Originally featured in the Appreciation at Work blog.
Have you ever felt like you were in a rut or experiencing a particularly low point in your life? It’s times like these when we feel down, hopeless and stuck. This can run the spectrum of significance, such as being bored at work to grieving the death of a family member or friend, but the symptoms are the same. We become disengaged and cannot fully focus or show up with our best selves.
The key to getting out of a rut is self-care, even when that feels like your lowest priority and the last thing you have time for. But really, self-care is the only way to move forward again. This type of “stuck” is a form of grieving and too often, we try to muscle our way through it instead of moving gracefully beyond it. We try to busy ourselves, self-medicate or avoid the flood of feelings accompanying the situation. Most of us haven’t been taught how to grieve, and because we are so uncomfortable with the pain we can’t sit with it and be patient with the process. It takes time and requires gentle progress toward doing what it takes to feel better one day and sometimes one moment at a time.
The good news is, you can’t think your way toward better acting, but you can act your way to better thinking. When you’re ready for progress, and only when ready, use the practices below to move forward again. In the process, you’ll redefine success and what it means to be your best self.
- Physical Fitness: Many of us fail on this one because we set expectations that are too high for ourselves. When you are coming out of a low period, you need to consistently have the experience of succeeding. To accomplish this, you must lower the bar and set a goal that is attainable given the circumstances. For example, you might commit to some form of self-care once a week; once you are consistent and making progress while gaining energy, only then will you raise your goal to twice a week. If at any point the self-care causes stress, it’s no longer self-care. Self-care also includes sleep. Often we neglect sleep as a key ingredient to health. At times like this, you may need more than your usual amount to sustain your energy for the long term.
- Being Grateful: Remembering there are things to be grateful for, even in the darkest of times, helps keep us focused on the positive and moving forward. Keep a gratitude journal and list at least ten things you are grateful for every night before going to bed. This one intentional practice is a game changer for how you approach each new day. Some days the weather may be all you’re grateful for – and you can detail ten aspects of that at bare minimum.
- Eating Well: When you begin to treat food as a drug or fuel, you become more mindful of what you put in your mouth. When you’re down, you may not even be conscious of this. Fueling yourself with good foods helps your body stay healthy and your mind stay sharp. Make a commitment to nourish yourself the way you would nourish your children. Time is often a barrier for busy people, but there are many services like Origins, Blue Apron and Instacart that can help minimize the effort shopping and cooking takes. There are healthy options around; being intentional means you’ll slow down to ensure you’re taking care of your body.
- Support Network: Surround yourself with positive people and inspirational messaging. This can be from family, friends and non-human sources like pets, social media and other reading materials. You need to evaluate how your interactions make you feel; do they give you energy or drain your energy? Do you feel forwarded or mired as a result of the interaction? Filter out anything that lessens your energy, including relationships. Take a break from social media or limit the amount of time you spend online daily. When you’re stuck, gravitate to what is easily moving you forward. Once you’re in a better place mentally, physically and emotionally, you will be able to change your thinking.
Getting out of a rut is a process that times time. Be patient and kind with yourself, and know that even small progress is a success. In addition to the practices outlined above, find other ways to recognize you are winning. When you don’t believe you have the time to put yourself first, remember that taking care of yourself is like putting on your oxygen mask before helping others on the plane. If you’re not around, you can’t help anyone else!