Ask a Therapist: How Can I Stop Feeling Restless and Unproductive?

4 Easy Ways To Overcome Restlessness

Ask a Therapist: How Can I Stop Feeling Restless and Unproductive?

Feeling restless from time to time is not unusual, but living in a constant of restlessness is.

When you’re always restless, you’re uncomfortable, unproductive, and often distressed. Restlessness can affect you negatively by forming a barrier to achieving your goals.

Anxiety and restlessness can arise from your fight-or-flight response getting triggered. The fight-or-flight response in humans is a powerful survival mechanism that helps escape dangerous situations.

Unfortunately, this same response can appear when we face problems or conflict at work and in our personal lives. Our body is flooded with adrenaline and since there’s no way to expend it, such as running away, it leaves us restless.

A constant feeling of restlessness can also arise from feeling dissatisfied and if you’re not living up to your potential.

It’s helpful to know what’s driving your feelings so that you can tackle it more effectively. Let’s look at some helpful techniques you can apply to manage your restlessness and ease your mind and body.


Meditation offers several benefits and it’s powerful enough to regulate the stress response in the body.

Practicing meditation every day can help you live in the present moment. You’ll be able to separate yourself from feelings of restlessness and anxiety and return to normal.

You can choose to practice meditation on your own or can join a group meditation session. It’s also possible to learn meditation through a membership site where you can get support.

It’s important to make meditation part of your daily practice, the more you work at it, the better you’ll get at managing your feelings.

Do Breathing Exercises

Taking a few deep breaths during a period of restlessness can alleviate your body and mind. It forces you to take in more oxygen and activates your parasympathetic nervous system.

Practice deep breathing for at least 10 minutes a day and build it up to half an hour daily. When you’re in a stressful situation and need to calm down quickly, stepping away and taking a few deep breaths can give you the boost you need.

Find a Physical Outlet

Sometimes, a feeling of restlessness comes from having little physical activity in your life. A powerful way to keep anxiety in check and to boost mental health is to exercise.

Channeling your restless energy in a physical way can give you a healthy outlet for your feelings. You can choose something that appeals to you such as dancing, jogging or any other activity. What’s important is to perform actions that relieve muscle tension and deepen your breathing.

By using physical activities to manage to feel unfocused you’ll be able to harness your restlessness and put it to good use.

It’s also helpful to note that a physical outlet can also relate to expressing yourself creatively. Painting, pottery, or woodworking can be cathartic. If writing is an activity that helps you feel focused, then consider starting a blog or writing in your journal.

Moving your body and using your hands can make you feel more present and shift your mind from feelings of agitation.

Find a new path

It’s possible that your restlessness is more than a misplaced survival response. Restlessness can reflect the need for change in your life. You can feel restless if you’ve stagnated at work or have delayed pursuing a personal goal.

Use your feelings as a guide to point you into a new career path or to start a new phase in your life. Perhaps you need to make a change in your relationship. It may also be time for you to take a leap and start the online business you’ve always wanted to.

The key is to make a change, as restlessness can grow into greater anxiety if you don’t tackle it headfirst. Even small changes can make a difference in your life. 

You can ask your workplace for remote working options if you’re not spending enough time with your family. Look for opportunities in other cities or countries if your restlessness stems from a need to explore.

Discontent and restlessness can be powerful if you use them as a guide for new directions in your life.

Harness your restlessness to grow

Your restlessness can have different sources; what’s important is to tackle it by finding a way that works for you.

Feeling uneasy and agitated can also be a gift since it can push you to grow in your life. Try to view the problems you face as opportunities and you’ll be able to find the best ways to cope with restlessness.


Feeling restless

Ask a Therapist: How Can I Stop Feeling Restless and Unproductive?

Everyone can feel restless and fidgety from time to time. However, when restlessness is experienced more frequently and is accompanied by other symptoms it can interrupt daily life and reduce a person’s quality of life.

Restlessness may affect your mental state and be experienced as an inability to remain at rest, difficulty in concentrating, not being able to relax or being constantly uneasy. It may also be something that affects you physically, such as in restless legs syndrome.

What can cause restlessness?

Occasional restlessness can be part of normal life, but when it is experienced often, restlessness may be a feature of a medical condition.

Conditions that may cause restlessness

Some conditions that may feature restlessness as a symptom include:

  • depression — if you are depressed, you may feel angry, irritable, or restless
  • bipolar disorder — restlessness and feeling on edge can be associated with episodes of mania or hypomania, and also with depressive episodes
  • anxiety — people who have an anxiety condition can feel restless and tense
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) — restlessness and fidgeting are symptoms of hyperactivity in ADHD
  • dementia — people with dementia may experience ‘sundowning’, where they become restless in the late afternoon and evening; dementia can also cause agitation, which can show itself as repetitive talking and asking questions, or pacing
  • hyperthyroidism — where the thyroid gland is overactive – can cause symptoms of restlessness, nervousness and irritability
  • restless legs syndrome — this causes an unpleasant urge to move the legs to relieve discomfort, usually in the evenings, often affecting sleep
  • alcohol withdrawal — detoxing from alcohol (if you have developed a dependence on it) can cause symptoms including restlessness and agitation
  • illicit drug withdrawal — restlessness and irritability can result from withdrawal from some illicit drugs.

(Always discuss withdrawal from alcohol or drugs with your doctor first. Side effects may be severe and you may need support or medical supervision.)

Medicines that may cause restlessness

Some medicines may cause akathisia, a distressing syndrome that features restlessness. With akathisia, the affected person is unable to stay still. They may shuffle their feet and march on the spot. Akathisia is very upsetting and can cause suicidal thoughts.

Akathisia can be a side effect of several types of medicines, including some antipsychotics and some antiemetics (medicines to stop you feeling sick).

If you or someone you care for is experiencing suicidal thoughts call triple zero (000) or go to your nearest emergency department.

If you think a medicine is causing your restlessness, speak to your doctor or pharmacist for advice. There may be an alternative medicine that does not have that side effect.

Self-help for restlessness due to anxiety or depression

If your restlessness is impacting on your day to day life, see your doctor. Whether the cause is medical or psychological, they can help you access appropriate help.

If your restlessness is a symptom of anxiety or depression, in addition to getting professional help from your doctor or a mental health professional, there may be some things you may be able to do yourself to improve your symptoms.

To help you cope with feelings of restlessness or irritability, try some of the following tips.

  • Meditate — meditation can train the mind to ignore impulses and enable you to stay calmer and focused during periods of anxiety or stress. Mindfulness can reduce stress and help you to manage depression and anxiety.
  • Try breathing exercises — they can reduce stress and improve symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Talk to your family, friends and work colleagues — don’t bottle up your emotions. If you have an issue with someone, try to deal with it straight away so you’re not stewing over it and causing yourself unnecessary stress.
  • Cry if you need to — some people find it can make them feel better. Don’t feel embarrassed. Crying may ease pressure and tension.
  • Eat a balanced diet — a poor diet can increase feelings of anxiety and depression.
  • Get enough sleep — sleep is closely linked to your mental health.
  • Notice your feelings — be aware of changes in your moods and thoughts and take note of anything that makes you feel good or bad.
  • Take time for yourself — even if it’s only half an hour — each day. Go somewhere quiet and relax, go for a walk, or do something you enjoy.
  • Stay active and exercise — join a group exercise class yoga or pilates, or do your own class at home using a rented DVD or online session. Exercise can help you to relax and sleep better. Just going for a walk or doing 5 minutes of yoga or stretching at home can be relaxing. Getting outside in the fresh air and sunlight can help to regulate your mood.
  • Do something enjoyable — have your friends around, watch a movie, or do something else that’s fun to lighten your mood.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs — these can have a negative impact on your mental health.

Where can I get help?

If you need help, talking to your doctor is a good place to start.

Your doctor can help you by creating a mental health treatment plan, if necessary. Medicare rebates are available for sessions with mental health professionals. Your doctor can also prescribe medicines for depression or anxiety, if appropriate.

It can be hard to take the first step of reaching out to your doctor — here are some tips for talking to your doctor about mental health.

All conversations with your doctor are private and they will keep your health information confidential.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

If you’d to find out more or talk to someone else, here are some organisations that can help:

  • MindSpot (anyone suffering from anxiety or depression) — call 1800 61 44 34.
  • Beyond Blue (anyone feeling depressed or anxious) — call 1300 22 4636 or chat online.
  • Black Dog Institute (people affected by depression and extreme mood swings) — online help.
  • Lifeline (anyone experiencing a crisis or thinking about suicide) — call 13 11 14 or chat online.
  • Suicide Call Back Service (anyone thinking about suicide) — call 1300 659 467.
  • ReachOut (online mental health services for young people and their parents)
  • Headspace (mental health information, group chat, and online communities
  • SANE Australia (mental health information, peer support and counselling support)
  • MensLine Australia (telephone and online counselling service)

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander resources

  • Headspace (Yarn safe — Mental health and wellbeing)
  • Beyond Blue (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people)

Last reviewed: September 2021


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