ADHD and Numbing Out

ADHD and Numbing Out

I’ve been thinking about this article on ADHD and numbing out for over a month. 

In fact, I’ve used my verbal processing skills to talk through this already on the podcast.

[buzzsprout episode=’2609653′ player=’true’]

It comes down to this: I think I’ve been confusing numbing behaviors/buffering with relaxing. And think I’ve been doing it for at least 10 years. 

Before the days of the internet numbing out but it probably looked a little different.  My chosen activities in the 90’s were listening to music, reading, and daydreaming. So much so I was called a, “space cadet” on more than one occasion. 

In the age of the internet we scroll. Or tweet.

Everyone is numbing out

Aside from ADHD and some intermittent depression and anxiety, my life has been pretty ordinary. Nothing that would indicate I needed to check-out mentally in order to survive. But I still did it.

These days we still crave an escape from the mental chatter and the emotions it produces. It’s tough to be in your own head.

I’m a fan of Brooke Castillo and the Life Coach School podcast. No – I’m not studying to become a life coach, so don’t ask. 

Castillo talks frequently about how everyone, “buffers.”  (Buffering is another term for numbing out.) So it’s not just ADHDers numbing out.  

Everyone is numbing out, even life coaches  

According to Castillo, most buffering behavior is a result of us trying to avoid some emotion that is unpleasant.

I found other evidence of this human tendency here. And here. 

We don’t want to create shame around it, but we need to create awareness around it. 

numbing out defined

I’ve worked on self-awareness, and I’ve been trying to make a contribution to the world for a while now though this website and my work with ADHD women.

I’ve gone to therapy, taken meds, and hired coaches.

But I’m still numbing out on a regular basis. 

This became clear to me on a recent trip to Puerto Rico with my husband. 

He was in meetings all day and I was alone with my thoughts. Really alone, because the wifi didn’t work too well on the beach. It worked in the resort and by the pool, but not on the beach.

I tried to download a podcast. Then an audiobook. It didn’t work.

I was desperately trying to replace my inner voice, with someone else’s voice. ANYONE else’s voice. Mostly because when I am alone with my thoughts, my thoughts don’t feel very good. 

Remember, numbing out is any activity we do when we are avoiding FEELING something. 

Binging on Netflix, scrolling through social, posting, tweeting, and even eating can all be used to buffer/numb out.

You also might start to numb out if you are trying to engage in some activity that makes you FEEL overwhelmed, or icky in some way. Like a difficult phone call, or a major project at work. 

The other major indicator that you have been buffering is the terrible feeling you get when you stop. Whatever  feeling or action you were trying to avoid comes directly into focus. 

You feel panicked and self-critical. The opposite of how you wanted to feel when you started buffering. 

Learning how to relax

That day on the beach in Puerto Rico I was forced to face my own inner dialogue.

I started reading , then I closed the book and started to think. For the first time in what seemed like years, I was thinking my own thoughts.  NOT the thoughts of the podcaster in my ear. 

I noticed how my thoughts bounced around – my son, my business, my husband. My cellulite in a bathing suit. ADHD women. 

It was fascinating to observe that my thinking has real, observable patterns. As I sat there all these ideas came to me. Since I didn’t have anything to write on I couldn’t record them, but I was generating my own ideas instead of processing someone else’s. 

I sat on that beach for five hours. No food, but lots of rum drinks and lots of thinking. It was the best five hours I’ve spent in years. 

My muscles were less tense, my breathing was less shallow. I felt calm and clear. And when I returned to my room I sat down and wrote what I was feeling, knowing that eventually it would become content for me to share with you.

Relaxing has nothing to do with numbing out. Calming the nervous system is NOT the same thing as passively absorbing information while avoiding actually thinking and feeling.

Thinking and feeling

All the things that are difficult in life require thinking and feeling. 

Creating something, starting a new project, making a phone call, having a conversation, making a decision.  The list is endless.

Acknowledging your emotions is rough, for all of us.  So it’s very tempting to numb out instead.

Many of us think** we are relaxing when we are binge watching Netflix. 

Some of us are quite literally afraid to  hear our own thoughts, and experience the emotions attached to those thoughts. 

So we eat, or play video games, or scroll. Whatever appeals to us individually. 

In the ADHD community it is well acknowledged that we aren’t good at self-soothing. So numbing out is VERY easy for us. 

Awareness and enjoying your life

I’m not saying you should just cut out every single thing in your life you use for buffering. 

But you are able to raise your awareness, and find ways to manage your emotions while still enjoying your life. 

First, I’ve written before about journaling. Not in a woowoo way, but as a means to uncover how your mind works. Meditation is an option as well. Anything that gives you access to your thoughts. 

Practice listening to and getting comfortable with your thoughts. You will become more comfortable identifying and experiencing your emotions in this process. And as I’ve said probably 1,000 times, therapy works when you find a good therapist. 

In the Enclave we talked about numbing out for an entire week. What it looks like, and in what situations we tend to do it. 

Here is a list of options we came up with to help you relax: (without numbing out)

  • Get into nature, or near water
  • Try being in silence for small bits of time
  • When you’re sick of the silence, look for connection
  • Listen to music
  • Doodle or draw
  • Repetitive motion activities and fidgets
  • Have a dance party
  • Sit on a balance ball to engage your brain/body at the same time

PLEASE don’t leave this post feeling bad about your ADHD and numbing behaviors. We all have them. Everyone does it sometimes. 

My wish for you is that you become more self-aware each time you visit my site. 

Find more resources and information about life with ADHD at CHADD. 


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