It’s December. Finals season is upon us, work is utterly insane due to the holidays, and just stepping outside makes you feel like you might turn into a block of ice, crack from all of the pressure, and ultimately evaporate. You’re falling behind in your classes, doing nothing to propel yourself into the workplace (are you guys actually networking?), and neglecting yourself and your creative endeavors. There are days you can’t even get out of bed. You’re in a rut, as it often hits at this time of the year, and in need of some winter hibernation (as fall break did nothing besides give you more time to stress over your never-ending to-do list for the last weeks of the semester). It’s easy to feel like you’re the only one who’s completely screwing up, and even easier to think that your current actions will do irrevocable damage to your future or your career – but, with one brief look around you’ll find that you aren’t alone in this.
It’s no secret that our generation is more prone to struggling with mental health. As social psychologist Jonathan Haidt lovingly put it in the Wall Street Journal, there has “never been a generation this depressed, anxious, and fragile.” Blame that on social media, our still-developing brains, or how easy it is for us to receive all of the world’s worst news within a millisecond. Maybe we’re just wired a little haphazardly. Nonetheless, juggling these problems with additional ones from school, work, personal matters, and the persistent feeling of impending doom isn’t as easy as your peers make it out to be. One thing’s for sure, though: You fell into this rut, and you can sure as hell climb your way out of it. I’m in desperate need of escaping, too, so let’s walk through it together with some shifty advice. I’ve experimented on a trusty test subject: Myself!
- Stop the sulking.
The first, and probably hardest, step: You gotta understand that nothing’s going to get better while you’re telling yourself the opposite. You’re stuck with yourself 24/7, (you quite literally live in your own head) so try being a little nicer to yourself. It’s easy to become trapped in a chasm of self-pity, but it feels much better to handle your problems, cope with them, and grow from them. Allow yourself to feel these emotions, but don’t let them own you. Some advice: Treat yourself how you treat your friends, and if you find that it’s much better than how you treat yourself, you’ve got some work to do. Also, don’t knock the positive affirmations; believe it or not, they actually work sometimes! Proclaim your self-love in the morning, in the evening, and a couple times in between – there’s a good chance it’ll help you feel better.
- Stop taking everything so seriously.
Trust me, you’re not gonna screw your whole life up from one bad day, month, or even year. As someone with her fair share of anxiety, I have loads of trouble with this one myself, but it really isn’t an insult as much as it is good advice: Stop being so serious. Mistakes are a part of the human experience. They’re how we become better people and do better things. Instead of worrying that the rut you’re in now is bound to mess you up forever, you need to understand that these moments happen to every human and you can get past them too. Let yourself breathe. What’s that theory that even just smiling when you’re sad will make you happier? Yeah, do that.
- Take it slow.
We’ve all been there: It’s three in the morning and you’re making plans to turn your whole life around overnight just for the next day to be the same old routine. Stop thinking that you have to fix everything all at once; it just isn’t possible. Growth isn’t linear, but more like a s***show rollercoaster. You’ll always have good days and bad days, and they aren’t indicative of your life or being as a whole. Go easy on yourself when you’re aiming to make progress, or else you won’t make any at all. Take it one step at a time. Lifestyle transitions begin with the tiniest daily improvements, so start by scratching one thing off your to-do list, then two, then three. Don’t think so much about the quantity of tasks you’ve accomplished, but their quality instead.
- Take care of yourself.
Never underestimate the power of self-care. It can sound so shallow, but I know you’ve felt it: When you look good, you feel good (and then you do good!). Do those things for yourself that you’ve been neglecting. Wash your face, brush your teeth, move that body! Treat yourself with a little gift (I typically go with a treat from Harrison Street Cafe or a new record) just because you deserve it and sometimes you should spoil yourself. Maybe put on some warm, fuzzy pajamas and watch a comfort movie with a cup of hot chocolate. Whatever you’ve gotta do to make yourself feel better, even if just a teensy bit, do it! And, I’m begging you, please get a decent amount of sleep.
- See your friends.
If you’re anything like me, you become a total recluse when you’re not feeling your best, but you’ve gotta understand that there’s not much you can get through alone. Being a lone rider is such a bore anyway, and our whole livelihood as humans is based on the humans we have around us. Talk to them. Hug them! Sure, alone time is beneficial and even necessary, but, speaking from experience, too much of it can hurt you. There is no battle too extreme when the people you love are with you; and, seriously, they want to help you. You’re not an inconvenience.
- Let your creative juices flow. Do something with your hands.
One thing I’ve always noticed when I’m in a funk: I’m not doing the things I love, the very things keeping me sane in the first place. I stop journaling, stop collaging, and my idea of fun becomes sitting in front of a screen to zone out and forget that I’m a real person. In my experience, creativity is the best tool to utilize when handling any emotions or difficult times in your life. It’s a way to express how you’re feeling without being directly vocal about it; which, let’s be real, most of us don’t necessarily feel like doing. You don’t have to be a particularly artistic person, either. Listen to music. Journal a bit. Doodle, or paint, or make a friendship necklace or something. It doesn’t matter what it is; the only thing that matters is that it’s allowing you to get your feelings out of yourself and into something else.
- Ride it out.
As much as it sucks, you’ve got to let yourself experience the negative so that you can, in turn, experience the positive. Keep in mind that what you’re going through is only temporary and things are bound to have a turnaround; there is a light at the end of this long, winding tunnel. You can’t always be perfect, and your circumstances can’t always be perfect, either, so take some deep breaths and let it happen. You don’t need to rush the process—you’ll get there.
We all fall into ruts. Not even the most put-together person in your life can avoid them. The problem isn’t these unfortunate phases we find ourselves in, but rather the way we treat ourselves because of them. Allow yourself to be human and embrace what makes you human, both the good and the bad. At the end of the day, the most important puzzle piece to happiness is how you view yourself, so I hope you’re doing so in a positive light. And if you aren’t, let’s start together.
Graphics by Natalie Uhl