From time to time, we all experience that gnawing sense of feeling empty. This feeling may come to us out of nowhere or be a result of something going on in our lives.
Sometimes this feeling of emptiness pops up repeatedly and can affect our mental health and well-being. Or we simply haven’t given ourselves time to delve deeper into why we are feeling this way. But most of the time it can be managed and knowing how to deal with these feelings is a valuable first step in feeling positive and happier.
In this article, I will explore some of the feelings associated with feeling empty, why we may be feeling empty, and some tips to help you feel a little better if you find yourself in this position.
- What does feeling empty really mean?
- What are some of the causes of feeling empty?
- 9 ways to help you feel less empty
- Wrapping up
What does feeling empty really mean?
Feeling empty is often associated with a sense of numbness and a feeling of being lost. According to research, it can be described as ‘…a complex, negative emotional state that is experienced in different ways by different individuals.’
Interestingly, researchers themselves have highlighted the difficulty in finding individuals who describe this experience in the same way.
Not only is it quite an abstract phrase, but it represents a wide range of feelings we may be experiencing including:
- Lacking purpose or meaning in life.
- Feeling numb.
- Not actually knowing how you feel.
- Preferring to be alone.
- Feeling neither happy nor sad.
- Lack of motivation.
- Feeling bored or disinterested.
- Feeling disconnected and detached from loved ones.
Unlike other emotions, feeling empty can sometimes be described as simply not feeling any emotion at all.
But even though this may sound strange, emptiness can be classed as an emotion despite perhaps not feeling any. And this knowledge may help you to perceive these feelings as more concrete and visible.
What are some of the causes of feeling empty?
Understanding some of the reasons behind these feelings of emptiness is essential in helping you overcome this emotional state. The only person who truly knows these answers is yourself. This can be complicated as it can be a result of multiple reasons, but it is important to explore.
Frequently, this feeling comes from events in our lives that are going on around us for example:
- Shifting hormonal levels.
- Loss of a job.
- Loss of someone close to you.
- Other stressful situations.
When I left my teaching job of 10 years, I remember feeling this incredible sense of emptiness. I expected to feel so many different things, but I didn’t expect to feel nothing at all!
Often, a feeling of emptiness can be a natural response to stressful events in our lives. According to experts, feelings of emotional numbness can occur when the limbic system is overloaded with stress hormones. In fact, these feelings may be a key signifier that your body is overloaded, and something needs to change.
But if those feelings of being empty are ongoing or keep presenting themselves for no obvious reason, it can make it more challenging. Causes for this may include things like:
- Not taking the time to look after yourself.
- Past experiences or trauma.
- Losing touch with your goals/aspirations.
- Not having meaningful relationships with others.
- Anxiety or depression.
As with understanding most emotions, understanding the source of why we feel a certain way is central to addressing it. And when we avoid digging deeper, we can often try and overcome these voids by turning our attention to other unhealthy behaviors or habits.
So instead of trying to distract yourselves from feelings of emptiness through meaningless tasks or habits, get to the source!
9 ways to help you feel less empty
Read on to look at some of the ways you can avoid feeling the burden of emptiness and discover ways to overcome this negative state of mind.
1. Accept and embrace those feelings of emptiness
Sometimes the biggest step is recognizing and accepting we feel a certain way.
This is definitely not the time to make yourself feel worse, but a gentle nod to yourself that you feel this way can be extremely powerful. And remember you are experiencing emotions even if you can’t grasp exactly what they are.
2. Explore how you are feeling
Take some time to explore some of the emotions you are currently feeling. You may want to write these down in a daily or weekly journal.
Ask yourself some questions along the way:
- Why might you feel like this today?
- Are you going through a particularly stressful time?
- What specific thing made you unhappy today?
It may help you to piece everything together and make connections.
3. Look after yourself
We can often neglect to look after ourselves in daily life. Reflect on whether you are taking time to care for yourself. Are you managing to sleep and eat well? Try and devote some time just for yourself!
Meditation or journaling can often be good tools to allow yourself some inner space. Here is an entire article about how to focus on yourself.
4. Be kind to yourself
We all need to do this at times. Don’t punish yourself for things you are not doing or how you are feeling. And try not to feel guilty or ashamed.
If anything, compliment yourself on how well you’re doing during this difficult period. Perhaps you could even write down one thing on a weekly/daily basis that you feel you have done well, or you have enjoyed.
Remind yourself of the positives through practicing affirmations, and you'll notice the benefits. A study in 2016 found that individuals who use self-affirmations had more activation in areas of the brain involved in processing our sense of self and our orientation towards our future.
5. Find comfort in connecting with others
The old saying goes "a problem shared is a problem halved". It can be difficult to share your feelings with others, even with people close to you. But talking to others can allow you to process how or even why you are feeling the way you are.
The experience of bonding with someone can also trigger that all-important hormone oxytocin which may provide a welcoming relief from that sense of numbness and emptiness you may be feeling.
6. Consider making some life goals
Sometimes when we have goals it can give us a new sense of purpose and motivation. A recent study highlighted key elements that may reduce the intensity of chronic feelings of emptiness which were: vocations, a sense of purpose, and strength of identity.
Arguably having life goals can help in all the above areas. Setting some simple, achievable targets in your life can really help make life feel more meaningful when you are feeling a little lost.
7. Get moving!
Doing any physical activity may be the last thing on your mind when you are feeling empty, but simply just getting up and out can make a dramatic difference to those feelings.
Even if it involves just getting up and dancing to your favorite song can make you feel more alive! Better yet, get outside and go for a nature walk.
8. Try some grounding exercises
Grounding can be a powerful exercise to engage in when feeling a sense of emptiness.
To be grounded implies a sense of stability and sensibility in all things, but most importantly in our thoughts and emotions. Life often tends to obstruct our ability to stay grounded, mindful, and present. Stressors can include our jobs, friends, families, and sometimes even our own thoughts can get in the way of attaining peace of mind.
There is a range of grounding exercises you can find online. These often focus on breathwork, and it uses your senses to help you feel more sense of awareness. Here's an article we wrote that details 5 steps to help you stay grounded.
9. Minimise stress in your life
If we go back to this idea of your brain and body being overwhelmed and you are going through some particularly stressful life events, look at how you can minimize stress in your life in some way.
This isn’t always possible or as easy as that, but there may be small changes you can make in your everyday life to help get you in the right direction.
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Feeling empty is a complex, negative state which can make us experience a range of different and difficult emotions. Knowing what is really causing those feelings of emptiness is key in getting to the root of the problem.
Do you have another tip that you would like to add? How did you deal with your feelings of emptiness in the past? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!