Getting Unstuck

I’ve been pondering the idea of being stuck for a while now. At different times in my life, I’ve felt stuck—either in a mindset, a situation, or a relationship. And I was never particularly effective at purposefully “unsticking” myself, which has led me on a search to become better at becoming unstuck (what better time than 2020, right?).

I like to observe nature, and I look for life lessons in what I observe. For example, I’m shocked at how aggressive geese are with each other. However, at the end of each fight, they shake from head to toe (or webbed foot) and move on. It strikes me as a way of resetting how they feel—breaking a pattern of behavior—that allows them to process the experience and get on with life. I often wondered if humans have the same mechanism to reset themselves after difficult experiences.

Remarkably, the answer is yes.

I’ve been reading the book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., and Amelia Nagoski, D.M.A. They describe burnout as having three components:

  • emotional exhaustion (caring too much for too long);
  • depersonalization (depletion of empathy); and
  • decreased sense of accomplishment (or a sense of futility).

The authors point to high burnout rates for teachers, medical professionals, and caregivers of every kind. They also note that just because we have dealt with a stressful situation (which they term the “stressor”) does not mean we have dealt with the stress that came as a result—the stress cycle is incomplete. Therefore we need to think of a stressful situation in two parts – the stressor and the resulting stress. Often the stressor may be resolved, but the stress it caused remains.

Hence burnout, feeling stuck, and a need to reset.

Emily and Amelia Nagoski offer a few key ways to complete a stress cycle and to become unstuck.

  • Move. Nothing says, “I’ve survived” like ending a really good work out. Physical activity is the number one way to complete the stress cycle.
  • Breathe. Not mindless shallow breathing but deliberate deep breaths. Particularly effective while experiencing stress.
  • Show affection. Connect physically to another human or pet. A 10-second hug from a good friend goes a long way.
  • Cry. Crying won’t solve your problems, but it provides a relief valve from the stress of them.
  • Express yourself (creatively). Get lost in the physical act of creating something.

As I was recently contemplating a long, bleak Central New York winter, I envisioned new ways to complete my stress cycle. Considering what I’ve learned about the importance of and ways to complete the cycle—and get unstuck from overwhelm (so many gray months) and stress (COVID—no clear end in sight)—I made a few purchases. First, I bought snowshoes. Nothing says physical release like snowshoeing! And then I bought an adult paint-by-numbers kit, which I plan to break out over the holidays, which can be stressful in its own way.

What do you do to reset yourself when you become stuck? If you don’t have a plan, I encourage you to try one (or all!) of these key ways to becoming unstuck. Cheers to a liberating 2021!