If you are feeling yourself lacking the typical joy or spark you have, but you don’t feel like you’re walking through each day carrying sadness or frustration, there’s a name for that – languishing. It’s a feeling that is all-too common in 2021 as we are all experiencing the side effects of navigating the COVID pandemic together. Lockdowns and all of the other change we experienced over the last year had a big impact on many people’s mental health. The unique ways individuals have been impacted mentally vary, but if you feel like you are going through your days in a fog, letting each day pass without much thought or care, you could be experiencing languishing.
What is Languishing?
verb /'laNG wiSHING/
1. A name for the blah you're feeling.
2. The void between depression and flourishing - the absence of well-being.
3. It can dull your motivation and focus. And it may be the dominant emotion of 2021.
Languishing is the feeling of being stagnant or stuck, unable to move forward. It differs from burnout in that burnout is also associated with exhaustion, which languishing is not. You might feel perfectly energized, calm, and supported, but still feel like tomorrow doesn’t matter because it’s just another variation of today. That’s languishing.
In psychology, mental health is thought about on a spectrum: depression to flourishing. Languishing is the space in between depression and flourishing – a lack of feeling “well,” to put it simply. Though we are seeing positive trends to improve our ability to handle the COVID pandemic, we are still left with many people experiencing a mental health issue they are unequipped to navigate. Languishing impacts your ability to stay productive, it takes away from your motivation, and generally just does not feel great. No one wants to feel unlike their normal selves.
A sociologist named Corey Keyes introduced the term languishing, after noticing there were a large quantity of individuals that weren’t showing the typical mental illness signals, they weren’t depressed or anxious, they just weren’t flourishing like we might expect (based on the mental health spectrum). Corey Keyes’ research led him to believe people that will struggle with mental health issues, like depression and anxiety, in the future are the exact people that are languishing right now. Those individuals are in a critical place to seek the help they need before their mental state worsens, but unfortunately, due to the discreet symptoms of languishing, those same people aren’t likely to recognize they need help.
Languishing is a sneaky mental health issue as it happens slowly, over a long period of time. Day by day, you start pulling away from things that previously brought you joy. You slowly find yourself keeping more and more to yourself. Before you know it, you feel completely different and have no idea why or even how it happened. Recognizing you are experiencing languishing is the first, and most important, step to working back toward a flourishing mindset. Once you have a name for what you’re feeling, coping with the feeling becomes much easier.
How to Deal With Languishing
It’s imperative to appreciate that you are not alone in your feeling of languishing. Now that you know the symptoms, you will probably be able to spot it around you more. It’s behind every “meh” or “living the dream” response you get when you ask how someone is doing. Your silent cashier at the grocery store could be experiencing it. You are not alone, and the more we can recognize that and normalize the feeling, the more supported everyone will feel as we dig ourselves out of the empty feeling we may have inside due to languishing.
A concept that is widely discussed related to helping to mitigate or alleviate languishing is “flow.” Before diving into a definition of flow, it’s best exemplified in people we are all familiar with right now. Think about your friends or family members that immersed themselves in projects or hobbies through the COVID lockdowns. With each painting they finished or recipe they tried, those individuals helped ignite their passion and bring them joy – exactly what many of us were missing during the terrifying early days of the pandemic. Many of us lacked consistent activities that brought us joy, but these people seemed to find a way to combat that. Those people were practicing flow. Flow is the idea that you can lose yourself in something meaningful to you that brings you joy while distracting you from the world around you. Immersing yourself in a new hobby is a great way to avoid the stress that was seemingly all around us through 2020 and still is today. If you are busy writing a book, you are less likely to be over stimulated by all of the terrifying news and every-changing guidelines.
Another fantastic way to deal with languishing is to give yourself a break. Immersing yourself in work without interruption is not going to alleviate your feeling of lacking progress because it doesn’t address the source of the feeling. You might not even care about work right now, due to your languishing feeling, so work is not going to feel as meaningful as it might have felt in the past. Something meaningful you can, and should, do is give yourself the grace you need to build breaks into your daily routine. Give yourself permission to journal for a half hour every morning, let yourself take an afternoon walk to reenergize. With consistency, you can reinspire yourself toward your goals.
The third tool we’ll share to help fight languishing is setting goals. Again, you need to help bring meaning back into your day to day. Setting goals, even small goals you know you will accomplish, can help remind you of the meaning of your effort. With an extra five minutes spent on a goal every day, you can make massive progress. Start your day by writing down a goal you want to accomplish, perhaps increasing in difficulty as the days go by. When you see yourself accomplishing your goals at the end of your day while seeing yourself setting even more aggressive goals for the next day, you’ll start to feel your pride come back.
The final, and most effective, way you can alleviate your languishing feeling is by getting help from a coach professional. Having an outside party help you reflect on why you are feeling languish provides you with a comfortable space to complain about things you may have felt like you needed to keep to yourself. Going through a pandemic together has certainly unified us, but it also added a pressure that no one can complain about the difficulty of navigating the pandemic, even though it’s been a massive challenge. Talking to a coach, you can trust they want to be your supportive ear while also working to guide you toward resolving your languishing feeling.
To Sum it Up
Remember: you are not alone. Languishing is an extremely common feeling following the hardest parts of COVID, and if left unaddressed, will lead to even more serious mental health concerns into the future. If you are struggling with languishing, you are not stuck! There are things you can do, either independently or with the help of a coach, to fight your languishing and get back to a flourishing mindset. From flow to giving yourself grace, the habits you create to free your mind from your languishing will do nothing but continue to benefit your mental health in the long run.