3 Ways To Break Out Of An 'Emotional Coasting' Mindset

Feeling like you're stuck on autopilot? Here's how to break the cycle of 'emotional coasting.'

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | April 22, 2024

Emotional coasting describes a state where people navigate life on autopilot. It signifies a disconnection from the profound depth of emotional engagement necessary for genuine growth and fulfillment. An 'emotional coaster' cruises through emotions without truly experiencing or processing them, resulting in a plateaued emotional landscape. Within this state, individuals often find themselves merely skimming the surface, devoid of the richness and authenticity inherent in actively participating in their emotional journey.

This detachment carries significant repercussions across multiple dimensions of life. Firstly, it leads to stagnation, hindering personal growth by entrenching individuals in repetitive patterns and obstructing their ability to confront challenges or embrace new experiences. Secondly, it erodes genuine emotional connections, giving way to shallowness and dissatisfaction in relationships. Additionally, it may incubate inner discontent, nurturing feelings of dissatisfaction, anxiety or depression. When disregarded, these negative sentiments may fester, culminating in a pervasive sense of emptiness or purposelessness.

Here are three indicators that one might be emotionally coasting:

  • Emotional echoes. People may find themselves recurrently revisiting past conflicts or traumas, with associated emotions remaining persistently unprocessed.
  • Selective sensitivity. Manifesting as an inconsistent emotional responsiveness, individuals may exhibit heightened reactions to specific stimuli while remaining emotionally detached from broader experiences.
  • Narrative dissonance. This occurs when there is an incongruity between one's internal emotional experiences and the external presentation to the world, leading to a sense of discordance and disconnection.

To actively engage with emotions, cultivate resilience and deepen relationships, consider these three ways to prevent and address emotional coasting.

1. Create Emotional Depth Through Emotional Expression

Through creative outlets such as painting, poetry, music or journaling, individuals can explore the depths of their emotional landscape in a safe and constructive manner. Each medium offers a unique avenue for articulating feelings and experiences in a personally resonant way.

For instance, art provides a visual language that allows individuals to externalize their innermost thoughts and emotions. Through painting or drawing, they can explore abstract concepts and subconscious feelings, giving shape to intangible sensations and experiences. Similarly, writing provides a structured platform for introspection and self-expression. Whether through journaling, storytelling or poetry, individuals can capture their emotions with words, organizing and clarifying their thoughts in the process.

Moreover, research suggests that the art-making process follows an iterative path that starts with metaphors of life and nature, gradually revealing emotions. This process elicits empathic responses and culminates in joint art-making, leading to the destabilization, deconstruction, reconstruction and reimagining of perceptions and meanings.

2. Listen to Your Body's Wisdom

Listening to your body's wisdom is crucial for emotional well-being, offering insights into our inner emotional landscape. This practice involves tuning into the physical sensations accompanying our emotions, which often serve as potent indicators of our internal state. These bodily signals, such as tension, discomfort or relaxation, provide valuable cues about our emotional needs and responses. Through mindfulness and somatic awareness techniques, individuals can develop heightened sensitivity to these cues, enhancing their ability to interpret and respond effectively.

For instance, one may observe that stress frequently causes muscle tightness, especially in the neck, shoulders and back area, resulting in discomfort or pain and affecting mobility and posture. Stress can also disrupt digestion, manifesting as symptoms such as stomach aches, indigestion or changes in appetite. A litany of research indicates that stress contributes to physiological conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or acid reflux, which may worsen under chronic stress.

In such cases, integrating somatic awareness into daily life facilitates a deeper connection with the body, grounding people in the present moment. Techniques such as deep breathing, body scans or gentle movement practices anchor individuals in the present moment, fostering inner calm and resilience. Prioritizing embodied awareness allows people to navigate life's challenges with clarity and authenticity, honoring emotional needs and promoting holistic well-being.

3. Embrace Discomfort As Growth

Embracing discomfort fosters continuous learning and evolution, with setbacks seen as valuable lessons. By embracing discomfort as part of self-growth, individuals open themselves to new possibilities, propelling towards self-improvement and fulfillment.

To help people push beyond their comfort zones, Dr. Pninit Russo-Netzer of Tel-Aviv University offers a practical protocol allowing them to plan and execute challenging yet psychologically safe activities of their choosing. Their research suggests a gradual approach that combines flexibility and structure, encouraging:

  1. Self-awareness. To boost self-awareness, individuals can begin by listing activities they wish to try that diverge from their usual routine. These activities might include small or significant challenges, solo pursuits or group endeavors. Breaking down these goals into actionable steps, setting specific times for activities and recording experiences are practical strategies for personal growth.
  2. Experimentation. Experimenting with an open mind entails adopting a receptive attitude to facilitate exploration and overcome fear of risk and uncertainty. According to the authors, one can expand their "growth muscle" to broaden their comfort zone. This involves regularly exposing oneself to new experiences within familiar settings such as, trying new hobbies, tastes or interactions, or even adopting a tourist mindset in one's own neighborhood. This novelty and surprise can usher in enriching life experiences.

Breaking free from the cycle of emotional coasting requires a deliberate shift in mindset and behavior. Implementing these strategies can provide the necessary nudge in the right direction, empowering you to navigate life with clarity and purpose.

Is your anxiety hindering you from truly experiencing your emotions? Take the Anxiety Sensitivity Test to learn more.

A similar version of this article can also be found on, here.

© Psychology Solutions 2024. All Rights Reserved.