What To Do When You’re Stuck in a Rut
If you’re feeling stuck in life right now, know that you’re not alone. Everyone feels stuck at some point (and many points) in their life.
It probably feels pretty terrible, but I’m going to challenge you to look at this as a good thing. Here’s why…
In my senior year of high school, I decided to attend Rutgers University. It was just far enough away from home to justify living on campus.
The problem? I didn’t want to live on campus. I decided that I was going to live on campus because, for whatever reason, I thought that’s what would make me look more successful.
Fast forward to the second part of my junior year, and I was extremely unhappy being there. Add some personal young adult drama to the mix and it was a recipe for a breakdown. Quite literally, I broke down.
I came home in the middle of a Sunday night in tears. For the next week, I stayed home and made an appointment with my therapist.
I told him how miserable I was, and all about the anxiety and depression I was struggling with. I didn’t want to go back to Rutgers, but I knew I had to.
And then he asked me, “Why do you have to?”.
I stared blankly at him. “I don’t know. I’ll get “W”s and that won’t look good”. He replied, “Says who?”. “Ummm I don’t know. Everyone?”
Then he told me, “You have a choice. You can go back if you want to, but if you don’t want to, you don’t have to. It’s up to YOU.”
In that moment a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders.
I didn’t go back. I took the rest of the semester and summer off, got a waitressing job, and applied to and got accepted into a smaller, local school.
I tell you this story because getting “stuck” was a blessing in disguise. It led me on a path that ended up being a much better fit for me.
Despite the misery of feeling stuck in life, you can use it to your benefit. Here’s how.
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What to Do When You’re Stuck in Life
When I talk about “feeling stuck in life”, I’m not referring to those times when we feel bored with our lives. I’m referring to those times when we’ve reached a point where we’re not happy for one reason or another, but we believe there is nothing we can do about it.
There have been other times in my life, outside of my college experience, when I’ve felt completely stuck and out of control of the direction in which my life was going.
Each time I’ve found myself in this position, I’ve followed these steps and they’ve helped me hit my stride again every. single. time.
Here’s my tried and true method.
1. Understand that feeling stuck means that it’s time for you to make a change.
You might know this already on some level, but you’re ignoring it because change is scary and sometimes sad.
I was once in a relationship that should have ended sooner than it actually did. Looking back, I think we both knew that the relationship wasn’t really serving either one of us anymore, but it was comfortable.
The idea of no longer being with this person was sad because he had been a huge part of my life for so long. On top of that, I was terrified that I’d never find someone else and end up alone.
I didn’t want to face the emotions that would come along with ending the relationship. When it did end, it was heartbreaking and scary – just as I had expected it would be. But I grew as a person through this change, and I did find someone else.
It’s ok to feel scared, sad, or any other emotion when facing change. It’s completely normal.
But recognize that you need to make the change to move forward with your life, despite how painful or frightening it may be.
Be ok with the fact that a change may be painful, but know that it will not always feel that way.
You will always adjust to change, and you will always be better for it.
2. Distance yourself from the situation or circumstance as much as possible.
It’s hard to think clearly and get perspective when you’re in the thick of it.
Don’t take this as advice to avoid the situation, or to run away from it. That’s not going to get you anywhere. I promise you that if you don’t face what you’re struggling with, it will follow you to the next place. Same situation, different scenery.
Just take a break from the situation so that you can sort out your thoughts and feelings, and decide what it is you need to do.
I would not have been able to make the judgment call to leave Rutgers if I had not stepped away from that environment. When I was there, I was not myself and my mind was clouded with anxiety. I needed to step away and gain perspective before making the decision that was right for me.
Try to get some time alone in a place where you feel calm so that you can think through your situation and decide your best course of action.
Talk through it with someone you trust, if you need to. But don’t look to them to decide for you. Use them as a sounding board.
Also, don’t involve too many people. They’re bound to all have different opinions, and that will just cloud your judgment and confuse you even more.
3. Process Your Emotions.
While you’re distancing yourself from the circumstance, you have the perfect opportunity to begin processing your feelings. This is absolutely necessary! I cannot stress this enough.
Trust me – I have first-hand experience with numbing emotions I don’t want to feel and I can promise you that it will only harm you.
Don’t resist what you’re feeling – not when you make your decision and not when you’re going through the change.
It’s uncomfortable to feel sad, worried, depressed, or scared so we naturally want to push those feelings aside. But allow yourself to feel it and move through it.
Journaling can really help you process the emotions that you’re feeling. There is an insight to be gained about yourself during times like these, and getting your thoughts out on paper will help you to see it more clearly.
If you resist the emotions that accompany change, you’ll only suffer more. Be honest with yourself and feel your emotions fully. Don’t numb them with alcohol, food, or drugs.
4. Listen to what your gut is telling you.
Block out the noise of what other people are telling you to do, or what you think is expected of you. This is your life – you’re the one that has to live with the result of your choices; not anyone else. YOU.
I had decided to live on campus because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. It ended up being a really rough experience for me.
When my therapist reminded me that I have a choice to either go back to school or stay home, and that the choice was mine to make, I felt the heaviness I was feeling disappear.
I knew in that moment what was right for me.
Did everyone agree with my choice? No. Did some people think I was making a dumb decision? Yes.
Did I care? Yeah, at first I did. But I quickly realized that it didn’t take much time for people to shift the focus away from me and back on to themselves.
I began to let other people’s opinions roll off my back because I felt it in my bones that this was the path that I was supposed to go down.
There may be people in your life who question or judge your decisions. Trust yourself and the decision you made. Only you know what is right for you.
5. Take action and move forward.
Don’t overthink or obsess over your decision. Remind yourself that if you end up in a place you’re not happy with, you can always make another decision to change it.
Life is just a series of choices! If one turns out to be not so great, you can make another choice to make it better.
Also, don’t think that you have to have everything figured out before you make a move. Just get the ball rolling in the general direction you want to go, and keep moving. If you stay where you are, nothing will ever change.
When I decided to leave Rutgers, I had very little idea of what I was going to do next. I just knew that I couldn’t go back, and I trusted that I would figure it out along the way.
Don’t make excuses. Don’t let yourself be a victim of your circumstance. You always have a choice. Make it happen.
6. Find Your people – the ones who support you.
There are going to be people who try to talk you out of your decisions. Limit the amount of time that you’re around these people.
Surround yourself with the people who want the best for you and who will listen to you when you need to vent or cry. The people who will encourage you to keep going when you want to give up, and who will remind you of the rainbow that’s waiting for you on the other side.
A Few Important Reminders
I have found that the hardest part about accepting that you need to make a change in your life in order to get “unstuck” is facing the emotions that come along with that change, like fear, sadness, and anxiety.
Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind when you’re faced with such feelings:
- Remember that the end of one chapter means the beginning of a new one. Your story is not over. It’s only getting better.
- Think of the change as simply completing a chapter of your life instead of seeing it as the end of something.
- You may feel scared about giving something up because it’s tied to your identity. That’s ok. Remind yourself that you have chosen to let go of something that is no longer serving you, and that you’re evolving into an even better version of yourself.
We get stuck when we lose sight of the big picture. We get caught up in the details of the circumstance we’re in. We convince ourselves that this is just the hand we’ve been dealt and there’s nothing we can do about it. We tell ourselves that we have no power.
There is nothing further from the truth.
Usually, feeling stuck means it’s time to figure out how and why we ended up where we are, and if it’s really where we want to be.
If it’s not where we want to be, we have a few choices. We can continue to standstill where we are, we can decide to stay in the situation but do some work on ourselves, or we can make the decision to change course.
So you see, feeling stuck doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Instead of looking at this in a negative light, try re-framing it as life’s way of telling you it’s time for a change.
Take your power back – address what’s going on in your life, analyze, work through it, and take the action you need to take.
You can do this.
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