Emotional Numbness: The Silent Cost of Overwhelming Stress on CNAs


Article Categories: Caregiver Corner & Environment



Nursing assistants are at the frontlines of patient care, having responsibilities that demand a considerable amount of physical stamina and emotional strength. But as it happens, stress can get the better of them, and they end up being cold-hearted. Some say that this is a CNA’s way of turning on survival mode. Do you agree? Let’s discuss further.

What is emotional numbness?

Emotional numbness is a person's unconscious way of protecting oneself from further misery caused by too much stress and negative sentiments.

During a traumatic event, a person may unintentionally teach themselves not to feel anything just so they could continue functioning. They couldn’t work when distraught so they numb their pain. They start caring less to feel less vulnerable. In the end, they become void of any emotion, unable to feel happiness, sadness, anger, guilt, among other emotions.

If you think that there's nothing wrong with detaching from the negative stuff to survive the rollercoaster life of a CNA, we'll let you see it differently.

Blocking emotions as a form of self-preservation is dodging the problem and not facing it head-on. It is like escaping from the suffering without analyzing the situation. You don’t learn anything from it. It also prevents you from feeling positive emotions. In general, it holds you back from having a rich experience.

Are you emotionally numb?

Let’s do a simple self-check. Here's a list of what happens when you lock yourself up untouched in your own emotional cell:

1. You feel blank, blunt, and empty.

You can't feel happy when there's good news or something to celebrate. You can't feel sad either, even if you witness something horrible. The death of someone close, like a loved one or a long-time resident, does not affect you in any way.

2. You work on autopilot.

No relevant conversation with others, just task completion. You rely on muscle memory for care procedures, and you couldn't care any less if patients get better or worse.

It doesn’t bother you at all if a patient is in pain or is dying. You don’t feel any compassion or empathy, not even guilt or anger. All you care about is finishing your shift.

3. It’s like living in a bubble.

You see everything happening around you, like a spectator would. You don’t take an active part in any activity. It’s like seeing the world in a movie or being in a dream. You just let things happen, good or bad, and you don’t care if it affects you or others.

4. You are emotionally distant and physically withdrawn.

Your relationship with your colleagues and your family is superficial and also strained. There is a lack of commitment on your part.

Now take a moment and reflect. How many of the signs above you find true? If you say yes to all, it’s time to reevaluate your situation and take it seriously. This here is not some petty problem that can be solved by a good night's sleep. You may need to get professional help and undergo a mental health check.

If, on the other hand, you feel that this is going to be your story soon enough, the tips below should help you avoid falling into this internal pit.

How to win over emotional numbness.

1. If you need to step back a little from highly tense situations, do so, but don't make it a habit.

Be in touch again with your inner self and acknowledge your feelings. Being honest to oneself is the first step in ensuring that your emotional detachment is temporary.

2. Tell yourself it’s ok to be vulnerable at times.

Cry if you must and laugh if you’re happy. You may even have to ignore expectations for you to toughen up. Working as a CNA will let you experience so many things, and you will surely have to go through highs and lows in your career.

3. Do uplifting activities.

Go back to an old hobby. Be with friends who can cheer you up. Find support from your co-workers. Open up to a confidante and share your feelings with them. Talking about your experiences helps you find peace and relief from all the emotional turmoil.

4. Set boundaries.

Avoid being overly involved with your patient’s healthcare journey to prevent personally experiencing what the patient and their family are going through. Keep a safe emotional space between you and the patient so that you can still provide care efficiently.

5. Practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness is being fully aware of your current experience to avoid being overwhelmed by problems. It is taking a moment to sit back, relax, breathe deeply and meditate.

To perform this self-awareness exercise, close your eyes and acknowledge your feelings without judging yourself. Name what you feel and tell yourself you’re over it. Say, "I am so sad, but now I am letting go of this sadness." Mindfulness helps process and keep your emotions in check.

Sometimes, you can get entangled with the many happenings in the workplace. If you do get stuck for some reason, remind yourself that there are ways to overcome. Reach out and find support.

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