In a rut? …Then shake it up!

image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/imagerymajestic

image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/imagerymajestic

This is something I find myself saying to clients all of the time. Often, people report feeling depressed, anxious, holding themselves back, not accomplishing a goal, achieving some success only to give up, or otherwise just staying stuck in the same old patterns. They recognize it, but their efforts to change always seem to falter, leading to frustration, anger, unhappiness, or apathy.

BUT, the difference here is that they do call someone (a professional) and make an appointment. They get tired of the same cycles and tell themselves they HAVE TO do something about it. And this is important.

Talking with someone who understands what you’re going through, can help you to think about it in a different way, or who can encourage you to try some different things (and hold you accountable for sticking to it) can be invaluable. This third point- trying something different- is the topic of this post.

It may seem obvious that if you’re trying the same thing over and over and it’s not working (“insanity”, according to some), you just do something else. That’s easy for other people to say, but oftentimes it’s not so obvious. We try what we know, what’s worked in the past, or what’s easy. And sometimes things change, like our situation, our motivation, the stressors in our lives, and so on. Or sometimes our go-to strategies are just not that helpful or healthy- like having some drinks, eating something sweet, or going online. Perhaps these things don’t make us feel like they used to, or maybe there has been some kind of negative consequence- like drinking too much or too often, gaining weight, or noticing that we’re spending way too much time in the behavior.

So what do we do that’s different?

Maybe we try something new. This might be something we have never thought of or tried, or it might be something that previously we were resistant to trying. For example, if you think (or have thought) meditation is stupid or you just can’t do it, give it a try.  Mindfulness in particular has shown huge benefits for those who practice it. Or, if you’ve preferred to work out alone, try a class or get a trainer. If you’ve never really read for pleasure, check out a book.  And if your go-to strategy has been to eat when you feel stressed, try a healthy snack or a walk.

You can also return to something you used to do- that you enjoyed, that relieved stress, or that gave you pleasure. For example, if you used to be into skateboarding, pick up a board and push around a parking lot or skatepark.  Go on a bike ride.  Or if you used to draw or play video games, have another go at it. If you used to be into photography, go out and take some pictures.  As we get older and busier, the things we used to enjoy tend to drop off and fall by the wayside. But if they gave us enjoyment or relieved stress at one time, surely they can do so again.

If you have children, try not to use them as an excuse, but take them with you if you need to- and if they’re old enough, teach them about these things.  Or pick up something new and learn it with your child(ren) or partner.  It kills two birds with one stone, because it can make for fun family or couple time.

The point here is that without conscious effort, most of us tend to get bogged down into routines that can be stressful, boring, or just not much fun. This can diminish motivation to accomplish more, to work toward a goal, or to be more outgoing in our lives. We often make excuses that we’re “too busy” or feel like things just aren’t worth it, but I assure you that there is always enough time to think about where we are in our lives, what we might like to be different or to do differently, and to come up with a plan to make at least some of that happen. That might be 5 or 10 minutes at the start or end of your day, or it might be a weekly or biweekly appointment with a therapist.  If you find yourself in a rut and any of this resonates with you, shake it up!  Do something different.

Talking with a professional like a psychologist is one of the best ways that we can shake things up in our lives- to think differently, to try out some new behaviors (or return to older, better ones), and to get more enjoyment and satisfaction out of our lives. A common misconception is that “only people with problems (serious ones, like being “crazy”) talk to therapists”. The reality, though, is that we therapists work with many people who are quite happy with their lives and function at a high level. But they strive to get more out of life, and recognize the value in having someone help them to accomplish that. Counseling can also serve to prevent issues or problems before they do happen.

If you think talking with a professional could help you or someone you care about, you can find a referral here or here.

(C) Jesse D. Matthews, Psy.D. 2015

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About Dr. Jesse Matthews

I'm a private practice psychologist in Chester Springs, PA. I provide counseling and coaching services to people ages 12 and up. Specialties include: depression; addiction/substance abuse; relationships; anxiety; ADHD and behavioral issues; and Autism/Asperger's.
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