Feeling stuck? 7 ways to climb out of a slump

February 3, 2022 - 15 min read

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Why do you feel stuck?

How to get unstuck

What not to do when you feel stuck

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Are you feeling stuck in life or at work? Do you feel like you should just start over in life? You're not alone. It's a nearly universal human experience to feel stuck at some point in life. Whether in a career, relationship, or even in identifying the next goal — most people will feel stuck at some point. 

Stuckness can look like:

  • Really wanting something—a new job, relationship, or improved health, for example—and then losing motivation to get it.
  • Identifying something that looks exciting and then talking yourself out of steps to move toward it.
  • Endlessly thinking about what could be better or different. Indecision, worry, and over-thinking rob you of being present and enjoying life as it is.
 
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Why do you feel stuck?

Have you ever asked yourself, "Why do I feel stuck in life?" It's not always an easy question to answer. "Stuckness" can wear different guises. Below are a few scenarios when you might want to move, but not know how to. 

You've outgrown your current situation

It's a reality that people change over time. Your needs, your wants, and your hopes all evolve. Perhaps that perfect job you landed a year ago doesn't provide enough stimulation now that you've mastered it. This type of situation can leave you wondering which direction to go in next.

You fear external judgment

It can be difficult enough to make some decisions with the support of your network. Without that support, the challenge becomes even more significant. Input is helpful and can keep you on track. But investing too much stock in what other people will think or any negativity they impose on your decision can be paralyzing.

You feel disconnected from your values

Life can lose its sparkle when your values are not present enough in your life. If your day-to-day life doesn't contain the conditions for your values to thrive, they may start to dull. This can leave you feeling like you're not honoring your most authentic self.

You think a change might mean losing something

You can want a new challenge but cling to your current job, for instance. Perhaps your current job offers perceived security and stability. You can reduce your thinking to be very binary, seeing options as "either/or." Allow yourself to open up to the idea of "yes/and" thinking. This type of thought makes it possible to have both a new challenge and financial security.

You've lost hope for the future

Our thoughts are powerful tools. They can send us in the direction we want to head or keep us pinned in one place. Negative thoughts, in particular, can be very influential, and they can conjure up a world of emotions such as sadness, anxiety, and unworthiness. It's hard to move forward when grappling with these negative thoughts and feelings.

woman-at-desk-feeling stuck

You're overwhelmed or burnt out

You could be overwhelmed by your circumstances and life events. Or the possibility and pressure of your next move could cause you to stress. Whether it's over your past or potential future, overwhelm can be hard to overcome.

Additionally, if you've been stressed for a while, as much of the world has, you could be experiencing burnout. Keeping your nervous system on high alert for extended periods of time can blur the lines between what is and isn't harmful. It can also lead to extreme fatigue, which isn't the ideal frame of mind for decision-making.

Your positives vs. negatives lists are in competition

There might be plenty of reasons to make a change and plenty of equally strong reasons not to.

For example, you may want to change your job, but you may also really value your free time. Looking for a new role may eat into that free time. What do you do? This type of pattern can lead you into a vicious cycle that doesn't lead anywhere.

You're comparing yourself to others

Keep in mind: "Comparison is the thief of joy." Compare yourself to yourself—your growth, your potential, your future. And try not to get caught up in comparing yourself to others and then feeling like you're falling short.

You're outside of your comfort zone

You may know what you need to do to become unstuck but feel uncomfortable moving forward. If it's the first time that you're testing a skill or behavior, for example, you might not know what to do exactly. You could be fighting self-doubt or perfectionism. Fear making a mistake or fear having a less than perfect result can hold you back.

 

How to get unstuck

There are plenty of ways that you can help yourself get unstuck. Below are some approaches you can use to get out of your rut. 

Identify what you truly want

Stuckness can be a vague, ambiguous feeling of something in life not being "right." When you notice these feelings, allow yourself some time to clarify what you want to be different. Frame these desires and hopes as what you do want to happen: "I want to maintain or increase my salary" rather than "I don't want to take a pay cut."

Ways to identify what you want:

  • Create a vision board. Get creative and create a visual representation of what matters to you and what you want in your life. This board can be as literal or abstract as you like – it's your vision – so have fun with it!
  • Determine what your values are. What's important to you? Do you value relationships and loyalty over grit and determination? Make a list of your top 10 values and look for any patterns.

Change your perspective

Remember that feeling "stuck" can be simply a mindset—albeit an oppressive one. But negative thoughts don't hold all the cards. With some self-awareness and conscious effort, you can change your inner voice. And your perspective to be more flexible.

Questions to change your perspective:

  • How else can I see this situation?
  • How will I feel about this situation in a week/three months, three years?
  • What would my eight-year-old self offer as advice?
  • What would 80-year-old me say?

Move your body

If you've ever finished the workday with a stiff neck and shoulders, you'll know that tension and stuckness can sit in the body. Exercise can get more positive chemicals running through you. And being outside and in nature does wonders for your well-being.

Ways to get moving:

  • Do a quick virtual yoga class. Some are even formatted to do at your desk (but we recommend taking a break if you can)
  • Go for a walk
  • Stretch your neck, shoulders, and arms

Set a date and park decisions until then

Give yourself space to clear your head, and set a date to re-evaluate your situation. Mark the date in your calendar, and allow yourself to focus on present issues until then. This practice gives you the chance to fully commit to what you're doing without the extra weight of questioning yourself and your future. 

Take action to avoid "analysis paralysis"

Once you're clear on what you want, ask yourself, "What's the next smallest step I could take?" It's so easy to get entangled with the stuckness that you forget there are small steps that you could take to make progress.

How to beat procrastination:

Try the Pomodoro Technique. Commit to spending a short time, such as 25 minutes, working on a task uninterrupted. Since the first step is often the hardest, things feel more straightforward once you get going. 

Tap into your agency

Stuckness can often make you want to wallow in helplessness. Identify an aspect of your life where you do feel in control and then do something about it.

You cannot be stuck and in motion at the same time. So doing anything with choice reminds you of your ability to get unstuck.

Small activities that build agency:

  • Deciding what you want for dinner
  • Sending out one job application
  • Phoning a friend

woman-reading-feeling-stuck

Rest, recharge, and focus on self-care

During a challenging time, keep in mind that you're responsible for your well-being. Do what you need to look after yourself through a good diet, sleep, healthy movement, and connection.

Suggestions for self-care:

  • Take a break from technology or social media
  • Make a gratitude list
  • Go to bed earlier
  • Take a mental health day
  • Do some inner work

When to seek help getting unstuck

Feeling stuck can happen at many different stages of life: early in careers, when transition phases end, at mid-life, after a period of relative stability, or during a pandemic.

If you have persistent feelings of low mood, worry, or anxiety, or your sense of stuckness is getting in the way of your ability to cope, it's a good idea to speak to a doctor or healthcare professional.

What not to do when you feel stuck

To reduce any extra stress and worry that can arise when feeling stuck in a rut, keep these in mind: 

Try not to over-identify with the situation

Say, "I'm feeling stuck," rather than "I am stuck." It's subtle but essential because it allows you to remember that feelings pass. One moment you might feel stuck, but the next moment you might feel tired, delighted, or any number of emotions. 

Don't beat yourself up

Most people like to have clarity and control over their lives. So the feeling of being stuck can be frustrating. Rather than beat yourself up over feeling stuck, treat yourself with self-compassion.

Don't focus on the stuck area as the only thing in your life

Remember that each situation that makes you feel stuck is just one part of your life. For example, if you feel stuck at work, spend some time appreciating what is good about your health or relationships.

Try not to blame others

We don't live in a vacuum, and others' decisions and actions can impact our lives. But dwelling on them isn't productive.

Give other people the benefit of the doubt, and consider that they may be doing the best they can with the tools they have. And remember that you're ultimately in charge of many aspects of your personal and professional life.

Don't doubt your ability to handle your decisions

If you're really stuck with a choice between two options, they may be equal—or one would be more obvious. When you consider the cost of staying in the limbo of indecision, you may find it's better to commit to a decision. You can then move forward with the self-belief that you're able to handle what comes next. Trust yourself.

Final thoughts on feeling stuck

Unlike a ship that's run aground, a car stuck in the mud, or a fallen tree blocking a river's path—the particular stuckness of humans can be one of choice, state of mind, and perspective. Remember: it's never too late to start over in life

Choose to see your situation through a different lens and see what opens up for you.

Hopefully, by using the tips above, you will get unstuck, find your agency and ultimately change your life.

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Published February 3, 2022

Meg Lyons, PCC

BetterUp Fellow Coach, PCC

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