When you don’t feel like doing anything, often you really don’t want to do anything.
Nothing sounds good to you, and even well-intentioned suggestions from loved ones might make you a little cranky.
Most people feel like this from time to time, and it’s usually only temporary. You might feel like this in times of stress or when you are busier than usual.
Sometimes, not wanting to do anything is your mind and body’s way of asking for a break.
If you’ve been pushing yourself to your limit recently, heed this call before you reach the point of burnout.
Self-compassion is key in this situation. Acknowledge your hard work, and then give yourself permission to take some downtime. Take a nap, scroll through your favorite social media app, or curl up with your favorite blanket and a pet — whatever feels easy and relaxing.
Taking a break can help you:
- recharge mentally and physically
- think more clearly and perform better
- avoid mistakes at work, on the road, and in other situations
- prevent burnout
Getting some light physical activity outside — even if it’s just a 10-minute walk around the block — can help reset your mood.
- reducing the risk of various diseases, including type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer
- managing anxiety and depression
- managing weight
- boosting strength, coordination and flexibility
- strengthening the immune system
- boosting mood and emotional well-being
Even if you just sit on a bench, simply spending time in nature can have benefits.
Changing your environment might also help motivate you to do something else, like head over to your favorite coffee shop. Even if it doesn’t, spending some time outside might help you feel better about spending the rest of the day on the couch.
Journalling can help you sort through your emotions, and exploring your emotional state may shed some light on why you don’t want to do anything.
This can be particularly helpful if you haven’t felt like doing much for more than a few days.
Ask yourself if you’re feeling:
- anxious, worried, or nervous about something
- angry or frustrated
- sad or lonely
- detached or disconnected from yourself
Any of the above emotions can occupy your thoughts and make it hard to think about doing anything else.
Try some light journaling about how you’re feeling, even if what comes out doesn’t make a ton of sense.
If you feel up for it, try following up by connecting some of these emotions to specific causes. Are changes at work making you feel anxious? Is scrolling through your favorite news app making you feel hopeless about the future?
Figuring out what’s behind these emotions can help you either come up with potential solutions or accept that certain things are beyond your control.
Positive affect journaling
Positive affect journalling is an emotion-based exercise that encourages people to focus on good things that have happened to them.
After 12 weeks, participants reported “feeling better” overall and showed reduced levels of stress and anxiety.
The researchers suggested that positive affect journalling might be more “pleasant and uplifting” than journaling on negative emotions and past trauma. However, that, too, can serve a crucial role in helping people understand why they feel as they do.
Of course, meditation is doing something. But try to think of it in terms of doing nothing in a mindful, purposeful way.
In 2019, a group of people participated in
After 8 weeks, they showed signs of:
- reductions in stress, anxiety and negative mood
- enhanced ability to focus
- improvements in working and recognition memory
Meditation is not always easy, especially at first. But it can help you become better able to notice your emotions and to accept them without judging yourself or letting them pull you down.
When you don’t want to do anything, chatting to a friend, neighbor, or family member can sometimes help. You might look for a good empathic listener or just someone to go for a walk or hang out with.
When you don’t feel like doing anything, it can be tempting to hide away, but don’t do it for too long. Giving up social activities may make things worse in the long term.
Music can help fill the silence and give you something to think about when you don’t feel like doing much.
While putting on your favorite music can soothe you (or energize you, or excite you, or anything else, depending on what type of music you prefer), it may even have some benefits for your brain, including improved attention and memory.
You may not want to do anything if you have a lot of unpleasant or boring things (like chores, bills, or errands) to get done. If they’ve been piling up, the thought of tackling them might feel particularly daunting.
Here are some easy chores that don’t take much concentration:
- washing the dishes
- making the bed
- sorting out a cupboard
- taking a bag of unwanted items to a charity shop
- making one phone call
- cooking a simple meal
- putting away some washing
- tidying up a desk
Doing just one task that you’ve been putting off can give you a sense of achievement, and you can tick it off the list. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, a tidy room or desk can help you feel less cluttered and more in control.
Try creating a list of everything you need to take care of. Then, rank them by priority — what needs to be done ASAP? What can wait until next month? You can also organize them based on how easy they are.
Pick something easy or high priority and make that your task for the day, even if it only takes you 20 minutes. Doing something, even something small, can help break you out of this rut of powerlessness and set you back on track.
Once you’re done, cross it off your list and give yourself permission to take it easy for the rest of the day.
Not meeting your physical or emotional needs can make you feel a little off and lethargic.
Ask yourself the following:
- Am I hydrated?
- Do I need to eat?
- Should I get some more sleep?
- Is anything upsetting me or stressing me out?
- Would I feel better around people?
- Do I need some time alone?
Depending on your answers, you may need to set aside some time for self-care.
If you notice you often don’t want to do anything and consistently have a hard time taking care of chores and other responsibilities, making a schedule can help.
You might already use a planner to note down important tasks or meetings you can’t forget, but a schedule can help you have a firmer plan for what to do when you don’t feel like doing anything.
You don’t have to account for every minute of your day (unless that helps), but try to create some general time blocks for:
- getting up
- preparing for the day
- making meals
- school, work, or household responsibilities
- seeing friends or other social activities
- going to bed
Also, set aside time for activities you enjoy and spending time with loved ones.
Try not to be too hard on yourself if you can’t stick to this schedule. It may just be a sign that you need to rework some things or set aside more time for certain tasks.
Remember, it’s really okay to do nothing sometimes. But if you feel like you should be doing something or have some feelings of guilt around “wasting time,” reading a book can be a low-key way to feel productive, especially if it’s a nonfiction book on a topic you want to learn more about.
If you’re concerned about a low mood or having difficulty coping in the longer term, books on self-help or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) might help.
If you feel too low on energy to even hold a book (it happens), consider an audiobook instead. Many libraries let you borrow audiobooks or e-books for free, as long as you have a library card.
Audiobooks are great for people who don’t have much time to read, since you can enjoy books while doing almost anything else. They can also offer a way to “read” if you’d rather lie still and let sounds wash over you.
Not wanting to do anything doesn’t necessarily mean you have depression, but it can sometimes be a sign.
Depression often doesn’t improve without support from a mental health professional, so it’s best to talk to a therapist if the above tips don’t seem to help.
It’s also best to reach out if you experience:
- persistent low mood
- loss of interest in things you usually enjoy
- general disinterest in most things
- low energy or fatigue
- thoughts of self-harm or suicide
- irritability or other unusual mood changes
- feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, or worthlessness
People living with anxiety may also have a hard time doing anything when feeling particularly worried or anxious. You might feel restless and unable to settle on anything or move from task to task.
Therapists can help you work through anxiety symptoms, so it’s a good idea to reach out if you experience:
- persistent worries or fears that seem uncontrollable
- racing thoughts
- panic attacks
- stomach distress
Not sure where to start? Our guide to finding affordable therapy can help.
You’re the best judge of your own needs. Sometimes, doing nothing is exactly what you need — and that’s okay. Just take care to pay attention to other signs that may alert you to something else going on.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.