help soothe your soul and to begin the transition from numb to relaxed and rejuvenated.
Be mindful of your body.
Often, we carry a ton of stress within our bodies and don’t even realize it until we have an ache or pain from it. Check in with your body regularly, even when you feel numb or checked out. Sometimes the body is carrying the heavier load when our emotions detach. Try some Progressive Muscle Relaxation, yoga and massage.
Pay attention to the common areas where stress is stored in the body; the shoulders, neck and face. Those tiny muscles in your face can even carry a lot of stress and cause discomfort; are you clenching your jaw? Does your face go into perpetual worry mode? Perhaps you are scowling without even realizing it. Focused relaxation on these stress-prone spots can make a huge difference in releasing tension and reconnecting to wellness.
When we’re living in stress mode and then go into emotional jet lag, some residual distress can follow, even if we think we are fairly numb. Work out some of the lingering feelings with creative outlets. Paint, draw, write, sing, play.
Some of the underlying feelings may be worked out with the help of a creative activity. Even if you’re not consciously processing your feelings, you mind is quietly at work as you create. Making sense of things. Sorting the details. Some of our most profound emotional work can happen when we are in a creative mode, we just need to make room for it.
Get some rest.
Stress can deplete our minds and bodies of the essentials. Allow yourself to indulge the need for rest and relaxation. Be mindful of the amount of sleep you’re getting. Sometimes over-sleeping can be a sign of depression, just as insomnia can be a sign.
Listen to what your body needs and balance it out with an understanding of the red flags of excess that could be a warning sign of larger issues beneath the surface. Focus on eating healthy foods, drinking plenty of water, sleeping adequately and balancing physical activity with down time.
Emotional jet lag can be a natural response to high stress, sadness or anger.
Keep in mind that the duration is an important aspect to consider to rule out the possibility of depression. If suicidal thoughts start to emerge, this is a definite red flag that you should talk to someone right away and keep yourself safe.
The most important part of dealing with emotional jet lag is to remember that “this too shall pass.” Emotions are not a permanent state of being. Whether you are feeling happy, sad, angry or numb, it is temporary.