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5 Tips for Dealing with the Restlessness of Adulthood

Learn these 5 things to do when being an adult sucks.

I remember the first day of my first full-time job very clearly. I took the red line train to Union Station, got off, and was whisked up the escalator by the huddle of Washingtonians hurrying to work. As I exited the station, I smiled, charged with both excitement and nerves. I was eager to see what lie ahead. 

I quickly adjusted to the daily routine that came with my new job. In some ways, I took pleasure in the expected. I knew what my commute would entail, whom I would see that day, what project I would be working on, and so forth (pending any unexpected surprises). There were set start and end times. I loved being able to rely on my schedule to delineate work versus personal time. 

As I continued this way, though, the glimmer of it all slowly faded away and I was left with an all-consuming thought: This is what my life is going to me from now on — commuting, working, and coming home. The same routine every day. I had entered the monotony that is a fixture of adulthood. 

Going through the same routine every day can foster a sense of restlessness and boredom. But we don’t always have the ability to change our current situation. So how do we address the feelings of boredom that will naturally arise as we settle into our adult life? Here are some methods that have helped me.

Acknowledge it for what it is. 

Life can’t be exciting all the time, and that’s okay. I’ve learned that being bored does not necessarily mean that you have to change your circumstances. Instead, that restless feeling could perhaps serve as a prompt to look at your interior life in a new way.

Focus inward. 

Think through what’s actually causing the restlessness you’re experiencing. Are you unsettled in the physical space you’re in? Your social situation? Your job? Try to pinpoint where the restlessness is coming from so you can address it more directly. 

Look for the moments of joy in each day. 

It’s easy to let time pass without any conscious thought of the people, conversations, and experiences that make up the bright parts of our days. If we don’t acknowledgment those moments, they slip away and our lives become more monochromatic.

A method I use to help me better recognize the meaningful moments in my day is a prayer pioneered by St. Ignatius of Loyola — it’s called “the examen.” It can be practiced at any time of the day — morning, midday, or at night. There are many different ways to pray the examen, but the format I use is as follows: 

  • I start by reminding myself that I am in God’s presence. 
  • Then I reflect on gratitude, spending time thinking about the gifts in my life. 
  • From there, I consider where I saw love in my day and where I turned away from it. 
  • Finally, I ask for a grace I need for the coming day — whether it be patience, compassion, attentiveness, or something else. 

This prayer has helped me not only reflect back on the meaningful moments each day, but recognize those moments as they are happening in real-time. 

Work with what you have. 

Bored of your neighborhood? Bored with your job? How can you work within the structures you already use to create new opportunities? Last fall, a few months into my new job at a nonprofit organization, I realized I was too comfortable. I interacted with the same people each day and felt like I wasn’t building any new relationships. So I decided to start a book club at work with a friend of mine. 

Through this experience, I interacted with people on different teams across the organization. Beyond that, I no longer felt relegated to work conversations — I was able to relate to my co-workers in a new way by getting to know who they were outside of their professional lives. 

Book club might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there are plenty of variations. All it takes is brainstorming ways to invest more deeply in the areas of your life.

Have something to look forward to. 

Plan a trip; organize a dinner for friends; get coffee with a coworker. Whatever it is, give yourself something that will lift your spirits when you feel like you’re getting restless. When I start to feel boredom creeping up, I plan a trip to see one of my siblings in New York City or Chicago. It gives me something to work toward, and when I return back to my job and my life in D.C., I feel refreshed and renewed. It’s like a restart button.

Feeling restless can be a gift — it points us to an innate hunger we have for something more. We wouldn’t feel restless if we didn’t have deep desires. It just takes some careful attention to make sure we’re attending to those desires, and not just throwing distraction (or food or alcohol or work or whatever) at them to keep them quiet. If we listen closely, those desires can serve as a compass to lead us. They were placed in our hearts by God and we will find joy when we follow them — even if they are telling us to stay where we are.

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