Updated on April 10th, 2022

Are you in an in-between place in your life? The lack of clarity, direction, goals or visible progress a hiatus can bring can make it seem like we’ve been paused, halted, held back. And the uncertainty about our future can prey on our mind and make our hiatus an uncomfortable place to be. But don’t despair: Read on to find out why a hiatus experience is normal and valuable. And discover 19 ways of living through it with more ease!

A hiatus is a gap.  An interruption. An interval. It’s a break in continuity.

Like a seemingly incessant rain stopping for a while. Like the wave we’ve been surfing on flattening out, leaving us stranded. Like winter after the emerging, flourishing and drying out of plants, trees and flowers throughout the year. The hiatus is the bit in between, where nothing much seems to happen, and we don’t know if the rain’s going to come back, if a new wave is going to take us back to surfing, or if fresh shoots are going to start nature off into a new year, a new cycle.

A hiatus can happen in our lives, too.

Like when

  • a writer writes nothing for years after publishing her first novel.
  • a youth takes a year off after college before starting university.
  • a seasoned professional loses his job, and and falls into a depression as he struggles to find a next one – or takes a sabbatical after a time of intensive working.
  • a wife and mother finds herself floundering as she tries to rebuild her own life after the end of her marriage, or after her kids have flown the nest.
  • an accident or an illness forces us to stop what we’re doing, and makes us reconsider how we want to live.

A hiatus can happen naturally, like when you come to the end of  an era in your life. You can slide into such an end gradually (say, when your long-time job becomes untenable and you just know that you don’t want to do it anymore). Or you can be thrown into it suddenly (say, if a loved one passes away unexpectedly). You can trigger or initiate it yourself (say, by deciding to take time out), or have it forced upon you (say, when you’re made redundant).

We might not like hiatus experiences, but we all go through them

Even the most successful, popular, rich or famous of us. Multiple times in our lives. And in fact, our hiatus may turn into something that shapes us, makes us more tolerant, patient, compassionate, wise, or more determined. Our hiatus may indeed make us and shape us, and the next phase of our life!

So, what kind of a hiatus have you experienced?

Or are you in the middle of one right now?

Some of my own hiatus experiences include:

Being numb on the inside for years, after the sudden death of my father when I was 27 – whilst on the outside, my career was moving forward seemingly stellarly, as I took refuge from my grief in working hard, and working a lot.

Being unable to do anything much at all for the most part of a year, as a fast-growing and fortunately benign tumour was wreaking havoc in my brain, making me confused and exhausted. As I was processing the fact that I needed brain surgery to remove it. And as I was preparing for, and later recovering from my surgery. (Which happily went as well as it could have gone.)

Deciding to move countries and become my ailing mother’s full-time carer – in a pandemic, too – until she passed away. Then sitting with emptiness and unending grief, for my mother and my own, lost previous life, not knowing which way to turn next and how to go on.

There’s been less dramatic hiatus experiences too.

Like when I went through the motions in a job, or in a place, or in a relationship that I knew had ended – but I kept hanging on, for not knowing what else to do. Or for fear of the hiatus ahead – kind of being in a hiatus-before-the-hiatus!

Or like when I embarked on a search for my calling in life and work, and my life went from a straight-line rise in school and career to a trial-and-error, meandering journey that was enriching, but at times didn’t seem to lead anywhere in particular.  (Read my story)

One thing I’ve learnt from these experiences (and, by the way, they keep occurring every now and then even now that I’ve found my calling as a Coach, Consultant and Author, and have set up my professional practice):

A hiatus is not what it seems

That’s good news!

In our busy, competitive, (over-)achieving society, we might have come to see the notion of a hiatus as being the empty, unproductive bit between two clear, achieving states of
A) what we were doing before, and
B) what we’ll be doing afterwards.

I believe this is an illusion.

Because a hiatus is productive too, in its own way. It allows us to digest and grieve what’s ended. To rest and ‘just be’ for a while. To reflect, dig deeper, to learn from our past and access our wisdom to guide us into our future.

A hiatus is the bridge that allows what we’ll be doing next to evolve from what we’ve done before.

Our lives are in constant flux – some things are always ending, new ones always starting. And hiatus experiences, though seemingly empty or quiet, are not really unproductive bits of our journey, but useful and necessary times of transition that move us forward even though we might not feel that they do.


A hiatus can feel like we’ve fallen into a hole

Like we’re stuck there, unable to go back, nor move our life forward.

The lack of clarity, direction, goals to work towards, outward productivity or visible progress a hiatus might bring can make it seem like we’ve been paused, halted, held back. And the uncertainty about our future and whether we’ll be able to pick up the reins of our life again or not, can prey on our mind and make our hiatus an uncomfortable and even stressful place to be!

So how to be in a hiatus?

Below are 19 things you can try that help me when I’m in a hiatus in my life.

1 Make your peace with where you are

Know that being in a hiatus is normal and inevitable. Remind yourself that they’ll keep happening – to all of us. That they’re part of the process of any and every life. Accept that this is where you are right now; fighting or resisting it will only make you feel worse.

Let go of wanting to be in control – which we never fully are in life, anyway. You are where you are. No big deal. Just be there for a bit!

2 Practice non-action

You might be tempted to structure what’s going on: Create a project. Set yourself some goals. Make a To Do List. You might go into activity overdrive – do anything to escape the uncertainty of being in between life phases, jobs, or relationships… You might feel compelled to do anything to give yourself a feeling that you’re productive, that you’re going somewhere. To do anything to keep the stress of not knowing what next at bay.

See if you can resist this impulse. Take the pressure off. Practice “not-thinking-it-through” for a change. Get used to “not-doing-anything-in-particular” for a bit. Land where you are right now, instead of constantly trying to go somewhere. And notice how perhaps it’s not as scary as you thought, after all.

3 Relax, get still

Settle into not knowing how your life is going to unfold from here. See the time in between not as an annoyance, an obstacle blocking your progress and achievements, or even a cause for anxiety or worry, but as your chance to take a breather.

Like when you’re on holiday, lying on the beach, and there’s nowhere to go and nothing to do but soak up the sunshine or the warmth in the shade and listen to the gentle murmur of the waves. Or like when you’re on a long walk through beautiful contryside and take a break, and there’s nothing else to do but to rest and admire the gorgeous views.

Can you let yourself quieten down and get still?

4 Let things sink in

Give your brain and your system a chance to arrive, before rushing off to a next thing or a next person. Be gentle with yourself: take whatever time you need to let the dust settle.

Where have you come from? What’s happened? What’s ended?

Where are you now?

Let it all sink in. And be exactly where you are.

Don’t be afraid to let yourself feel whatever you feel. Let your feelings blow through your inner landscape like a storm, or hover over it like a dull winter sky, or empty themselves like heavy rainclouds passing through in the outer, real world: knowing that, like the weather, they will eventually change, and even the worst storms will pass. See point 4!

4 Feel, grieve

Being busy can distract us, stop us from feeling our feelings. Which we might welcome, when we suspect that these feelings could be rather unpleasant. Like grief, for example, which we’re bound to feel, in small or big ways, when something has ended or we’ve lost something or someone in our life.

And yet: the only way to really get over difficult feelings is to go through them. Allow yourself feel them, in a safe setting, alone, or with a trusted person. Express them. Be patient and compassionate with yourself, don’t judge. Love yourself through them.

If you worry that feelings such as grief might swamp you, or drag you into depths from which you’ll struggle to re-emerge, you can try to limit the time when you’ll allow yourself to feel whatever comes up for you, and do it gradually, bit by bit. And then go back to something lighter or something practical.

But do give your feelings at least some space to be felt, seen, heard. Sit with them until they pass. I like the notion that feelings, even the most difficult ones, are like visitors. We want to open the door, welcome them in, spend time with them. But we don’t want them to move in…

5 Nourish yourself

The loss we’ve suffered that led us into a hiatus can leave us shaky, disappointed or hurt. If we’ve been through a tough time that has now ended, we might be exhausted or burnt out. Feeling our feelings can be challenging, too. Not knowing what to do next might worry and scare us. Sitting in the uncertainty of a hiatus, we might lose our strength or confidence.

So it’s good to put something back – and a hiatus is the perfect time to do that.

Ask yourself: What would nourish you at this time?

Yummy, healthy food? Time in nature? Walks in the sunshine, or in the rain, wearing wellies and jumping into puddles? A comfy bed and sleeping in? Talks with someone you love, who won’t judge you? Exploring new places? Meeting new people? A spa? The mountains, a lake, the sea? Quality time with your family? Small adventures? Looking at the world and painting, drawing, or taking photos?

I took up the sport of curling in one of my hiatuses. I knew nothing about it, but felt drawn to try it when I saw an advert for a course in a local newspaper. The sport restored my strength, helped me re-build my confidence and, most importantly, gave me oases of joy in a challenging time. Who would have thought?

6 Reflect – leisurely

Once the greatest upheaval of the life phase that has ended has passed (if there has been one in the first place), you might find yourself in a reflective place. Take advantage of that.

Take stock of the phase that has ended. Acknowledge its good and its bad aspects, the things that were easy about it as well as those that were difficult, or what it’s given you and what you’ve given it. Celebrate what you’ve achieved.

Try not to judge. Learn from both what has worked for you and what hasn’t. Let go of what or who is no longer part of your life, or no longer serving you. Digest what’s ended and acknowledge how you feel about it. Then draw out the golden nuggets of insight and wisdom that will help you mature as a person and serve you in the future.

Most importantly: Do some or all of this leisurely and enjoy the process!

7 Enjoy the space

Where something’s ended – an era or a life phase, a job, a relationship – a space opens up. As we’re grieving the loss of what’s ended, this space can initially seem like a scary, gaping black hole. Resist the desire to fill it with noise and activity, or to make yourself numb to it, in order to make it more bearable – see point 2.

Perhaps then you’ll find that you can see that, really, this hole, like any empty space, is also a blank canvas: an opening and an opportunity. Can you enjoy the freedom from the obligations and responsibilities that came with your previous situation? Can you get excited with the sense of possibility for what might lie ahead for you? Can you start dreaming, imagining, to fill this blank canvas of your life with new colours and textures?

8 Work on yourself

When there’s less stuff going on in our life and the world around us, when our attention is not so taken up by all that’s around us and we’re less busy, we have an opportunity to look inside ourselves more deeply.

We can look at our own role and behaviour in what’s happened to us and our life. We can acknowledge where we’ve acted in constructive ways and where we could find more helpful behaviours or attitudes in the future. We can attend to how we’re feeling. To what needs to be (emotionally) digested. To what we need to let go, or forgive. We can look after ourselves, too – particularly if we’ve been through a tough time – and nurse ourselves back to strength and good health. See the various points above!

Do get outside help for this when needed – through working with a coach, counsellor or therapist, or immersing ourselves in a self-help book, course or programme. It will make it easier for you, and might be more fun, too!

This is how you can work with me to discover your vision for what’s next in your life, and take practical steps towards it.

9 Heal

We all want to be well and move on emotionally and physically from an unpleasant or painful situation as soon as possible. Yet healing can take time. And we might find ourselves in our hiatus longer than we thought!

So what if you allowed yourself this time?

What if you did for your emotional hurt the equivalent of what you would do for a physical hurt?

Clean and dress the wound. Give it air. Give the wounded part of you rest, or use it only very gently. Give it time to settle and heal. Do the same with your emotional hurts. Then strengthen and build up the wounded, healing parts again – perhaps, the equivalent of having physiotherapy for a wounded body part after it’s healed, could be, to start a body-and-mind practice, go on a course or coaching programme or have psychotherapy.

Tap into you own wisdom: What is it you need in order to heal?

10 Build your inner resources

This is an extension of the previous point. Strength and health are but two inner resources we can re-build when we heal.

You might find, from reflecting on what’s happened and on your own role in it, that other inner resources would serve you well in the future. You could, for example, use your hiatus to develop your patience. Your resilience, self reliance, conflict resolution abilities. Or your determination, fighting spirit, confidence or sense of humour in a difficult situation.Or your kindness and ability to love and accept. The possibilities are endless.

Which inner resources would serve you well in the future, and how can you best develp them?

11 Stop pushing

I love this quote by Fritz Perls: “Stop pushing. The river flows on its own.”

In Western society and culture, we are conditioned from an early age to make things happen. Work hard to get the grades at school. Set professional and life goals and go for them. Do stuff, push through obstacles, fight for our dreams.

That’s all ok. There’s a place for that.

But the implication that comes with this kind of attitude, i.e. that we can achieve anything we want if we just work, push, fight hard enough, is a treacherous one. Because life doesn’t always work this way. Some things are in our control – but many things aren’t.

Often, things come about with more ease when we stop pushing and relax into the flow of what’s around us. Being awake and aware, spotting and noticing opportunities as they come up, and then going with them – not after them. Waiting for the next wave, and surf it when it comes.

So go on: In your hiatus, try tuning into and going with the flow!

12 Keep moving

Accepting, relaxing, healing don’t mean you get all lethargic and lazy, stop moving and eventually get stuck. Quite the contrary.

Though you may feel you’re not moving forward much in practical terms in your life, accepting, relaxing and healing are energetically active states, because what you’re doing is practicing to stay conscious and present with what is going on around you and within yourself. You’re aligning yourself with the flow of life.

Whilst you’re doing that, you’re not stuck. Rather, your awareness is pleasantly alert, and you’re engaged with life, yourself and others.

If you feel stuck or stagnant, try moving your body, mindfully or meditatatively, or more vigorously, if that feels right for you – walking, dancing, running, swimming, yoga, martial arts, and many more ways of moving will keep the energy in your body (and therefore your mind) flowing!

13 See the gifts

No matter how difficult a life stage or a hiatus is – it often also brings a gift.

Sometimes – particularly when we’re in the thick of it – that’s not so easy to see. We can tell ourselves that a tough situation we’re in will make us stronger and wiser in the future, but we might not really feel this whilst we’re struggling with it.

And yet – the more you can see the gifts, the good stuff, the opportunities that are also present (despite of and at the same time as the difficulty), the easier it will become to move through your hiatus.

Acknowledge the good, however small. Look for the opening. What is still or newly possible? And can you perhaps, somewhere inside yourself, find a place from which it is possible to be grateful?

I have, many years ago, started a practice of writing down three good things that happened to me each day, just before going to bed. I put these good things in my little notebook and write a big, fat THANK YOU! underneath. Every evening. In good times, and in bad. I like to think this gives me a little booster, and keeps things in perspective!

14 Experience new things

A hiatus is a wonderful opportunity to experience new things. After all, you might well be free of the obligations of your previous life phase and have more time on your hands.

Here’s your chance to try something you’ve always wanted to do, or something you feel drawn to. Hopefully, it will lift your energy and give you joy. It might also stimulate your creative juices and help you figure out what you want next in your life. You’ll likely meet new people. And you might start seeing things in different ways, too.

It doesn’t matter what you choose: A gardening course. Joining a choir. Volunteering work. Travelling to a place you’ve never been to.

In one of my hiatuses, I chose to volunteer at organisations that interested me. I went to hand-wash and process natural wool at an alpaca farm, and watched it being worked into beautiful cushions, scarves, and duvets. I went to a husky farm in the Swiss mountains and did lots of gardening on their grounds, and helped look after the dogs, too. I went to Sicily, harvested 100kg of olives on a friend’s grounds, and watched them be cold-pressed into gorgeous, tasty olive oil…

Choose something that is about experience, about joy, about wanting (deep down, in your soul) to do it – not about responsibility, status or what you think you should be doing.

What is it that draws you?

15 Let things emerge and unfold

So now that you’re more comfortable with the fact that the river flows on its own, and you’re more at ease in flowing with it, without getting stuck: Stay awake and aware. Notice what’s around you. Engage in opportunities that draw you.

Give it time. Cultivate your patience: Allow your next thing to emerge. Let things mature until they’re ready. Let yourself get ready. To stay with the surfing analogy: Paddle along, watch the waves, and when your next wave comes, get on it.

Once things get underway: Let them unfold.

I love the saying that nature doesn’t rush things, that everything happens in its own good time, and still gets done. So why should we rush? We can coax things along and keep them flowing, growing and developing, but ultimately, everything happens in its own good time.

Can you adopt a mindset of allowing this to happen?

16 Follow your joy

This is one of the most important principles!

It’s not a hedonistic pursuit, because neuroscience says that most things that feel wholesomely joyful to us are also good and right for us. (We’re not talking about over-indulgence or destructive pleasures here…) Really taking in the good helps us overcome our brain’s innate tendency to respond more strongly to the bad stuff around us, and genuinely feel better.

So take this hiatus as an opportunity to test opportunities and things that emerge and stand out to you. Before and whilst embarking on them, ask yourself: Does this person, activity or thing feel (quietly or exhilaratingly) joyful? Does it make your heart sing? Does it feel inherently good and right for you?

Don’t think about it, don’t rationalise. Rather, lean in and listen for the answer within you.

If the answer is YES, go for it.

17 Be safe

As human beings we’re conditioned by evolution not to like uncertainty. And a hiatus can be an uncertain time! If you start feeling restless, anxious or even panicky, then it’s important to make sure you’re safe.

If you’re not safe: What can you do to make yourself safe? How can you leave a dangerous or unhealthy situation, or protect yourself from people that make you unsafe? Who can you ask for help with that?

And if you know that you are indeed safe and that nothing bad can happen to you, but you’re still feeling anxious, then remind yourself that right now, all is well, and consciously recognise that to help you feel calmer.

What’s important: Be kind with yourself, be compassionate.

You would calm a child or a friend who comes to you feeling scared or anxious, wouldn’t you? How about giving that same support and reassurance to yourself?

18 Trust the process

Take one step after another, towards what draws you, towards what feels right for you right now.

I have seen in my own journey that you cannot really go wrong: If you miss a turn that would have been good for you, it’s likely to come up for you again at a later stage. If you discover that you’ve taken a detour or ended up in a place that doesn’t feel right, you can always adjust course or turn around. Or indeed enjoy where that detour has taken you, and the new things you’ve discovered because of it!

So, take a step. See what that feels like. Adjust, if necessary. Wait there, if necessary. Be alive to what’s around you. What draws you? Take a next step towards that. Keep on like this and trust the process.

19 Keep the faith

Cultivate your faith that you will come out of your hiatus eventually. Things, life, your life will continue. The next wave to surf on will come, eventually. You will find your next thing. You will know what to do, what’s right for you. You will find your way eventually.

Remind yourself of times in the past, where you’ve found your way after a hiatus. That’s a fact!

Relax into your hiatus in the knowledge that it ultimately serves your journey and that your next move will become apparent in its own time.

Over to you now…

Do you feel like telling us about your hiatus experience(s)?

Which strategies have helped you live through it?

Why don’t you share them in the comments box below?

Photography: Pixabay