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4 min read

How to get out of a rut

By Juan Vazquez · October 7, 2021
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I got stuck in a rut recently. The ebb and flow of my personal wellness doesn't phase me as much as it used to, but this dip struck me as particularly harsh and long.

When I'm at "my best," I'm eating well, exercising, meditating, producing good work, creating, and setting aside time for rest and play. Over the course of the rut, though, these things went out of balance. After a deeply honest session with my therapist, I began to take little steps toward feeling like myself again.

Today is a beautiful Friday, and I'm glad the sun is shining slightly brighter. While the world is facing many challenges, I'm back to being my usual optimistic self. I'm more in touch with the possibility that I get to create the life I want for myself, while accepting that pain will always be a part of the process. 

I know there will always be ebb and flow—for everyone—so I'd like to share a few things that helped me, in case you're feeling stuck too.

Move

There's a reason this is always the first item on any mental health-related list. I can't overstate how important exercise has been for me, even if it's just a five-minute walk. I say set a small goal, and go for it. 

In their book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Emily and Amelia Nagoski talk about how we get "stuck" inside a stress response cycle without completing it, which leads to burnout and ruts. And (surprise!) they suggest exercise as a way out:

Physical activity—literally any movement of the body—is your first line of attack in the battle against burnout.

Remember, your body has no idea what "filing your taxes"… means. It knows, though, what jumping up and down means. Speak its language – and its language is body language. Physical activity is what tells your brain you have successfully survived the threat, and now your body is a safe place to live. […It is] the single most efficient strategy for completing the stress response cycle.

A quick walk does the trick, for sure, but here are some other fun ways you can move:

  • Blast your favorite song in the bathroom, and dance while you're getting ready for the day. 

  • Belt out to your favorite song ("Defying Gravity" from Wicked is my fav for this purpose).

  • Do a little dancey dance. 

You don't need an elaborate workout routine—just do something that gets you moving. It'll be worth it. 

Talk to another human

We're wired for connection: we need it to not only thrive, but to survive. Which is why, when you don't feel like yourself, you should talk to someone. Simple as that. 

I work at Zapier, a remote company, where connecting with coworkers outside of work conversation can be hard—you need to be intentional about it. That's why I'll sometimes DM someone on Slack and say, "Hey, it's been a while! Would you be interested in a catch-up?" If they say yes, I ask if I can add something to their calendar, and we go from there.

I recommend you try something similar—there are even apps that assign conversations at random if reaching out yourself feels like too much right now.

Meditate—or just breathe

The opposite of talking to another human is meditating, and I've found it to be equally as helpful. Try to be mindful, to focus on the present. Even if you last 90 seconds and can't get more than one or two breaths in without your mind wandering, it counts. It counts! 

There are plenty of meditation apps that can help you learn this skill. My favorite is Ten Percent Happier, which is especially good for meditation skeptics (I see you). Give it a try. Worst case scenario, you hate it, in which case you get to think "I told you so," which will also make you feel better. Win-win.

Indulge in some nostalgia

Watch some SpongeBob or The Lion King. Or if those words mean nothing to you: go back in time for a bit to take a sip of the same joy you felt when you first experienced the song/movie/show/book/whatever it is that you love most. 

I like to pull up a song I used to play on repeat at some point in my life and just...vibe. My current go-to is "Midnight City" by M83. I distinctly remember first hearing this song while trying my first-ever craft cocktail at a "hipster bar" in San Diego, surrounded by my best college friends. 

Find your version of this song. It will help. 


It's rough out there right now. Being kind to yourself is easier said than done, but if you tend to have a harsh inner critic, please cut yourself some slack, at least while you're in your rut. (Save the hard-on-yourself tendencies for when you're feeling good.)

Remember that it's ok to not be ok sometimes. If you lose track of a good thing, it's not lost forever. It's ok to begin again—as many times as it takes. If you're looking for some more practical tips for the self-compassion we all need, I recommend Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. It turned on a bunch of light bulbs for me.

When it comes to mental health, the little things can make a big difference. They did for me, and I hope they do for you too.

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Juan Vazquez

Juan Vazquez is a Support Systems Engineer who works from Los Angeles, California. He enjoys making music, playing with his dog, learning new things, and reading.

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