'I Feel Empty:' What Does It Mean If You Feel This Way?

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Why You Might Feel Empty

Sometimes a feeling of emptiness is fleeting and lasts only a few days or weeks. Often it resolves by itself and you feel as good as new. But sometimes this gnawing feeling persists.

A host of reasons might lead to a feeling of emptiness. These reasons could be physical, mental, or emotional. Here are ways to cope with feelings of emptiness and return to feeling better about life.

Physical Factors

While there may be many physical issues or ailments that could lead to a feeling of emptiness, exhaustion could be a major culprit as sleep deprivation has many negative side effects.

Lack of Sleep

The importance of getting good, restful sleep has a definite effect on your health. You might feel empty because you’re really tired. A Harvard University health source says “neuroimaging and neurochemistry studies suggest that a good night's sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience, while chronic sleep deprivation sets the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.”

Exhaustion

Feeling like there’s no fuel in the tank could derive from exhaustion. Perhaps you’ve been through so much, your energy levels are depleted. Maybe you’ve been caregiving for children or elderly parents.

Research confirms that even informal caregiving causes stress and burnout. Another cause of your exhaustion and feeling empty might be attributable to the long hours you might be spending on work projects.

Ways to Cope With Exhaustion

If you're feeling exhausted and feel a general sense of emptiness, some of following tips might alleviate your symptoms:

  • Seek out assistance from a spouse, neighbor, cleaning service, or friend.
  • Incorporate rest into your day by scheduling calendar time for regular naps.
  • Try breathing exercises.
  • Begin a meditation practice.

See if any of these remedies offset that feeling of blah-ness or nothingness. If these solutions don’t work, you might need to delve deeper into your psyche. Take time to assess the situation by sitting down with a pad of paper and pen and ask yourself about the deep cause or causes of your exhaustion:

  • Do you need to seek help from a partner, neighbor, or friend?
  • Have your goals involving work, family, and life now changed?
  • Are your children’s activities requiring too much driving on your part?
  • Are health concerns demanding more of your attention?
  • Is a volunteer responsibility overtaking too much of your time?
  • Do you need to step away completely from a demanding job?
  • Do you need to get a new job, change careers or work part-time?

By assessing your responsibilities and your current situation, you may find certain obligations no longer fit into your life plan in the same way that they did before. Remember that quitting something isn’t a sign of weakness or lack of commitment. In fact, quitting can be a sign of strength. 

Mental and Emotional Health Factors

Various life events or circumstances might lead to this feeling of emptiness or sadness. Everyone is different. The same situation, let’s say of dealing with a belligerent boss, might affect one person profoundly and the person next door in a much less impactful way. Differing perceptions influence our mental and emotional health.

Some possible causes of that empty feeling are listed below.

Boredom

Are you bored and unsatisfied with your daily life, so you feel a void? Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW and author of four books, says you may feel empty because you’re “feeling purposeless, [and] you are going through the motions and not truly knowing what would give you meaning.”

Make a list of activities you could do to increase your sense of joy, fun, and meaningfulness.

Another option is to journal things you’re grateful for by just looking around you. Scientists have proven that gratitude can increase your happiness.

Loneliness After a Romantic Breakup

After a relationship or marriage ends, you might feel a void. The Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the longest studies about adult life that is still going strong after 75 years, has found that maintaining loving relationships with spouses, family, and friends is one of the most crucial factors in our happiness.

It’s no wonder that you’d feel down and lonely if you’re no longer part of a romantic relationship. As loneliness is associated with a host of maladaptive conditions like depression, it's important that look into myriad ways to cope. You might join a class, set up a regular time to talk with your best friend or seek out online support.

Grief

After the death of someone close to you, it’s common for loved ones to remark to others that they feel a sense of utter numbness or emptiness. This emptiness in your home or heart should abate. There isn’t necessarily closure to the loss of someone special to you, but there is often a way to get through and live with the loss.

As part of the grieving process, you will come to terms in various ways with the loss of your relative or friend. Verywell Mind has put together a list of grief and bereavement support tips to help you through the bereavement experience.

Depression and Other Mental Health Issues

The tricky thing about depression is that it can include a spectrum of symptoms. For example, it might show up as temporary sadness and feeling low. Or you might feel a decreased interest in activities that you usually enjoy. These factors might create a blah, empty, tired feeling.

Amatenstein, cautions that a strong and persistent feeling of lack or sense of nothingness might indicate more serious issues. She says, “This feeling can be associated with a chronic mental health condition such as depression or PTSD (post-traumatic-stress disorder).”

With depression, look for a  range of symptoms that include a loss of appetite, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, problems with decision-making, and suicidal ideation.

Amatenstein adds that feeling empty could “also be a defense mechanism because after a triggering traumatic event that is so upsetting it’s easier to shut down and feel nothing than deal with severe emotions.”

If your feeling of emptiness reflects what is called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, PTSD, or seems to be traumatic, it's recommended that you seek help from a licensed mental health practitioner.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

How to Deal With Feeling Empty

With mild feelings of emptiness or temporary feelings of lack, you can motivate yourself to get out and feel better in various ways.

Focus on self-care, do activities that improve your sense of well-being, make meaningful changes, and communicate these feelings with people you are close to and of course, your therapist.

If these feelings have lingered and you feel they are beyond simple remedies, professional help is advised.

A Word From Verywell

Acknowledging your feelings of emptiness is the first step, so congratulations if you’ve taken that step. Determining the possible cause is the next step.

If you are in distress or this feeling is persistent, reoccurring, and complex, therapists are available online and in person to assist you. Finally, remind yourself that you are respecting your feelings and taking positive actions.

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  1. Harvard Health Publishing. Sleep deprivation can affect your mental health. Published March 18, 2019.