Having a bad day can happen from time to time, but then there are longer stretches that can turn into weeks or months of feeling unmotivated, lost, or hopeless. Life may keep piling it on, but here are a few starting points for how you can climb out of your hole and get back on track.
This is an awfully big topic, so we asked you for personal experiences, and you delivered. There were so many great contributions, so thank you to all who told your story. These are all great stories and tips from readers just like you—mixed in with our own tips and strategies, as well as research—that show how it’s possible to get out of any rut in your life.
Just do something
It’s possible you feel stagnant because…well, you are. You wake up, work, go to bed, and repeat. Sometimes when it feels like you’re not going anywhere, you just need something to loosen up the gears. It doesn’t matter what it is—many of you recommended volunteering, taking a class, or doing some community service—but if you try something outside of your norm (especially if you learn something), it can go a long way. You can discover something you love, or meet new people that bring a new flavor to your normal day-to-day recipe.
A lot of people may feel unhappy because there is nothing in their life that excites them, so it’s important to look for it everywhere. Chances are your comfort zone is exactly what’s bringing you down. You never know where something will lead you. If something interests you at all, give it a shot. Ken Reynolds did just that:
What you do doesn’t always have to be big. It can be just one small thing. Think of something that has bothered you for a long time and handle it. Fix a wobbly doorknob, cancel your Netflix subscription, or make an appointment you’ve been putting off. The sense of accomplishment will get you moving again.
What’s important is that you’re making a move. You’re taking control, no matter how small the action seems, and proving to yourself that you have the power to change how you feel. Take up crocheting, or try a food you’ve never had before. Just pick something—whatever you’re feeling—and go for it.
Look for support
You might think you’re a rock, but the truth is that nobody can do everything on their own. Reach out and find somebody that will listen to you, give you advice, or even force you out of the house to take a walk in the park. No matter how alone you think you are, you’re not. Lifehacker commenter Piccles says this is the key to feeling better about your life:
People. It’s all about the people in your life. I guarantee there is someone, somewhere that cares about you. I ended up reconnecting with some friends from college that I hadn’t seen much in the last couple years, and those friendships are what gave me the strength to keep going and move forward with my life. Having people around you that legitimately care about you, want to spend time with you, and want to see you succeed, can make a huge difference.
Seek out family, friends, or perhaps even a coworker to chat. There is nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it. If you think you might be depressed, it’s even more important that you seek help. Depression is a struggle that can keep you down more than any rut, but it doesn’t have to stay like that. The way you feel is completely valid, but when you’re depressed there’s more going on than simple unhappiness.
Get professional help, and keep in mind that checking in on your mental health should be just as essential as checking in on your physical health. There is always some way to talk to somebody, even if you can’t afford it.
Of course, there’s always strength to be found in words as well. Maybe a particular passage from a book or a quote that gives you the jump start you need. Fiona2393 finds strength in a speech:
In the midst of a mild depression/rut, I came across the response Gene Kranz, a well-respected higher-up in Mission Control, gave to his team after losing three astronauts in a launchpad fire… I’ve gone back to those two paragraphs more times than I can count. Acknowledging that I screwed up somewhere in my life, and that I have plenty of work to do to ‘fix’ it, is half the battle.
Whatever it is that suits you, you need support from time to time. It’s not easy to ask for it, but the people in your life don’t want to see you unhappy. So reach out for something—people, religion, inspiring words—grab it tight, and start to move forward.
Get some exercise
There are a lot of great reasons to exercise, but there’s never a better time than when you’re in a rut. You’ll boost your confidence, de-stress your weary mind, get better sleep, and you’ll have more energy to do the things you actually care about. Translation: you’ll be happier.
It doesn’t have to be crazy when you start out. Something as simple as taking a walk for 25 minutes a day can get you moving and give you a change of pace. Commenter pdxwhy decided to start walking just for some time to think:
I started walking for fitness and then became an enthusiast for race walking. Doing this allowed me to really think and just be present. Walking allowed me to meditate and pray and literally be those important first steps to a better life.
I always tell people to take a walk and think things through.
If you’re looking for a bigger shift in gear, set an exercise goal for yourself. Scott Thigpen aimed for a big one:
…there was a movie on the background called “Ride the Divide” which is a documentary about an event called “The Tour Divide,” one of the toughest mountain bike races in the world. I said “Well that sounds like a good goal.” And for two years I worked little by little training and building on that (and actually using the principles in GTD and applying them to Mountain biking).
On June 14th, 2013 I started the race against 160+ people from around the world. Needless to say, I’m not in a rut anymore…
Of course, you don’t have to take on the toughest bike race in the world. As long as you get yourself moving, you’ll feel more in control and ready to handle the things squeezing the life out of you. Find a sport, hobby, or routine you’ll want to stick to and you’ll feel better in no time.
Will spending a few minutes in outdoors (or at least out of your home) completely change your life? Probably not, but it’s a good first step to feeling better. In fact, recent research found that spending even five minutes in nature could help turn your mood around:
The researchers conducted two separate tests where participants were asked to either sit in a room or in the outdoors for different periods of time, all without electronic devices to keep them occupied.
While negative emotions were lowered in both situations after just a few minutes, being out in nature tended to actually inspire positive emotions.
So go out, talk a walk around the block, go to a park, or even just sit somewhere outside for a few minutes. The change of scenery may help.
Make changes in your life, big or small
For a lot of people who feel stuck, there is a certain thing in their life that’s weighing them down. It could be where you live, your job, or even a specific person that sucks the happiness out of you (or even all three). Take a little time to think about the aspects of your life and identify what might be a source of negativity that needs to change.
If your job is what’s making you unhappy, you don’t necessarily have to quit. The simple change of setting boundaries between work time and personal time can help. Commenter angrygreycatreads felt dissatisfied with work, but found a way to make it better:
I can’t quit my job, however I have found that by setting some clear boundaries, not letting work bleed into my personal life the way that it was and doing more things I like (especially immediately after work) “Nope, leaving on time going to a yoga class” has helped considerably.
With boundaries in place, you’ll have more free time. You could use that free time to lounge around and recharge, or—as commenter scarlet.pirate suggests—schedule your free time like it’s a second job:
I had to WORK on it. So hanging out with friends was like scheduling meetings or client visits—instead of being passive, you end up being very active. Instead of “well I guess they didn’t text me back” you start to take ownership. When is best for you? Hey I haven’t heard back, are we still on? (People are weird; say, “you want to hang out sometime?” and it’ll never happen. Say, “are you free this Friday after work?” and you start a discussion.)
Sometimes a simple change can turn things around, but other times a change of a much larger magnitude is required. Maybe there is someone in your life that is nothing but negative. As difficult as it is, cutting that person out of your life is what it takes. Your environment could be affecting you as well. Commenter edenn1423 was in need of a change bad enough to go with the nuclear option:
Moved out of the “destination” city that had a crap job and crap relationship. Just dropped everything and left. 3 years later, I make twice as much money for 90% less work, bought a house, have a baby on the way, and quit drinking myself into oblivion every night. Best decision ever.
Sometimes the change you need to make is all in your mind, in your way of thinking. Have you ever considered that maybe things aren’t as bad as you think? It’s possible that you are just looking at everything too “glass half empty.” Commenter Reboot decided to take responsibility for what was happening:
I felt – and spoke “I have a black cloud over me.” One day, I realized that bad things weren’t just happening to me. I was causing them. When I took responsibility for my life and stopped making excuses, things turned around. It wasn’t easy but I put myself back on track. I made choices that resulted in the “bad things” and once I decided to re-think those choices, the bad things went away. Sort of. Bad stuff still happens. But you control your own happiness. If you let life happen to you. It will be over before you know it.
There’s no better time to try and adjust your mindset than when you feel like you’re out of control. Remember, nothing will change unless you take action. You’re in control of who you spend your time with, what you do with your time, where you live, how you think about things and even where you work, to some extent. A simple change in any of those things can give you the perspective adjustment you need.
There’s no right answer to getting out of a rough patch because everyone’s situations are completely different, but hopefully some of these ideas can be a launchpad for you. If anything, take these stories and tips as proof that it’s possible to overcome even the lowest lows of life.
This story was originally published in September 2014 and was updated on January 25, 2021 to meet Lifehacker style guidelines.