It can feel like anxiety, ambivalence, or full-on depression. Like you are mentally and emotionally, if not physically, paralyzed. It might look like ruminating thoughts or a vague but heavy uneasiness that is always there.
Whatever form it takes, feeling stuck can be overwhelming. But the good news is that we can overcome this experience and even use it as a catalyst to improve situations.
Whether we feel trapped in a dead-end job, a miserable relationship, or just life in general, taking small but significant steps in the right direction can help us free ourselves, even when we are unsure where we hope to end up.
Signs of being in a rut can include:
- Every day seems like a repeat of the previous one.
- Struggling to get through the day.
- Feeling unmotivated.
- Feeling unfulfilled.
- Experiencing a sense of dread before bed or first thing in the morning.
Recognizing a rut is one thing, but finding the heart of it might be a little more complicated. Our job, relationship, or other aspects of our life might seem ideal on paper, but we still feel stuck somehow. It is essential to avoid minimizing those feelings. Not only is this counterproductive, but it could even make the situation harder to cope with. Even if you cannot pinpoint the cause, you can begin to take steps toward becoming unstuck.
Start with self-care:
Making sure our own essential physical and emotional needs are met is always a good place to begin. Research shows that practicing regular self-care can lead to reduced stress and increased quality of life. This doesn’t have to mean spa days or doing yoga on the beach. It can be as simple as developing a regular sleep routine, fostering supportive relationships, and carving out time to relax each day.
Addressing a deficiency in our self-care can provide the energy and motivation to tackle each day with more gratitude and purpose. Even if it doesn’t completely resolve a sense of being stuck, it can give us the momentum we need to make changes.
And of course, change is essential. If we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll keep getting what we’ve always gotten. However, sometimes it’s not so straightforward. We must first figure out what we can change so we can work on letting go of those things that are out of our control. Asking ourselves some questions can help us differentiate between the two.
- Might we be unwilling to change because we have invested time, resources, or emotional energy in a relationship, job, or situation?
- Do we still receive satisfaction and enjoyment from certain aspects of the situation that might cause reluctance to change?
- Could fear of failure or need for perfection be prompting us to procrastinate or avoid a change?
Giving honest answers to these questions can give us insight into why we feel stuck and the adjustments we might consider making. But understanding that we don’t have to have it all figured out to begin and avoiding overthinking will help decrease anxiety and the sense that change is too overwhelming. We can go from feeling paralyzed to believing that we can improve the situation.
Make minor changes:
We’ve all heard the saying that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” We learned in school that it took centuries for the Colorado River to carve out the wondrous Grand Canyon. Fortunately, it won’t take us a millennium to get unstuck, but a series of consistent, small steps can take us where we aspire to be.
Experts suggest deciding on a small new habit that is easy to take on and fits effortlessly into your current routine. Once this new habit sticks, we can add another. These minor actions can help us avoid decision fatigue and make our cognitive load feel lighter. The result is more emotional, mental, and sometimes even physical bandwidth to manage broader issues we face while also getting us closer to the significant changes we desire.
Learn something new:
Acquiring a new skill relevant to the area in which we feel stuck can help change the circumstances. For instance, earning a certification or getting experience in a software program could improve our job outlook. Becoming engrossed in a riveting new topic might also make life seem less monotonous. And bonus: learning a new skill can help to keep our minds sharp.
Step away from social media:
Comparison is the thief of joy, and nobody wants to be trapped in a gloomy, joyless existence. It’s easy to start feeling confined in our imperfect relationships or lackluster jobs when it seems as though everyone else is experiencing shiny, exciting lives. Comparing our bloopers and outtakes to others’ highlight reels can leave us feeling depressed, anxious, and inadequate.
Reminding ourselves that we don’t see what goes on behind their smartphones and cameras can help. Still, studies have shown that taking a break from Insta-stories and Facebook feeds can improve feelings of positivity, satisfaction, and overall well-being.
Spending every day confined to a cubicle or closed in at home, even with people we love, takes a toll. Research shows that spending time in nature has definitive emotional benefits. Merely taking a walk in a natural environment can help decrease anxiety and ruminating thoughts while increasing positivity and memory performance.
Find ways to serve others:
Studies have linked volunteering with numerous benefits to emotional health. When we make a difference in others’ lives, we can experience increased life satisfaction and self-esteem, a greater sense of purpose, and an improved perception of control over our well-being. Volunteering can also be an effective way to transform a mundane routine, develop new relationships, and even gain skills that might improve our employment opportunities.
Have some fun:
All work and no play can lead to us feeling stuck in a rut. Productivity is excellent but having something enjoyable to look forward to makes life much more pleasant. Read trashy paperback novels. Binge-watch some reality TV. Play a game with your kids or tell jokes to your partner. Look for things that entertain, inspire, and animate you, and then indulge in them with no self-judgment.
If we drove into a patch of wet, slimy mud and our vehicle got stuck, we would try to get out of it and might well be successful. If not, we’d call someone for aid. Life is no different. Sometimes we get into a bog that is tough to get ourselves out of. Caring, professional therapists are there with the skills, experience, and heart to help.
Feeling stuck in an unhappy relationship, unfulfilling job, or unsatisfying life can be frustrating. But we don’t have to stay there, and we don’t have to go it alone.