Therapist and coach Bobbi Banks breaks down the concept of “emotional coasting” and how you can learn to manage it.
While it’s meant to be the summer we truly return to “normal,” it’s near-impossible not to sense a certain malaise.
Yes, festivals are back, holidays abroad are on the cards and we’re experiencing some of the best weather the UK has to offer. But there’s also a cost of living crisis raging against us, on top of the ongoing humanitarian crisis and mental health crisis to boot.
In 2020 and 2021 we may have been locked down, but in 2022 we are teetering on the edge of catastrophe at all times, or so it seems.
It’s an experience that combines both a sense of underlying panic and numbness, overwhelm and detachment. Feeling so much that you actually start feeling nothing, perhaps.
It was only after reading Harry Styles’ interview in Better Homes And Gardens that I was finally able to put it into words: emotional coasting.
Styles admitted that he had a past tendency to “emotionally coast” and that through therapy he had been able to better connect with himself, live authentically and prioritise his happiness.
What is “emotional coasting” and why do we do it?
“Emotional coasting means going through life without stopping to fully acknowledge and process difficult feelings or experiences, or in some cases even positive ones,” therapist and coach Bobbi Banks tells Stylist.
“This can be a form of defence mechanism protecting us from becoming overwhelmed or facing feelings we don’t know how to deal with, in other words helping us ‘push through’.”
Simply put, if you feel unable to maintain your usual effort, drive or interest in everyday life, you could be coasting.
It’s an increasingly common feeling, with more of us feeling flooded by our emotions and the pressures of modern life than ever before.
“With everything that has happened over the last few years it’s not surprising a lot of people are emotionally coasting,” says Banks.
“The pandemic, war, shootings and the constantly increasing cost of living (just to name a few) are all incredibly difficult and heavy events to process individually, let alone having to navigate through all of them at once. People’s mental health has been affected significantly, so in such cases emotional coasting can serve as a much needed self-protective mechanism.”
f it’s so common, is emotional coasting always a negative thing? Can we ever “coast” in a healthy way, where we find ourselves just going with the flow of life? Banks says yes.
“Emotional coasting can be done in a healthy way if done purposefully and with intention,” she explains.
“This may look like setting boundaries with certain people or around what we discuss, watch and read. This type of detachment can free up space to take care of ourselves and place a focus on our needs. It can help reduce heightened emotions, stress and anxiety. Coasting, however, can become unhealthy when it becomes a person’s way of life and their go-to coping mechanism.”
Signs you’re emotional coasting
According to Banks, some of the key signs of emotional coasting include:
- Always keeping busy and distracted
- Experiencing emotional numbness
- Struggling to name or feel your feelings
- Feeing disconnected from yourself or others
- Not asking for help or admitting you’re struggling
- Not showing up to therapy or “doing the work”
- Always being the strong one and just getting on with it
How to stop yourself emotional coasting
If you’ve identified you’re emotionally coasting in an unhealthy way and it is affecting your life negatively, Banks advises not to force yourself to change this quickly as you risk experiencing “emotional flooding”, aka being overwhelmed by your feelings. This can be especially true when you’ve learned to coast as a result of previous trauma.
Instead, she suggests starting off by building self-awareness around this behaviour and identifying the reason behind it. Think about the following: In what ways is emotional coasting affecting your life? And what is emotional coasting protecting you from?
“The next step would be to learn new, healthier coping strategies before trying to replace it,” says Banks.
However, this isn’t a fix for everyone.
“If you are struggling to practice healthy coping skills or find yourself relying on unhealthy ones instead, talking to a mental health professional can also be helpful. Once you have this in place you can slowly start to learn to recognise, acknowledge and process your feelings,” Banks continues.
“Remember that healthy emotional regulation is something we have to learn and practice, it’s a process which takes time. Give yourself grace and try not to be hard on yourself.”
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health or emotional wellbeing, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website and NHS Every Mind Matters or access the NHS’ guide to local mental health helplines and organisations here.
You can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for confidential support.