Why We Feel Stuck in Life and the Secret to Dealing with It

Woman in a jar

It is the way we react to circumstances that determines our feelings.” ~Dale Carnegie

We’ve all felt like we’re drowning in mud.

You feel stuck, worthless, and confused.

You want to move. You should. You have to. But you can’t.

And then it evolves into anxiety, fear, and overwhelm.

But what if—just what if—being stuck isn’t the problem, but how we perceive it?

The Truth About Being Stuck

Every year, I have periods where I feel “stuck.”

Yet when I look closer, I see that “being stuck” is a label I give to a natural part of life.

It’s a time when not much happens. The anxiety comes when I think it should be otherwise. I start to force myself to work, to come up with ideas, and to make things happen.

And when I don’t get anywhere, I call it being stuck.

So, what is being stuck except the way I perceive life?

As I write this, I’ve been in a stuck period for the last few months. The difference is that I struggle less, because I’m beginning to let it be.

Why We Get Stuck

You get stuck when you think you should be something you’re not. When you think life should be different than it is.

I know I’m trying to force myself to do something when words like ”should,” ”have to,” and ”must” enter my mind.

When I relax and surrender to this quiet period in my life, things seem okay. I see that I can’t control life. I can only notice what life brings to me.

The Secret to Being Stuck Completely

Being stuck is like quicksand. The more you try to get out, the deeper you sink.

My mind wants to push, control, and manipulate. It stems from insecurity. I want to be secure, be loved, and be remarkable.

I think that if I could just control life, all would be well.

It’s not until I face reality that things begin to lift. Here are three things I do:

1. Give up.

When you’re stuck, surrender to being stuck.

I notice the thoughts and feelings within me that say that I’m stuck, and that something is wrong.

If I stay completely in this moment, there is no being stuck. There is only the label of a situation—a label that I’ve invented based on what I think my life should look like.

When I notice all this going on, I breathe a deep sigh of relief.

But that doesn’t mean that the feelings go away. I might still feel the anxiety, but it doesn’t have a death grip on me anymore.

I can see the play of thoughts. I can surrender to what comes.

And I still fall into resisting, but I’m getting better at letting it be what it is. I’m getting better at enjoying being stuck.

The funny thing is that when we enjoy being stuck, we’re not stuck anymore, because being stuck was all in our head.

2. Enjoy yourself.

There’s always something you feel drawn to do during these periods. You’re not completely stuck, not in every area of your life.

Right now, I’m reading books. I’m playing with my son. I’m watching movies and TV shows (the British version of Sherlock is amazing).

And on occasion, I’m writing articles like this, expressing what I feel.

I do the work I need to do. But then I let myself have fun.

It’s easy for me to feel guilty during this period because I feel like I’m not doing enough. But I’ve learned to see that I’m doing the best I can.

It’s another example of getting stuck in the story that I tell myself.

I am who I am. I’m doing what I can do. That’s enough.

And right now, that means doing less. The tide will shift soon enough.

The same is true for you. Do what you can, but go easy on yourself.

3. Write.

At times when I feel truly stuck, I write.

I don’t have a system or structure. I get a piece of paper and I write. I like to write by hand, the old fashioned way. It seems to clear my head more than writing on my computer.

What I do is write down everything going on in my head. No censoring. No looking back.

I let everything come out, especially the nasty bits.

The more I do this, the more I notice repeating patterns. I see how I want to change what is, and how futile it is.

The more aware I become, the more these things fall away.

When you truly become aware of what goes on inside of your head, you start to let go because you see how you create your own suffering.

My Biggest Mistake

When we resist what is, we suffer. That’s true for anything in life.

When I try to change what is, I poison myself from the inside out.

But with time, I’ve learned to see my resistance as a sign to relax. To see that I can only do my best with what I have, then it’s out of my hands.

There’s no pushing needed. Life lives itself through me, because I am life.

I am not separate from anything or anyone. I am this planet. I am the stars. I am you.

I sometimes wonder why we think we are not supported in life. We come into this world through a womb, where we’re supported.

The trees in the forest are supported. Yet we believe we’re the exception. Are we? I don’t think we are.

We just think that life should look different than it does. But the fact that life isn’t what you think it is shows that you’re wrong.

Let Things Be

Whether you feel stuck for a week or for a year doesn’t really matter.

You do the best you can with what you have.

But something I’ve noticed is that the longer I’m stuck, and the more I surrender to it, the more I learn when I come out of it.

It is the darkest periods of my life that have taught me the most about myself.

I’ve learned that life isn’t all about accomplishing things. Sometimes it’s about resting and letting things be.

These periods are no different than the seasons. There’s sun. There’s snow. There’s light, and there’s darkness.

Once you let it be what it is, things change because your perception changes.

But beware of making this another thing you have to do. Be kind to yourself. Let yourself be completely stuck.

And let yourself fight it, because you will.

It’s all good.

Woman in a jar image via Shutterstock

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  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    Thank you so much for sharing your story…this was really helpful & came at the right moment! 🙂

  • Talya Price

    Thank you for this I needed to read this because I have been feeling stuck for 6 months now. Hopefully I will not be stuck in 2015!

  • Hi Henri, great words. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Throughout my life I always found that whenever I felt stuck I had to regain love for myself in order to move on.

    We have to accept ourselves. We have to realise that we are worthy and deserving. We have to be happy with our imperfections.

    There are times in our lives where we find ourselves stuck at the crossroads because we want to please everybody. Whenever we allow someone else to give us value, we lose confidence.

    What does confidence mean? It means to trust yourself. To trust yourself you have to know yourself. To know thyself you have to love yourself. That’s one powerful way I found to get unstuck.

  • N.eddy

    I had so many down “stuck” periods this year. Moments of depression as I tried my damnedest to resist. Some days I didn’t even want to get out of bed (and I’m a mother of 2 so cue the guilt.) It was only when I finally said, “you are down. For whatever reason unmotivated. Own it. Embrace it. It needs your loving kindness.” And it was what I needed to make the shift. To give myself a break and not be so hard on myself. By “owning” my stuckedness I became unstuck (and became aware I was in a very unhappy marriage.)

  • Tia

    I can completely relate to this article. This is exactly how I’ve been feeling these last few months. I am finally learning how to take things more easy/let things go. Thank you.

  • Vivienne

    I sail, and my boat is docked in a place that needs a slack tide to get in and out of the marina. To some, slack tide is an annoyance. The tide isn’t going in or out, it’s neither a high tide nor a low tide. It feels just as you have described, stuck. The truth is, slack tide is as important as a moving tide, especially for me!

  • Sherman Smith

    Hey Henri,

    This is something I feel sometimes. Sometimes you just have to let things be and live in the moment in order to progress. You get back aligned and you feel whole . Thanks for sharing and I hope you have a Happy New Year!

  • Louise Watson

    Great post! I’m just coming out of a being stuck phase and couldn’t agree more with the advice you’ve given here. If we relax into it and even try to enjoy it, then the way forward will eventually become clear to us. Thank you!

  • YuNisu

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It helps me realize more about my life. That its okay if somethings doesnt go your way as long as u know u did ur best. ok! I will just do my best! Thank you!

  • Glad to hear that!

  • It’s not easy, but once things begin to click, life gets easier. Not smoother. Not without bumps. But easier 🙂

  • It’s funny how we learn to resist depression and any darkness, but it’s not until you accept it that you give yourself room to shift, to change. Thanks for sharing that.

  • And sometimes you don’t do your best. Even that is okay 🙂

  • Absolutely, Louise!

  • Same to you, Sherman!

  • Well put 🙂

  • I’ve noticed in my own life that the stuckness is often there for a reason. Sometimes it tells me to relax, and sometimes it reveals something about myself.

  • Summer

    Thank you so much, you have truly blessed me with this message. Bless you.

  • Melanie

    It’s very comforting to hear I’m not the only one who feels stuck. I failed the California bar exam on my first try, after months of preparing and yet more months of waiting to receive my results. I have to retake it in February. Last year, I lost my beautiful apartment when I ran out of money because I couldn’t work because I had to study. I am looking forward to working again so that I can get engaged, marry my boyfriend, and finally start our home together. In the meantime, I’ve had an amazing fountain of support. I’ve also had experiences which brought me closer to my family and friends, who I missed out on during law school and while working, and that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I have learned about what is most important to me without all the frills of my former life, as well as about how to be more patient, accepting, and self-loving. Cheers to you and everyone here on making the best of quiet time to embark on self-discovery. May we all reach our respective destinies in due time.

  • I really enjoyed this post!
    It is true that surrender is the only way to get unstuck. For me, I need to remind myself that the control I ‘think’ I have is only an illusion and when I release it..I allow moment -to-moment presence to enter my life, which in turn brings me a sense of openness and a sense of calmness. I will take that over control any day.

  • Couldn’t agree more. That’s a powerful insight to have. For most people it takes decades.

  • Thanks for sharing that, and cheers to you, too. Things don’t always go the way we want, but sometimes that’s for the best.

  • Thank you for reading!

  • Melanie

    Thank you. Looking back over my life, I’ve come to realize that every challenge presented a lesson with a chance to learn, refine, and grow. It is more a matter of whether we are willing to open up, listen, and put that lesson to good use. It helps to remember this. It also helps to remember all the times there was something we thought we’d never get through, but landed on our feet anyway. The human heart is a lot more resilient than we give it credit for.

  • What works best for me is being gentle with myself during these periods because I tend to get stuck when I’m pushing too hard. By the way, I’m addicted to Sherlock too at the moment 🙂

  • Shawn

    I have so much in my life that I should feel grateful for and unfortunately I just don’t. Life feels empty most of the time. I feel irritable and angry for no reason. I have little passion in anything, avoid spending time with family and friends, lack the energy and will power to do any form of exercise and just generally feel miserable a lot. I find life to be boring, repetitive, etc. I’m very negative and have very bad mood swings. I have no interest in any religion. My wife reminds me how I should stop focusing on the negatives in life and be grateful for my life. I just don’t know what to do… How do you find joy in life when you feel like I do?

  • Sue

    “Life lives itself through me, because I am life.” Wow.

    Thank you – I needed this. Great piece of writing.

    And I love Sherlock, too! 🙂

  • Well said! Change becomes possible when you learn to awaken to your depression and “negative” emotions. The essence of awakening is compassionate consciousness, where you actually learn to care for your emotional suffering rather than rejecting your unwanted emotions. The Buddha taught compassion, never aversion – and that means to your own emotions too.

  • William Ray

    Thank you for posting this, having a real hard time right now and can’t quite put my finger on it. My GF told me to visit this site to make myself feel better and this is the third article I read and I feel a little better and I may just enjoy my day now!

  • Sammi

    I am so glad I came across this article. It relates to my life situation so well, I just need to follow these steps and let my life do it itself.

  • Carlos

    This article was a waste of time. Not to sound grouchy or anything, but it was so vague, so pointless, so cheesy – was it really worth the kilobytes?

  • Veselin

    I feel just the same. Even tho im 17. I just feel like i dont have ambitionz. Every day is the same like yesterday. I cant find something to look forward to. Overthinking. Unsure about almost anything. I dont have many friends and i hardly meet some one new. I dont know how to continue… or where to start a new begining..

  • cherfer

    I wish I could find some more concrete advice on this subject. not everyone likes to write 🙁

  • Lisa Byrne

    This is a really helpful piece of advice for the uptight worriers like myself. So many self help articles make changing out to be a very simple process, which it is anything but. I like how you reminded the reader that it is okay to be stuck, it’s okay to have hiccups, because I’m sure we’re all used to reading what we should be doing instead of just letting things be and accepting ourselves right where we are. I really appreciate this piece, it’s helped me to change how I perceive things which has made me feel a lot more comfortable in my own skin. Thank you 🙂

  • Cherie Christie

    So all I need to do is surrender?!
    I’ve been stuck for the past 2 years. My mother passed away in 2014. I was finally coming out of my “unstuck” period then my brother OD a week before Christmas 2015. I’m so drained & exhausted & feel worthless cause I’m not out there working & put so much pressure on myself to be something that I’m not. So back to resting up & letting go.
    Thank you! It’s good to read I’m not the only one like this, not that I’d wish this on anyone!

  • Surrendering is the first step, but must be followed up with embracing the negative emotions with full consciousness + compassion (the definition of mindfulness meditation).

  • Michael Osborne

    Socrates the greatest philosopher sums it all up with two words ‘Know thyself’. I have just read a book by Shakti Gawain where her answer is just to follow your intuition/gut feeling. That is also about trusting and accepting yourself.

  • tyler

    This article was like the needle in the haystack I have been looking for. I knew that there must be something(reading material) out there that can help me but could not find it. Finally, I found this article. Great job and thank you so much!

  • Virginia Green

    Best advice I’ve ever gotten about being stuck. TY

  • DNelson

    Thank you for writing and sharing this (I know I am late to this conversation). I have been feeling “stuck” for a few months now and I haven’t been able to put my finger on what exactly it is that I am feeling and why exactly it is that I am feeling this way. The only way I can describe it is using this term “stuck”. I also use the term “bored”, but I feel that has a slightly different meaning, essentially insinuating that by being busy or having my mind occupied that I would feel better, but I am not sure that is true.

    I have been asked by a friend if I am depressed, and I don’t think what I am feeling is depression. I also feel that we live in a society where depression is over-diagnosed. It’s almost like we aren’t allowed to feel down or “stuck”, and anytime we do, it means that something is wrong. So maybe that is why we put so much time and energy into getting out of this “stuck” feeling, because we think that it isn’t normal. However, I think you have done a good job in essentially saying that it is okay to feel “stuck”, and maybe that is just what I needed to hear. Reading your post kind of gave me a bit of relief that I haven’t been able to discover or find elsewhere, so thanks again!

  • One of the best things to do when we feel stuck is to meditate on that very feeling itself. When you meditate on an emotion, including those associated with anxiety and depression, you effectively stop feeding those negative emotions through rumination and “worrying” and create a space around the emotion in which the emotion begins to change and heal itself.

    The Boulder Center for Online Mindfulness Therapy.

  • J Li

    Wow this is what I needed ! And the bonus is that I now know there are a lot of people on the same boat ! Thank you Mr. Henri 🙂

  • Mitzi Wheeler

    Thank you.

  • Mitzi Wheeler

    Does anyone have ways of embracing it or learning How to accept it?

  • Hey Mitzi. If you want to see how I do it, I have a video on my YouTube channel. I’m not sure I am allowed to post a link, but let’s try:

  • Mitzi Wheeler

    Thank you for the link.

  • Gabriel Hernandez

    Thank you so much! Is difficult for the mind that is accostume to always moving and acoplishing, to see being stuck as a momento of resting and letting things fall into place. Thank you it came at
    the right moment.

  • Pixie

    Interesting. Good to hear something different.

  • hajar mojahid

    you’re amazing.. you just expressed what i feel & i didn’t even know what it is ! feeling better to know now that i am not alone & it is gonna end up soon 🙂
    thank you

  • Jason Roth

    It’s about expression. Let out the insides. I believe stuck is when God wants us to stop our outside activities and get a new perspective on something important. Some change – inside or out, or both. So don’t write, but let it out honestly and fully. Move

  • cherfer

    I’m an atheist lol but thanks 🙂

  • Jodie Shae

    Beautiful piece of writing!

  • Anonymous

    I have lived in stuck for the past ten years. I’m never not stuck. There is nothing I want or desire to do. The necessities are taken care of—that’s all that matters. Having “more” is more to manage, more to deal with, more to screw up, more to be confused by. Possessions are burdens. Goals are an endless series of boulders to push uphill—empiness is the prize of accomplishment.
    People confuse me; “relationships” are incomprehensible.

  • Tatiana Nvm

    Amazing article. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, this is exactly what I needed to hear at this point of my life.

  • Vassil

    Same here, everything you try seems a dead end.

  • Anon

    Very nicely put…

  • Daniel

    Thank You so much, That was all I needed to hear in this moment. Blessings!! 🙂