21 Ways to Feel Better When You're Stuck in a Rut
What do weddings, vacations, and job promotions have in common? They typically evoke some level of excitement—a little anxiety maybe, but mostly excitement. There’s nothing like the thrill of happy chemicals rushing through our body each time we experience something fantastic. And when exciting things don’t happen, life can seem rather, well, dull. Like those regular days filled with regular errands to run, bills to pay, and chores to do.
But even if you’re working towards a not-so-very regular goal, an absolutely amazing one, you’ll unfortunately have to brave a few humdrum periods—those times when you wonder if you’re hard work will ever pay off. Or you’re so immersed in the day-to-day grind that the larger goal seems far out of reach. I once heard someone say that we have more boring days than spectacular ones. And that’s probably true, even for those who seem to lead exciting lives. Because what seems exciting to us may not be so exciting to someone else who has their own brand of regular to deal with. In other words, my normal may not be your normal, but it’s a normal nonetheless. And let’s face it, normal doesn’t exactly give us butterflies. But since we have more normal days than not, we might as well learn to love them.
So here are 21 ways to make it happen when it feels like nothing is happening.
1. Do something fun and free.
Oftentimes we are looking to re-experience those exciting moments. And when they don’t come, it can feel like a big letdown. Huge. But we can learn to create our own excitement, and one that doesn’t cost us to do it. Children do it all the time. Watch them in the park and see how happy they are just playing. What is it that you love to do just because?
2. Be your most fierce self for a day.
Flip through any gossip magazine and you’ll likely find a beauty or two sashaying through the airport or engaging in some other mundane activity looking fabulous. We can probably take a tip or two from these wonder women. I can think of a few that make me want to pile on the bangles, put on my sunnies, and grab my oversized bag all just to go pick up my dry cleaning.
3. Be mindful.
When we feel stuck in a rut, we’re usually responding to disappointments based upon what we thought would or should happen. During those times, our funk can be seen as a weapon of resistance we use in hopes that we will magically see change. But being mindful is the ability to focus on the distress of the moment, accept it, and work towards changing it for the better. It takes practice, but doing so goes a long way in cutting out the suffering ruts can bring.
4. Work your body.
It’s no secret that exercising releases endorphins that make us feel good. And along with that, it gives us a space to sort out what may be bothering us. I love to run and listen to something inspirational while pushing myself along. And if I’m a little grumpy at the start, I’ve usually thought myself into a good mood by the end of it.
5. Relax your body.
When we don’t get what we are expecting or hoped for, we feel the weight of it in our bodies, which in turn reinforces negative thoughts and emotions. We may ache or feel tense which sends the message that we are not happy. But we can change the way our body feels by using some good ol’ fashioned breathing techniques, imagery, or meditation. Once we can control how our body reacts to disappointment or other negative feelings, our mind is freer to think more clearly and make better decisions.
6. Talk your way through it.
When you woke up this morning, what was your initial thought? Many of us are flooded with negative thoughts before we even step out of bed, yet we don’t even recognize it because we are so used to having them. If you attend to your thoughts a little more closely, and replace negative ones with something a little healthier, honest, and more optimistic, you may be surprised by how your mood improves.
7. Give your way through it.
Most of us have heard it’s better to give than to receive, and depending on our focus at any given moment, we may or may not heed that advice. But if you’re feeling particularly negative, try giving someone something you feel you need or would like, whether it be advice, attention, or a kind gesture. And be prepared to feel wowed by the good vibes that come along with giving away something you too are seeking.
8. Search for jobs you don’t know you want.
The other day I was perusing the web and came across a few job openings that looked really interesting. One thing led to another, and before I knew it I got lost reading through a slew of available jobs I didn’t even realize I wanted. I compared my skills to the job requirements and thought about how I can apply what I know to the job, or what experience I would need to gain to get it. It gave me renewed insight into the types of jobs I enjoy and the skills I need for them. So if you’re feeling a little stuck or in a rut, a job search may invigorate you with a new career direction or give you advice on the skills you need to land that great job you never thought about having.
9. Wallow for five minutes.
We aren’t often inclined to structure our wallow, and it can go on and on if we let it. While we all feel down and out at times, it becomes problematic when it goes on for too long and interferes with our daily functioning. The key is to take control—control of how we respond to negative feelings and emotions. And one way to do that is to allot a time limit to be upset. That way, we validate our disappointment while also showing that our feelings don’t have us, we have them.
10. Be your own cheerleader.
When you’re in a rut, the last thing you want to do is be encouraging. So it goes without saying that it takes a bit of effort to feel moody, and move through it with a healthy dose of self-encouragement. But when you muster up the strength to cheer yourself on during eventless moments, you show yourself that you are not necessarily moved by dry periods, and can indulge in a sense of gratitude knowing that your ability to thrive isn’t dependent upon your circumstances.
11. Give yourself a mani/pedi.
I don’t know about you, but I find it difficult to recall a time when I felt miserable while painting my nails. I think it’s just really hard to feel unhappy when you are beautifying yourself. There’s something about the process of picking the “right” color, polishing, and inspecting to make sure your mani/pedi game is on point that runs counterintuitive to feeling miserable.
12. Read all about it.
Reading is akin to taking a vacation. You can be transported to another world, giving you some much needed distance, and an opportunity to gain a new perspective on your situation. You may also find some teachable moments you can use to manage your own distress. And of course there’s the added benefit of stimulating your cognitive processing and improving your vocabulary skills. Pretty handy tools when you’re looking to find the words to combat those moody thoughts.
13. Don't compare yourself.
Comparing yourself to others can be like a death sentence to your ego. But if you refocus your attention to others who are less fortunate than you, you may have a renewed vigor about your situation and life.
14. Throw a party.
Unless you invite a bunch of Debbie-downers, throwing a party when you feel stuck is usually a good idea. Reach out to others, make connections, and enjoy them. There’s something validating about bringing together people who would otherwise not be in the same room. It’s a near perfect antidote to feeling humdrum.
15. Watch a movie.
Similar to reading, a movie has the opportunity to transport you to otherworldly places, and for 90 minutes your short-term memory can be filled with thoughts and images that make you almost forget you were in a rut in the first place. Sentimental or inspirational movies about people who have overcome challenges are great, and there’s nothing like a warm and fuzzy feel good movie.
16. Write about it.
You probably already know that writing is therapeutic. It can be a place to record your biggest disappointments, failures, or regrets as well as your greatest joys, accomplishments, and goals. Try to write daily about thoughts, feelings, and experiences that are most salient, and include the steps you’ve taken to improve yourself. This way you can track how you’ve changed and progressed, and ultimately how you’ve turned negative experiences into positive ones.
17. Rearrange your furniture.
Our interior space typically reflects our emotional state. So if you’re feeling uninspired with life at the moment, chances are your home shows it. As a kid, I used to decorate my dollhouse for hours on end until the layout was just right. I loved the challenge of trying to make something that didn’t seem to be working, work. And I always found a solution. Try doing something similar, and rearrange your furniture until you find a new layout that reflects your best self. Then see if you can apply that same tenacity to improving your mood when life circumstances aren’t going as planned.
18. Take a class.
They say if you aren’t learning, you aren’t growing. And what better time to learn and grow than during moments when we feel stuck. School has a way of pushing us forward, and bridging the gap between where we are and where we hope to be. Take a class on a topic of interest to you, online or in a classroom, to give you that spark you may be searching for.
19. Do a wardrobe cleanse.
Like your home, your wardrobe is a great indicator of your emotional life. Too many clothes, too few clothes, clothes with tags, oversized clothes, revealing clothes— you name it, it all has meaning. And if you’re feeling stuck, you may have a wardrobe that isn’t working for you, yet offers a sense of comfort that ironically keeps you looking as stuck as you feel. If so, try giving away the clothes that aren’t working and reorganizing what’s left to make room for new clothes that can give you the boost and optimism you are looking for.
20. Make up something to be happy about.
Because happy is as happy does, and our behavioral expressions are powerful enough to impact our emotions. If you’re feeling down because things aren’t happening the way you planned, express an opposite, inconsistent emotion (e.g., gladness) over something else, anything else as long as it’s real. That means feeling happy over winning a million dollars you really didn’t win won’t work. But if you express an honest, pleasant emotion, it can reinforce new and different positive experiences for you to appreciate.
21. Collect your reward.
Some of these tips may be easier to implement than others, but instead of waiting until you become a master rut killer, make sure to reward yourself along with way with things like compassion, a few pats on the back, and maybe some ice-cream. The key is to appreciate you for the work, no matter how small, you put into feeling unstuck because it reinforces you to get better at coping with it.
It can be very powerful to know that you do not have to depend on anyone or anything to be content. And if you get really good at creating your own happiness while striving to achieve your goals, you may find that the journey to reaching them is a much more enriching experience than the goals themselves.
What tips do you have for getting unstuck?