Have you noticed yourself moving through your days with little motivation and a lot of “meh” feelings? Same here! I’m actually excited to talk to you about the lack of excitement that I’ve been feeling. It took me some time to realize that I’ve been experiencing the effects of the ongoing pandemic as something called languishing.
“Languishing” is a term coined by Emory University Sociologist Corey Keyes that embodies the lack of meaning, purpose, or the sense of belonging in life. When we find ourselves stuck in a state of languishing, it can sometimes lead to feelings of emptiness, a lack of emotion, or stagnation.
Think about it… early on in the pandemic we were running on a fear-based adrenaline, then we became increasingly isolated, and now we’re in a perpetual state of groundhog day as the threat of the virus drags on for the unforeseeable future.
So, maybe you’re not exactly feeling depressed or hopeless, but you’re not feeling so great either. For me and many others, we’ve been muddling through our days, somewhat aimlessly, stuck in a state of languishing. I’ve found it so helpful to have a name for how I’m feeling and to know that others are going through it too.
Maybe you’re languishing right now and that’s okay. I’m here to help you better understand what you’re experiencing and offer some tips that have helped me move through the “blah” days and got me back to feeling a little more like myself.
Signs that you might be languishing
- You’re running on autopilot. Ever get from point A to point B and wonder how the heck did I get here? Yeah, me too! Basically, the opposite of mindfulness, these are the moments when you’re just moving through the motions, as expected, without putting much thought into it.
- Your head feels like you’re in a fog. Have you noticed that you’re having trouble concentrating or just feel like you’re looking through a foggy windshield? When we’re languishing, we’ve lost the ability to think or see the world in a crisp, clear way and it can all just be a blur.
- Feelings of uncertainty about how to spend your day. Have you found yourself putzing around doing this and that but never really doing anything? Maybe you’re doomscrolling or binge watching your favorite television series again because you’re not sure what else to do. Unlike depression where it can literally take everything you have to get out of bed, languishing is just doing something for the sake of doing it.
- Feeling unproductive, unmotivated, or without direction. If you’ve been asking yourself “what’s my purpose” or feeling extra unmotivated, you’re not alone. These are common effects of languishing. Again, this differs from depression in that you likely don’t feel hopeless or that your life has no point (if you do feel depressed, consider seeking out support from a trusted mental health professional).
- Instead of feeling excited, you barely crack a smile. Remember those days when you’d get good news and it was like fireworks and confetti were shooting across the sky? Now it’s like you have a confetti gun that shoots out a teeny-tiny flag emblazoned with the words “okay, yay.” COVID has created this environment where we have a fear of the unknown, coupled with disconnection from others, resulting in a lack of overall enthusiasm.
- Work, school, or daily responsibilities seem to take 1,000 times the energy than they used to. This doesn’t necessarily mean you dislike your job, or that school isn’t right for you, or that all hope is lost for getting your house in order. Nope, it simply means that you’ve used up most of your energy just making it through the day. When we are just surviving and not thriving, it’s expected to not have any gas left in the reserve to tackle more.
Over the course of a year and a half, we’ve all had to adjust and embrace uncertainties in the best ways that we know how. And, as we approach something that resembles “before times,” we might be feeling some ambivalence. This ambivalence can lead to not feeling much at all. Languishing can be our emotional way of dealing with stress – freezing up and just existing. Going through life on autopilot without really investing too much or getting too involved because, who knows what’s going to happen next?!
The good news is that there are ways to acknowledge and move through this state of being, enabling us to find more of that spark that we’ve been missing.
Ways to move through the languish
- Get creative. I’m using this term broadly because getting creative can mean vastly different things for each of us. Maybe you’ve always wanted to try your hand at painting or learn how to play the guitar – this may be the perfect opportunity to explore those curiosities. Or perhaps it’s getting creative with how to tackle daily chores or mixing up your workout routine. Shaking things up and losing ourselves in a state of flow can help wake us from the foggy feelings.
- Add staple behaviors into your day. Determining staple behaviors that prioritize and protect your well-being can be a great antidote to languishing. For me, this means making sure that I prepare one healthy meal for myself each day or that I get outside for a walk when I need to clear my head.
- Lower your expectations. I’m not saying to eliminate all goals or ambitions… let’s just take them down a notch or two. Right now, we’re going through challenging and unprecedented times. Cut yourself some slack and practice self-compassion on the days when you’re just getting through.
- Journal it all out. While it’s not always easy to think of what life could look like in the future, having a vision is motivating. Take a few minutes to respond to these questions:
- When this pandemic is over, how do I want my life to look?
- What have I learned during this time?
- What am I looking forward to?
- What are the things that bring a smile to my face?
- Create workflow. Whether you’re working in an office or from home, creating workflow can help you tap into those productive feels and run with them. If you’re in the office, maybe you can find ways to reduce noise, block out designated times for focus and for breaks, or eliminate clutter from your desktop. For those working remotely, have a designated work zone in your home that’s just for you, try turning on your phone’s “do not disturb” function, and minimize chat programs so that you can get in the zone.
- Maintain a culture of care: If you manage a team of employees, you can help prevent languishing by creating a culture of care within the workplace. This could look like promoting wellness days off work, being more flexible with expectations, and promoting self-care opportunities. If you’re currently in a toxic work environment, try setting boundaries to protect yourself and visit our Work Stress community to commiserate.
The next time you find yourself with a case of the “blahs,” try meeting these feelings with compassion and block out some uninterrupted time to do something you love. Celebrate your small wins and try letting go of unrealistic expectations. You can also reach out for support through therapy, coaching, or community groups.
Know that it’s okay to not be flourishing right now and please don’t compare yourself to your friends’ Instagram posts… they’re likely not consistently thriving either. Try tapping into the lessons you’ve learned during hard times in the past in order to rediscover your resiliency and strength and remember that we’re all experiencing this pandemic together.
By Natalie Septer, Mental Health Coach
As a Sanvello Coach, Natalie is passionate about supporting people as they navigate life — in the good times and the bad. Her role is to help enhance self-awareness and equip clients with the tools necessary to live their best life. When she’s not seeing clients, Natalie is a yoga instructor, a podcast aficionado, and a mom to three boys. For self-care, she loves to read, journal, and exercise.