When COVID-19 caused cities to shutter and forced people inside with minimal contact with the outside world — even close friends and loved ones — it took a toll on our collective mental health. The Center for Disease Control reports that more than 40% of respondents to a June 2020 survey said that they had at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition.
Along with anxiety and depression, people are also feeling directionless. While not a condition listed in the DSM, it’s something to take seriously. It’s also all too common these days.
But feeling lost in life isn’t just a COVID phenomenon. Many people experience this, often more than once. But what can they do about it?
Why People Are Feeling Lost
1. They feel isolated.
Before the pandemic, you probably had a strong network of people you saw regularly, from casual drinks and dinners with friends to people you saw at volunteer and recreational organizations and clubs to colleagues in the office. Now, it’s significantly more difficult to interact with people in-person. This can lead to feelings of intense isolation, which, in turn, can translate to wondering where your life is headed.
It’s far less possible to tap into your network of support. Perhaps, for example, you usually vent to a colleague when you’re having a bad day at work and now, that link is missing, making those feelings fester until they drive you to question things.
2. They’re coasting.
Have you been stuck in a job that’s just fine for a while? Maybe it’s gotten too comfortable, even though you know it’s not what you really want to do with your life.
That sentiment can be even further exacerbated during the pandemic. With so many people losing work coupled with a weak economy, you’re likely wondering if now is really the time to make a move or if you should hold onto the job you have — even if it’s not your dream job.
3. They compare themselves to others.
It’s easy to look at what other people have or do and think you’re not good enough. Feeling inferior to others is a common sentiment — so common, in fact, that someone you envy could very well be thinking the same thing of someone else. It could even be you!
The fact is, people move through life differently. They make different choices and head in different directions. Maybe that friend who’s married with kids seems to have the perfect life, but they, too, almost certainly have their own fears and insecurities.
4. They’re worried about other people’s opinions.
Similar to the previous point, many people spend too much time worrying about what other people think, rather than considering what they really want or what makes them happy.
Perhaps you’ve always followed the path you thought you should follow, whether personally, professionally, or both, but now you’re realizing that that path isn’t really the one you want to pursue. Now, you’re feeling lost; you’ve spent so much time trying to do what others want that you’re not sure what will really make you happy.
5. They’re doing what they feel like they’re supposed to do.
Does it feel like you’re following a script for your life? That’s bound to catch up with you sooner or later. You could be sitting in a job that you really don’t enjoy, simply because it’s a way to pay rent. You might be plugging away in a dead-end role because it’s what you thought was always expected of you. But this won’t make you feel fulfilled; it will only make you miserable — and lost.
6. They’re too distracted.
Even when you’re working from home, the distractions are endless. In fact, they could be even more prevalent than they are in the office. If you’re a parent, you could well be dealing with children learning from home, pets needing attention or roommates trying to get their own work done.
And that’s on top of the usual distractions: your phone, social media, email, news headlines, and so on. All of these factors together mean you’re not able to give your work your full attention and aren’t producing your best results — making you feel like you need more of a focus.
7. They’re afraid of going outside their comfort zone.
Following your passions can be scary, especially if you’ve gotten fully comfortable doing what you’ve been doing for ages. But if you don’t have much of a direction right now, this could be the reason: you’re stuck in your comfort zone.
And truthfully, taking risks is scary. That’s why it’s called a risk! But it can also lead to more exciting opportunities.
How to change direction.
1. Acknowledge your feelings.
When you’re feeling lost in life, the first step to turn things around is to admit it to yourself. Be honest about your emotions and recognize that you need to do something about it. Remember: you’re a self-sufficient adult, and you do have agency. It’s okay to not have everything together, no matter how old you are or what you’ve done so far.
2. Take one small step every day.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step.” This is more than just a cliche yearbook quote — cliches are cliches because they contain some truth.
You can’t completely overhaul your life all at once. Instead, think of one little thing you can do every day to work toward your larger goal. For example, if you want to write a novel, commit to scribbling down one paragraph a day. If you’re hoping to get in shape, commit to running around the block, increasing your endurance by a minute until you’ve reached your target mileage.
3. Look to the people who seem to have it together.
Many other people have been where you are before, including people you look up to. Your role models — even the ones who seem to have it all together — have more than likely felt a little lost at some point in their lives.
What did they do to turn it around? Take a look at the paths they took to inform your own. That doesn’t mean you have to emulate the actions of successful people completely; just consider them inspiration for putting your own unique spin on things.
I’ll admit it: books are my sanctuary. I even used to work in publishing. I know from countless hours and even days reading that books can transport you.
And they can also help you recover your sense of self. I’m not just talking about self-help books. Even novels can introduce you to different worlds. They open your mind to all kinds of possibilities, which can help inspire you to forge a new path.
5. Focus on your strengths.
Instead of perseverating on the negative aspects of your life, think about your strengths. It can be helpful to write them down; that way, you’ll have something to refer to when you’re feeling out of sorts and get a little boost of self-esteem. It can also help you consider different directions; think about ways to leverage your best qualities as a means to improve your life.
6. Let it out.
Letting your problems fester will only make them worse. Instead of keeping it all inside, share them with others: a partner, a friend, a parent, a sibling, a mentor, or a therapist. While they may not be able to solve your problems for you, they might be able to offer some sage advice. They could see things in you that you don’t spot in yourself. At the very least, they can lend you a sympathetic ear and some support.
7. Take a break.
When was the last time you really took some time for yourself to do the things you love? Whether you love to cook, read, watch movies, run, paint your toenails, meditate, go hiking, or play with your dog, it’s important to give yourself a break and engage in the activities that make you truly happy. Do not — I repeat, DO NOT — feel guilty for indulging in a little self-care or me time. You need and you deserve it.
Plus, doing the things you truly enjoy can help you feel more at peace with your life and your decision. It could even give you the break you need to recharge and consider new possibilities.
8. Be grateful.
Expressing gratitude is an excellent way to feel better about yourself and your life in general. This, too, is something you may want to write down and refer to when you’re feeling blue. Remembering what’s going well in your life will give you a different outlook on what might be going badly.
It’s very difficult to think or figure out how to fix things when you feel like everything is going wrong. When you spend a little time being grateful, it can serve as a way to open up your mind to new possibilities.
If you feel lost right now, remember that this period won’t last forever. Everyone encounters hiccups. But that doesn’t mean you should just sit around and wait for your problems to resolve themselves. Taking control of your life means being proactive — and these steps can help you find your way back.