numbing behaviors

Are You Engaging in Numbing Behavior?

Published on November 22, 2019 by First Responder Wellness

We all experience emotions and events that are uncomfortable, painful, or traumatic. Those moments or circumstances often cause lingering thoughts and emotions that must be dealt with one way or another. At some point, we all engage in numbing behavior to put off having to process unpleasant feelings. That behavior may look different for everyone and change throughout life. While some amount of numbing behavior is reasonable, continuing to suppress negative emotions will only further exacerbate the issue. This is especially true if the numbing behavior you choose is harmful to your body or mind, to begin with. Paying attention to your coping tools can help you identify a problematic numbing behavior before it spirals out of control.


Many people develop an unhealthy relationship with food as a way to numb emotional distress. Binge eating, especially on foods high in fat and sugar, can stimulate the reward system in the brain. This creates a temporary feeling of wellbeing. People struggling with difficult circumstances or mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety may use food to cope. Those who engage in this behavior may often tell themselves that they “deserve a treat” after a hard day. They justify their actions and continue to eat far beyond what is considered healthy. Binge eating may create a temporary high. However, as with all highs, this sensation is typically followed by a crash. After a binge of sugary foods, for example, the body experiences a blood sugar crash that creates fatigue and trouble concentrating. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some individuals may severely limit their food intake. This is typically a way to establish control when life feels unmanageable. These people are at a heightened risk of a wide variety of physical health conditions. These conditions include the development of an eating disorder or other mental health issues.

Staying Busy

While productivity can be healthy and rewarding in the right circumstances, some people subconsciously take on more than they can handle. This allows them to ignore their mental health needs. Our culture rewards a hard-working mentality. Staying extremely busy can temporarily keep your mind off unprocessed trauma, family conflict, and emotional pain. Unfortunately, maintaining a busy schedule will not indefinitely ward off whatever it is you are trying to avoid. Eventually, this behavior will result in a crash as well. For individuals with a history of mental health issues, taking on far too many responsibilities can increase the likelihood of anxiety and panic attacks, and may even lead to depression. Additionally, staying busy while ignoring psychological issues often manifests physically, causing muscle pain, headaches, and insomnia. 

Spending Money

Research has shown that shopping activates the same neurological reward system as other addictive and numbing behaviors. Because of this chemical reaction, most of us are guilty of buying ourselves a gift to elevate our mood at some point. However, when this behavior becomes a habit, it can be severely damaging to your mental health and finances. Modern technology makes shopping more convenient than ever. People who engage in this numbing routine will often find themselves online, loading up the virtual shopping cart whenever they feel anxious or upset. People who develop shopping addictions may even go so far as to hide their spending from their family or spouse. They may also begin to rack up thousands of dollars in debt. In addition to worsening financial issues, it is also an unhealthy way to avoid dealing with psychological issues.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse may be the most universal numbing behavior seen in people with unresolved emotional trauma. This may be in part because it is the most effective, but it is also likely to cause the most damage. Many people turn to drugs and alcohol to numb their pain or avoid talking about their trauma. These substances are not only physically addictive, but they also have chemical reactions in the brain that lead to worsened anxiety and depression. Substance use disorders and co-occurring mental illnesses are common. They must be treated simultaneously to avoid the reemergence of either.  

If you or your loved one are participating in unhealthy numbing behavior and avoiding mental health care, it is important to seek help. The assessment of a mental health professional is essential to make healthy changes. For those struggling with addictions, a quality treatment program can provide you with a dual diagnosis and help you learn to enjoy life without the numbing of substances.

The First Responders Treatment Program at Simple Recovery uses trauma-informed strategies to cater to the unique needs of law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental illnesses. We recognize that first responders encounter job-specific barriers and obstacles that come with the culture of their careers. Existing stigmas may make seeking help for addiction and mental health issues especially tricky. Addiction does not have to mean the end of your career. Nor do you have to resign yourself to a lifetime of struggling with your health and relationships.

At Simple Recovery, we take a holistic approach to treatment and addressing the underlying causes of addiction. This approach makes it possible for first responders to regain control of every aspect of their wellbeing. First responders dedicate their lives to protecting their community. At Simple Recovery’s First Responder Treatment Program, we dedicate our time to helping these compassionate individuals find a path to lasting sobriety and mental wellness. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, call us now at 888-743-0490