Restless Energy: What to Do When There’s Nothing to Do

Restless energy. That gnawing tension that builds up when you know you want to be somewhere else, or be doing something different, but you’re not sure what it is. Living with ADHD, I have a pretty close relationship with this weird little anxiety. But we all encounter it from time to time.

You know the feeling. There’s no one clear thing that you need to be doing right now, but there isn’t exactly one thing you want to do either. Sure, there’s a thousand things you could do, but none of them feels quite right. You can’t sit still, but you’re not sure where to go instead.

Dog lying down looking bored and restless

Restless energy is an uncomfortable feeling. But uncomfortable situations aren’t always bad ones. Once you learn to identify and address this feeling, you’ll be able to turn “blah” days into great ones, and turn restlessness into opportunity!

What is Restless Energy?

You may know it as boredom, or laziness or blasé. Whatever you call it, restless energy is an uneasy feeling that comes out of a sense that there’s something you need to change about your situation, but you’re not sure what.

It’s like your body knows what it wants to be doing, but your mind can’t puzzle it out. The resulting tension is what we call restless energy.

Like all negative feelings and emotions, this restlessness is there for a reason. It has a job to do. And that job is to motivate you to make some kind of change. Something that brings you back to emotional equilibrium.

All we need, then, is to find the right kind of change that our subconscious is looking for. Below are a few strategies to help you get to the source of your restless energy and shake things up.

4 Ways to Handle Your Restless Energy

1. Break the Routine

Often, restless energy is a way of your subconscious crying out for stimulation. This is why my ADHD brains out there tend to experience it so often. It’s harder to properly stimulate them than it is for neurotypical brains, so we deal with restless energy a lot.

One of the best cures for a lack of stimulation is challenge. Another is novelty. Boredom can almost always be traced back to a lack of one or both of these things. Sticking to the same environment, the same activities, the same routine for too long gets easy, familiar, and ultimately, uninteresting.

Eventually, your brain craves more.

Our brains want to learn. They want to solve new problems and encounter new things. If you’re feeling restless, the first thing to try is to make a change. And that change can be almost anything:

  • Move to a different setting
  • Switch activities
  • Start a conversation, or make plans with a friend
  • Try a new food, or a new type of music or entertainment
  • Teach yourself a new skill or topic

There’s no silver bullet cure for your restless energy. But there is a cure out there. And you’re a lot more likely to find it if you’re willing to explore a bit.

2. Eat a Frog

If you haven’t heard the phrase “eat the frog,” it’s based on a Mark Twain quote more recently popularized by author Brian Tracy:

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

Mark Twain

Basically, a “frog” is something you don’t want to do:

  • Chores you don’t like doing
  • Phone calls you don’t want to make
  • Projects that you’re nervous about starting.

When you do that unpleasant thing first, everything that comes after will be easier by comparison. And what better time to do something you don’t want to do than at a time when you don’t feel like doing anything anyway?

Eating a frog when you have restless energy does two great things. First, it gets something ugly off your plate. And second, once you start eating the frog, you tend to get a lot more clarity on all the things you’d rather be doing instead…

3. Close The Motivation Loop

Building on this idea of putting restless energy to productive purpose is the motivation loop. Here’s how it works.

When you work on something, over time you’ll become tired, but hopefully satisfied with your work. If you overwork, you’ll become exhausted and overwhelmed.

Either way, you’ll need to follow work with rest.

Rest is a productivity superpower and can quickly help you build back up your energy and motivation. Of course, resting too much leaves you understimulated and overflowing with restless energy. And either way, you’ll need to follow rest with work.

Restless energy motivation loop

So if you’re feeling restless, there’s a good chance that this loop has fallen out of balance. You have energy because your body wants to do something.

Keeping the motivation loop in balance helps us to stay happy and healthy. Work until you’re tired, and then rest so you don’t burn yourself out. Rest until you’re charged up, and then jump back into something productive. That’s all there is to it.

4. Enjoy the Space Between Things

Sometimes you don’t need to find the next exciting thing, or put yourself to work right away. Sometimes, if you’re feeling restless, all you need is to find a little peace with the moment.

There are a number of ways you can achieve this. One is through meditation or other types of mindfulness practice. This can help you to center yourself in the moment, and detach yourself from that feeling of discomfort and needing to be doing something else.

Woman standing still near a window with eyes closed, feeling calm.

Another great way to find more peace in the moment and unwind that restless energy is through free thinking. Let your mind wander, and see where it takes you. Put the rest of the world on the shelf, be where you are, and think. It can help you establish a sense of calm, discover new ideas, and gain new perspectives. 

Most people do this at least a few times a week and don’t even notice. If you’re not familiar with the term “shower thoughts,” it’s a phrase for the silly realizations, new perspectives, and big epiphanies that tend to happen while we’re showering.

Quiet moments are more than okay. If you have a couple tools for dealing with them, allowing a little negative space into your life can be a gateway to new ideas, fresh perspectives, and a deep sense of calm.

restless energy title pin

How are you dealing with your restless energy?

Next time restless energy rears its uncomfortable head, now you’ll be prepared with a few techniques you can put to the test.

Are you someone who deals with restless energy often? What has helped you to deal with it in the past? Let us know with a comment below!

7 Comments

  1. Ann M Lynch said:

    Using my restless energy to expand my horizons here. Now to put more those shower thoughts to work before the quarantine ends …

    April 19, 2020
    Reply
    • Sam said:

      It’s a great time to take advantage new ideas and fresh inspiration!

      April 20, 2020
      Reply
  2. Mark Crone said:

    Fabulous post. Thanks for making me think more about restless energy and in particular what to do when there’s nothing to do. Cheers,

    May 7, 2020
    Reply
    • Sam said:

      Thanks for the feedback, Mark, I’m glad you found the post helpful!

      May 8, 2020
      Reply
  3. Emiliana Quintero said:

    Thanks for your post, really related to everything! Are there any specific books you would recommend about restless energy?

    December 14, 2020
    Reply
    • Sam said:

      Glad you liked it, Emiliana! Great question. I can’t name any right now that take on restless energy directly, but a lot of the inspiration for this post came from stuff written on procrastination. So in that light, Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy (mentioned above) could be a great place to start.

      December 15, 2020
      Reply
  4. Lynn Mejia said:

    Great post! I often have restless energy and have troubles sleeping because of it. I am training myself to wind down and not think about anything earlier before bed. I’m the type of person who always has a long to do list so its been a struggle but I’m getting there! Thank you for sharing x

    Lynn | http://www.lynnmumbingmejia.com

    March 25, 2021
    Reply

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