You’re functioning well enough. You get out of bed in the morning. You do what you need to get done (for the most part). You don’t feel total despair, hopelessness or worthlessness as you might if you were depressed. But something’s missing. You’re not joyful or fired up. It’s hard to concentrate. One day bleeds into the next and you feel as if you’re coasting. Blah.
Can you relate to this?
A word for what you’re feeling
As psychologist Adam Grant illuminated in a recent article, there’s a word for this absence of wellbeing. It’s called “languishing.” It’s defined as a “state of stagnation and emptiness.” It’s not a new phenomenon, but more people than ever are likely experiencing it now given the events of the past year.
Grant explains that languishing has replaced the more immediate and acute emotions like fear and grief we experienced last year when the threat of the pandemic was new and much remained uncertain. Although Covid is very much still a threat, we now have a better understanding of our risks and how to protect ourselves from them.
In turn, we’re left in this middle place. We still feel a bit out of control. We’re constantly calculating the risk associated with any plans we want to make. And we’re still recovering from the stress and trauma of the past year.
Call it what it is
Recognizing this state of being as problematic is important to the larger conversation around mental health awareness. It points out that even those who don’t meet criteria for a major depressive episode can still be suffering, and that suffering comes with its own risks. Research has shown that people who are languishing are at a greater risk for a future depressive episode. They’re also three times more likely to cut back on work. The lack of motivation and joylessness that comes with languishing can make you unhappy even if you’re not depressed.
So what’s the antidote to languishing?
Grant recommends finding “flow” – the psychological state of being so immersed in an experience that you lose your sense of time, space, and self. You might find flow in some of your favorite hobbies. Even a good book or TV show can do the trick.
Doing things that help you achieve a sense of progress can also be helpful. Start a project. Make small goals. Play games and puzzles that challenge you just a little. Learn a new skill.
Together, finding flow and making progress toward goals helps to break up the emptiness and stagnation of languishing.
People who are languishing may be at an increased risk for developing mental illness because they are less likely to seek help or do much to help themselves. In other words, languishing itself may lead you to overlook the signs that you’re languishing.
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