Stuck in a rut?

bored man stares at computer 
Are you bored with life? Feel like you’re stuck in a rut? Are you just going through the motions to the point that your work days are blurring together into monotony? If so, it may be time to make some changes to re-invigorate your life.

What is boredom?

Just like every other emotion, boredom is an indicator that reflects how we’re interpreting an experience. While emotions like excitement or happiness indicate that we’re doing something that we like in the moment, boredom indicates that we’d rather be spending our attention elsewhere.
The experience of boredom isn’t inherently negative, but the choices that we make in response to this emotion could be, if they’re focused on ignoring the feeling or impulsively trying to get it to go away without addressing the root causes.

What’s it like to be “stuck in a rut?”

When you’re stuck in a rut, you’re probably not having a lot of fun. A little variety in your life brings the opportunity to be creative, which most people enjoy. When your life becomes too routine-driven, it can be hard to connect with a sense of purpose behind the act of “going through the motions.”

What are symptoms?

You’ll know you’re in a rut when life feels like a trudge. You’ll notice that you’re “checked out” a lot of the time, and that you have a difficult time caring about what happens next. Some people may feel depressed or anxious, while others may start to become frustrated or angry.

Why is boredom potentially harmful?

Boredom can become problematic if we neglect to respond to it in a healthy way. Some people who’re bored may also suffer from depression or anxiety. They make act impulsively, drink alcohol or take drugs.
Many people follow the impulse to search for a “quick fix” to take away the discomfort that comes with feeling bored, but they fail to consider what’s driving the emotion to begin with.
Spending energy avoiding or distracting from an emotion without working to solve the underlying issue can lead to problematic patterns that themselves become a “rut” over time.

What’s the treatment?

If you’re stuck in a rut, consider the following:
Evaluate the nature of your boredom; treat it like an opportunity to get to know yourself a little better.
  •  What is it about the situation that you’re in that leaves you feeling disinterested or unsatisfied? 
Sit with your boredom without judging it; start to explore what’s really going on.
  • Is this feeling situational (and tolerable for a short period), or chronic (and indicative that something in your life needs to change)? 
Cultivate opportunities to have a little fun.
  • What types of experiences generally bring moments of joy to your life? Try to do more of these.
Think about what it is that’s been keeping you stuck.
  • Have you fallen prey to the “shoulds” that often accompany a sense of obligation?
  • Are there good reasons to “stay the course,” even if you’re feeling bored temporarily?
  • Are you aware that you don’t like your situation, but you’re not sure what you might like better?
  • Are you feeling anxious or scared to make a change?

When you’re overwhelmed by the idea of change, start small.

  • What is one thing you can change about your current routine?

When should you seek help?

Counseling is a great way to explore the changes that you want to make in your life and to determine a plan for how to go about it.

If you’re feeling stuck, but it’s hard to find a sense of direction around what needs to change, seeking assistance from a professional can help you set and prioritize goals. It also provides a built-in way to help you stay accountable to the plan you set for yourself to get out of that rut. 

Arianna Galligher is a licensed independent social worker and associate director of the STAR Trauma Recovery Center & Partial Hospitalization and Intensive Outpatient Programs at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.