Lately, you’ve been feeling lost.
A loved one passed away. Your relationship ended. You were overlooked for a promotion. You failed an important exam. An opportunity fell through. Your life is taking a direction you didn’t think it would.
You are dumbfounded. You feel numb. You feel helpless, maybe even hopeless. Everything has a gray hue.
Or you aren’t sure why you feel lost. But you do. You feel utterly aimless, like you’re floating from random task to random task.
“Feeling lost feels a lot like depression*,” said Carolyn Ferreira, Psy.D, a psychologist in Bend, Ore., who helps people rebuild relationships and recover from trauma and addictions. You might feel unmotivated and uninterested in your hobbies, she said. You might feel “like life is meaningless.”
You also might feel like you’ve lost sight of the person you want to be, said Danielle Kepler, LCPC, a clinical therapist based in Chicago, Ill., specializing in adults who are struggling with anxiety, depression, and life transitions, as well as couples with relationship issues.
You might no longer recognize yourself.
It also can feel like you’ve always felt this lost, and you always will, Kepler said. “You might struggle to remember a time when you felt like your ‘old self.’” You may “see no way out of it.”
Thankfully, there is a way out. There are many ways. Consider giving these a try.
Acknowledge and accept how you’re feeling. Denying our emotions usually just leads to self-destructive behavior. “When a person acknowledges their feeling of being lost emotionally, they can then attend to it,” said Colleen Mullen, PsyD, LMFT, a psychotherapist and founder of the Coaching Through Chaos private practice and podcast in San Diego.
Remind yourself that it’s OK to feel sad and disappointed and helpless, she said. “These are natural consequences when our life path changes abruptly in a direction we did not want.”
It also can help to write about your feelings. Write about how you’re feeling and why you’re feeling this way. Describe your physical sensations. Document your thoughts. Get it all down on paper.
Take compassionate care of yourself. After you’ve acknowledged how you’re feeling, Mullen suggested soothing yourself with practices such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga.
Also, be kind to yourself. For instance, when thoughts like “Oh, I can’t believe this is happening,” or “I don’t know why I am even trying” arise, you might tell yourself, “I can handle this,” or “If I’m overwhelmed, I can take a break,” she said.
“Remind yourself that although you may feel your circumstances are out of your control, you can still control how you react to them.”
Keep engaging in activities that make you feel good. “Any movement you make when you feel lost will feel like progress,” Ferreira said. For instance, you might keep your nourishing bedtime routine, and your weekly lunch with your best friend (because you always feel better after talking to him or her).
Reflect on your values. What matters to you? What’s important? Ferreira suggested working through a values worksheet (which you can find online). “Pick one or two values that resonate with you and do something that is in line with that.” She shared this example: One of your values is justice, so you start volunteering at a local non-profit.
Kepler suggests clients think of someone they greatly admire. This might be a mentor, colleague, or friend. She asks them to identify the specific qualities they admire. For instance, maybe you admire your colleague’s friendliness and kindness and ability to assert themselves, she said. “These are often values that the client themselves feel are important; it’s just somewhat easier to identify them in other people than themselves.”
Attend inspirational events. You might see a motivational speaker, attend a guest lecture at a university, or check out a business networking event, Ferreira said. “Attending an inspirational event can help you remember what you’re passionate about.” It also can help you connect to like-minded people, she said. And “sometimes just the energy in the room from such an event can be enough to get a person going again.”
Seek out helpful resources. Consider working with a therapist, or joining a support group that focuses on what you’re struggling with, Mullen said. She also suggested researching whatever issue you’re trying to navigate. For instance, if you’re struggling with grief, look for memoirs and self-help books on the subject.
Even though it might be painful and frustrating and exasperating, feeling lost can become an opportunity to grow. “Feeling lost can redirect us toward what really matters to us,” Ferreira said. It can inspire us to take a trip and savor new experiences. It can inspire us to take a different job, which starts to fulfill us. It can inspire us to join a support group where we find our tribe.
Feeling lost can be the first step in creating a more fulfilling life. It can be the first step in reconnecting to ourselves. Give yourself the space and resources to find what you need.
* How can you tell the difference between feeling lost and having depression? According to Ferreira, you might have depression if you don’t have an appetite, don’t care about eating, or are eating too much or are sleeping too much or not at all. “If feeling lost turns into feeling it would be better if you weren’t here, then it’s time to seek professional help,” she said.