When You Don’t Feel Like Doing Anything
Acceptance of the situation and introspection is the first step to feeling better
Lately, I’ve felt like doing, well, absolutely nothing. I am overwhelmed. I’m not getting as much rest as I would like. I have a seemingly insurmountable amount of deadlines and things to get done before Thanksgiving comes, and as a result, I just sit on the couch and watch TV or lay for hours at a time. It’s is not propelling me any further to tackle what I have to do, and the past couple days, I’ve felt completely stuck, and I don’t know if there’s anything I can do about it.
According to Crystal Raypole at Healthline, not feeling like doing anything almost feels more like a state of paralysis than feeling lazy or unmotivated. And it’s usually not a sign that there’s something inherently wrong with us. In these times, according to Claypole,
“These feelings are normal and temporary, triggered by stress or a busier-than-usual lifestyle.”
It’s hard to know whether not feeling like doing anything is a sign of depression or something else more serious, or whether it’s just temporary. Regardless, it’s a hard thing to go through within a capitalist society that prioritizes hard work and hustle. Not feeling like doing anything makes it feel like there’s something wrong with me, even if I internally know there isn’t.
Using the category of when you don’t feel like doing anything is very different than not feeling productive. Raypole states it’s when you “really don’t want to do anything.” Sometimes, there is something more serious going on, like apathy or anhedonia, and in those times, it’s important to consult a medical or mental health professional.
But what can I do? What can we do, because I know I’m not alone in feeling this way right now?
Louisa Liska at Thrive Global describes when you don’t feel like doing anything as the “lethargy cycle.” She says she personally feels even worse when she doesn’t take any action in these times. One day, she had no energy and decided to stay in bed all day and scroll through her phone. She hoped the scrolling and the inactivity would make her feel more energized and refreshed, but she felt worse. And the fears of having something wrong with her made her feel like she was paralyzed, and in a mode where anything felt impossible. According to Dr. David Burns in Feeling Good, the feeling is:
“The Lethargy Cycle. Your self-defeating negative thoughts make you feel miserable. Your painful emotions, in turn, convince you that your distorted, pessimistic thoughts are actually valid. Similarly, self-defeating thoughts and actions reinforce each other in a circular manner. The unpleasant consequences of do-nothingism make your problems even worse”.
Self-defeating thoughts and emotions then start to lend themselves to self-defeating actions. It starts to become a neverending cycle where motivation feels impossible, and breaking out of the cycle seems like a dream, not reality.
To get through feeling like you can’t do anything, according to Liska, it’s most important to first identify the feeling. She then suggests asking ourselves: what are we doing to make us feel better or worse? And the changes we pursue don’t have to be extreme when we try to reverse the actions that make us feel worse. Drastic, sudden changes to how we live our lives is not sustainable. Of course, a lot of people don’t feel like doing anything, so it’s important to realize we’re not alone.
Raypole suggests many different things to do when we don’t feel like doing anything. First, she suggests rolling with it— and listening to ourselves as a reason our body and mind are asking us for a break. A large part of feeling like not doing anything is us reaching our limit, and self-compassion is integral to acknowledging how far we’ve come and give us some downtime.
She also suggests getting outside for a walk, exercising, or spending time in nature. Changing our environments might motivate us, and it also might not.
But if our negative emotions persist for multiple days, we have to sort through our emotions and accurately identify how we’re feeling. It might not make the most sense, but identifying the cause of our emotions might help us come up with solutions, or just accept that there’s nothing we can do.
I’ve essentially felt like not doing anything all weekend. And so taking time for my personal TLC and care has meant taking time for my needs, whether that takes the form of more sleep or a really long nap, or spending time with my friends and my girlfriend in a socially responsible way with the pandemic. For me, feeling this way is completely normal, because anyone in my situation would feel the exact same way. I just hope I can recover.
Knowing I have more needs before I dive intensely into my work, my hustles, and graduate school is not irresponsible — it’s my way of making sure I am the best I can be for my work, my students, and my craft. If people aren’t getting me at my best I possibly can be, then I’m doing them a disservice.
There’s no shame in putting ourselves first, especially when the holiday season comes up and deadlines seem to overwhelm us. When we don’t feel like doing anything, there’s no one universal solution, since we all know ourselves best. And because we know ourselves best, it’s important to trust ourselves and not panic — even if everything we need to get done doesn’t get done, life will go on, and everything will be alright.
What works for me won’t work for everyone else, but when we don’t feel like doing anything, research shows that acceptance of the situation and introspection is the first step to feeling better.