There are times when we all feel hopeless and untethered in life.
After my sister died of ovarian cancer when she was 44 years old, I felt adrift at sea. Life had an unreal, nightmarish quality that made it difficult to go about my business as usual.
Feeling lost and alone is not only unsettling emotionally, it can also be downright frightening. My anxiety was so pronounced after my sister’s death that I felt paralyzed.
I was facing a perfect storm of negative emotions from unfortunate circumstances that I had no control over. Circumstances that caused enough emotional upheaval to seriously impact every aspect of my life.
When I lost my sister, I also lost my way. And there was no roadmap or respite in sight. Or so I thought at the time.
There are numerous physical manifestations of losing your direction in life. Heed the warnings and deal with the problems sooner than later. It’s not going to magically resolve itself. Boy, did I find that out the hard way.
None of these symptoms are pleasant, but they’re your body’s way of alerting you to the problem. Here are ten warning signs that you may have lost your way:
1) Crying – a lot of crying
There was a time when my eyes were red and swollen 24/7 from my almost constant crying bouts.
When I thought it wasn’t humanly possible to produce another single teardrop, my tear ducts just kept pushing that envelope.
Crying can be very cathartic, but it can also indicate your emotional well-being is at risk.
Cranky doesn’t begin to cover it, folks.
I know I felt like every single one of my nerve endings was on fire. The most innocuous comment could, and often did, send me into a tailspin, and it wasn’t pretty.
This will scare some people in your orbit off, but the real ones will stay.
One minute you’re fine. The next, you’re sobbing into a pile of Kleenex with no warning. Your moods may be volatile and excessively negative.
It’s disconcerting and upsetting for you and everyone around you. It can make you feel a bit unhinged and send you into a guilt spiral when you upset your family or friends.
If your mood swings persist or worsen, consult a mental health professional. It’s more than OK to ask for help.
4) Impulsive behavior
You may hit a point where you believe you have nothing left to lose, so you begin taking unnecessary risks in a dazzling display of nihilism.
This can prove dangerous to your relationships and your credit score.
Reckless behavior may provide a few moments of relief, but the repercussions are usually waiting on you down the road.
5) Chronic overwhelm
Losing your way in life can make the most basic activities of daily living as challenging as your own personal Mt. Everest. After my sister passed, even taking a shower was a test of endurance for me.
Dealing with time-sensitive tasks like bill paying became ridiculously challenging. I beat myself up over it, which compounded the problem even more.
6) Difficulty making decisions
Adulting means making decisions as a matter of course.
Everyone has many decisions to make, big and small, on a daily basis. Usually, we’re up to the job and don’t think too much of it.
But when you’re struggling, even simple decisions like what to wear or watch on TV can be daunting and anxiety-producing. I’d stand in my closet and cry because even choosing a sweatshirt in my state of mind at that time was a huge procedure.
7) No interest in your favorite activities
If you have a favorite hobby or pastime that is no longer providing you with any peace or pleasure, this is a clear signal that you are losing sight of yourself.
If you’ve lost interest in your passions, this can indicate that you’re depressed. If this feeling persists, reach out to a mental health professional.
8) Fearing the future
This is another manifestation of feeling out of control. It’s not that your fears aren’t justified, especially if you’ve just endured a string of traumas.
But your brain might be tricking you and blowing the danger out of proportion. Sometimes we lack clarity when we’ve lost our way.
9) Lack of self-confidence
During difficult times, people can often suffer from lowered self-esteem, even if they were a confident person before. Losing your place in Life’s program can make you doubt your judgment and your abilities.
If you suddenly find that you’re constantly contradicting and second-guessing yourself, it’s likely your self-confidence is a bit shaky. Cut yourself some slack. You’re dealing with life’s roadblocks like the boss you are.
10) Delicious ambiguity
Remember that although it feels like you’ve lost control of your personal steering wheel, you can still dictate how you react when life throws you a curve ball – or ten.
There are strategies you can use to regain a semblance of control over your life. And, as always, ask the advice of a mental health professional if these issues linger or become unmanageable.
For starters, embrace the “delicious ambiguity” of life, as the late comedian Gilda Radner wrote when she was fighting ovarian cancer (just like my sister.)
From Gilda’s autobiography, It’s Always Something:
“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”
Being comfortable with uncertainty was a tough but essential skill for me to cultivate. As a control freak I continue to struggle with the unknown, but remembering Gilda’s wise words helps me to regain perspective.
Remind yourself that the only constant is change and yes, this too shall pass. Think back to the times in your life when you were happy, centered, and confident. You will be there again.
Why do we lose our direction in life?
So, what life circumstances can precipitate an emotional emergency? Here are a few of the most common.
1) Losing a loved one
When I lost my sister at such a young age, it changed my life in immeasurable ways. This is common after the loss of someone close to you through death, or even a breakup.
A huge part of you is gone forever, and you need to learn how to navigate this new and unwelcome reality. It’s way harder than it sounds. Be patient and kind to yourself.
2) Major life changes
Any new life change, be it good or bad, comes with a brand new set of stressors. You may be thrilled about your new job, but anxious about relocating. Life is a big trade-off, after all.
Even “good” change involves embracing the unknown and taking a leap of faith. Some of us are better at switching our gears than others. I stink at it, which puts me at a distinct disadvantage at times.
Going with the flow is so much better.
3) No support system
We’re told it takes a village, but not all of us are lucky enough to have a built-in support system as we struggle to get back on track.
However, isolation can distort your perceptions and allow too much negative self-talk. So, if you’re dealing with a difficult situation alone, consider finding a support group, even online. An outsider’s take can help you keep things in perspective.
4) Setbacks and roadblocks
Be they personal or professional, setbacks and stumbling blocks are a part of adulting. Most of us can usually push through the inevitable detours that life throws at us.
But sometimes we are bombarded with numerous stressors when our resilience is at a low ebb, and our bodies try to clue us in on the urgency of dealing with our inner turmoil.
If you can’t reestablish your emotional footing and require more intensive guidance as well as support, seek help from a mental healthcare professional. You deserve to feel better.