What it Means When You Feel Stuck in Life… and How to Get Unstuck
The feeling of being stuck can be overwhelming. All at once it can leave you feeling frozen in place, and also like you’re running out of time. Maybe every day feels the same and you don’t see any change in sight — maybe week, next month, next year all look the same in your mind’s eye. Maybe you feel trapped by your spouse, your family, by your job, or by some responsibility that’s left you depleted and empty, searching for purpose.
The feeling of being stuck strikes people differently, but it in nearly every case it leaves a person feeling immobilized and helpless — showing in your life as desperation, anxiety, or a sense of unease that claws its way through your guts and heartspace.
Mel Robbins talks about being stuck in her 2019 audiobook “Take Control of Your Life.” Her explanation of being stuck resonates with me, and maybe it will with you too. She talks about stuck as a natural sign of need from your body. Just like hunger means that you need to eat, thirst means that you need to drink, and that loneliness means you need to pursue human connection. ‘Stuck’, that insidious feeling of invisible shackles, is a natural sign from your psyche that means you need to grow.
Growth will look different for everyone depending on which aspect of life has left you feeling stuck, but in all cases it starts the same way — with intention and a small step forward. Pick an interest you’ve always had and step towards it. For you the step might be to enroll in an evening or weekend class at the local college. It might be taking a wine tasting class, French class, Dance, or Yoga. It might mean going back to school for your Masters degree, or as simple as picking up a book in a topic you’re interested in, or finally meeting a friend for coffee.
The goal here isn’t to find your dream job, or an incredible passion, or uncover a skill you didn’t know you had. All of those are great goals, but the point here is to find which activities you enjoy putting your energy in to.
The only way out of stuck is to move forward. Do more of the actions that leave you feeling open and expansive, and less of what makes you constrained and unhappy.
You solve that kind of stuckness by coming alive and making experiences that help you grow as a person.
In my own experience being stuck meant going into a job every day and focusing all of my energy into tasks that I was good at, but hated. I was feeling anxious and awkward in the office, even amongst people I’d known for years and loved. I felt fearful of presentations and conference calls, and could feel myself closing and withdrawing from my colleagues. I was so focused on the feeling that I was unhappy and that everything was wrong that I was left feeling trapped.
When I started to finally deal with my anxiety it helped me loosen up and open enough to start making choices and taking risks. Only after seeing a therapist and a career coach did I start to see a glimmer of hope that things could change. When I started going to school to become a certified Coach did I suddenly start to enjoy the job I hated more than before? No — of course not! But just doing something that I enjoyed helped lubricate that feeling of stuckness and allowed me to persevere and keep my corporate job until I was prepared to take a leap and pursue something new. In other words — doing something new distracted me from my obsession about how much I hated my job, and allowed me to get unstuck and start moving again.
Some Tips For Getting Unstuck
- Find your Triggers. This is where mindfulness comes into play. As you go through your day take note of when and where you feel stuck, and where you feel unrestrained and expansive. Be present to the feeling and write down what’s triggered the sensation. Time, location and circumstances are all important, but not as important as what it feels like in your body when you feel that feeling of being stuck creep into your psyche. Is it a tightening of your throat? A feeling of hot or cold? Write down where in your body the sensation is coming from. Do this consistently for a few days or weeks until you recognize your triggers. Example: I get the feeling of being trapped after engaging in a difficult conversation with a client over the phone.
Stuckness can feel so overwhelming and generalized that it’s important for us to drill deeper into the feeling and pinpoint what triggers it throughout the day. This takes patience and time, but it worth it.
- Combat Overwhelm with Action. When you start thinking about being stuck a common result is to feel overwhelmed. You might say to yourself that it’s impossible for you add more to you life — you work 9 to 5, pick up the kids, make dinner, clean the house, put the kids to bed, etc. Then, already despondent, you make a laundry list of desires only to find out that you’re all over the place — you want to learn to be a web developer, start an online store, become a mortgage broker, start paning, yoga, French. You want to become a sommelier, a dog walking, a dog walking sommelier. It’s okay! We’re all full of ideas and dreams. Some of them are good and some are dumb, but regardless they need a chance. Pick something you can fit into your schedule and just do it. Once it’s done you’ll know if it was worth your time or not.
- Open Up About Feeling Stuck. When it’s safe to do so tell your loved ones what stuck feels like for you and what you wish you were doing instead. So often we tell ourselves that our dreams are silly or unrealistic or impossible. Sometimes they are, but we need to find the bravery in our lives to open up and say what it is we want. Start by writing it in a journal, make a friggin’ dream board if that floats your boat. Then…tell your spouse, a parent, a best friend. Just say what you want so that the world can hear you. Bonus points for doing this without starting with “…I know it’s impossible/silly/stupid, but….” Some people won’t be encouraging and will drive home why your dream is unlikely, and that’s okay.
- Relax. Being stuck is like being in quicksand in an 80’s cartoon. The more you fight it the more it’ll pull you into its depths. Find your triggers, find your dreams, and after you’ve done this introspections get up and do something. When it comes to feeling stuck in life, a relationship, or even a career, the best way to move forward is to build momentum through taking small steps that will change up your environment and your state of mind — ultimately proving to yourself that change is possible.