What to Do When You’re Feeling Stuck in Life

“We’re very quick to label our ‘stuckness’ as a problem with laziness or motivation. It isn’t.”

by Adam Bulger

Lately, you’ve been feeling as though you’re watching the world playing on a loop. Every day seems the same. Thanks to remote work and pandemic restrictions, you’ve been seeing a lot of your house’s interior walls. Work seems like a long series of interchangeable Zoom meetings with possibility of personal advancement. You’re bored. A little listless. Frankly, you’re feeling stuck.

You’re certainly not alone. A recent study by tech giant Oracle found that while 80% of people are ready for a career change, 75% of people feel stuck professionally and 27% said they were trapped in their routines.

Believe it or not, the discomfort of being stuck is a good sign. Awareness signals an interest in moving forward. It means you’re not resigned to your present situation. You’re frustrated and want change.

“I would invite people to reframe feeling stuck as something that’s healthy,”says therapist Dr. Chloe Carmichael. “They have an awareness of feeling stuck and that it doesn’t feel natural to them.”

So, while it may seem counterintuitive, try to welcome the stuck feeling and find positive things in it. Embrace it as an opportunity rather than agonize over it. By dwelling on negative implications, you may stop feeling like you’re stuck and start feeling like you’re trapped. “It’s important to start from there, because otherwise people can get into a spiral,” says Carmichael.

If you feel stuck, there’s a tendency to direct frustration inward and blame yourself for creating the situation or being too weak, lazy, or unmotivated to escape it. But Britt Frank, therapist and author of the book The Science of Stuck warns that being angry at yourself won’t improve the situation. “You don’t get mad at your car when it runs out of gas,” Frank says. “You go to a gas station. The same is true for our brains.”

Feeling stuck, per Frank, stems from our hormonal responses to stress. Our nervous systems go haywire when our choices are limited, or worse, taken away, triggering a fight, flight or freeze response. Due to COVID restrictions, many have had few opportunities for fights or flights, so, Frank says, our brains have been stuck on freeze. Over time, that has a draining, physical impact on our bodies. “It’s a physiological reality, but we’re very quick to label our ‘stuckness’ as a problem with laziness or motivation,” Frank says. “It isn’t.”

Two Paths Forward

Once you get a handle on the true nature of feeling stuck, what should you do? The good news is that being stuck will not be the end of you. You’re not a mouse in a glue trap; you can free yourself without gnawing off a leg.

The semi-bad news is that you need to make a choice. The mental health experts we asked for advice were split in an interesting way. So two paths open up before you.

The first possible path of self-extrication from your sticky situation is deliberate and cautious.

According to Frank, brains get into stuck gear when they feel unsafe. So you try to be more safe by connecting with people, places, thoughts, and things that help you feel energized rather than drained. Rack one up in the win column and, as Frank says, “give yourself credit, no matter how small.” Then repeat.

This is a path forged by small, carefully considered steps. California therapist Kailey Hockridge suggests that if you know where you want to go, you should ask what small steps can I take today? As she and other mental health professionals interviewed for this story noted, small steps are less daunting and, over time, get you where you want to go. “Breaking big goals into smaller, more achievable pieces can help us to build momentum and confidence in our abilities,” she says.

So, that first path is all small steps. The idea is that our dumb brains have so been damaged by a stupid pandemic that we must treat ourselves gingerly, as though we’re carrying them in spoons towards a finish line in an egg race.

But there’s a second path that Neil Armstrongs us out of feeling stuck by taking one giant leap. Check something off the bucket list. Sky dive. Surf. Scuba dive. Hang glide. Fly a plane. Ride a motorcycle. Start a band. Join a boxing ring. Ghost hunt. Learn to dance. Throw a huge, raging party. Take ayahuasca in the woods in the dead of night. Start a fight club (Last one’s a joke. Please don’t start a fight club).

There’s exaggeration here, for sure. But the point is, do something you’ve never done before. Or do something you love and haven’t done it in a while. You’ve grown tired of the ordinary, so do something out of the ordinary. It may sound obvious, but we have lived through three years when the only steps to take were small. Maybe it’s time to jump and show that your life isn’t as small as you’ve made it out to be.

It’s important to keep in mind that being stir crazy at this point isn’t all that crazy. As Carmichael notes, for the last several years, they haven’t been getting out or trying new things. “Sometimes it just takes a new experience,” Carmichael says. “With the pandemic, people have been literally staring at the same walls.” Changing up the view will help considerably.