Something you might already know: We are languishing.
Author and Wharton psychologist Adam Grant brought about the revival of the term, which was coined by a sociologist named Corey Keyes. Keyes felt it crucial to pinpoint that vast grey area sitting uncomfortably in between depression and, well, the pink of mental health. Thanks to Keyes, we have something to call this state of “meh” or “blah,” as Grant puts in his New York Times column.
The question is, what now?
First, what exactly is languishing?
Before we delve into what would help us snap out of these extended periods of languid living, it’s important to know the (mostly) pandemic-born demon we’re facing. I think most millennials will relate to me if I pen down that meh/bleh/blah feeling as languishing’s most common symptom. It’s when we’re depressed, but not really. We’re also productive, but not really. *sigh*
Are you feeling it, too?
An example is me getting excited to work on this piece because it was something I could relate to, but why do I feel and sound tired writing it? And when did this dragging-my-feet-to-everything even start, when I know full well that I am lucky to be working safely at home, armed with hobbies to take my mind off things? Loved ones are but a message (if not a literal holler) away, yet I’ve never felt more distanced.
The markers of my own privilege surround me; and yet I feel utterly unfortunate. Scratch that — sometimes I don’t feel anything at all, and it’s that emptiness that makes everything more… wearing. But how can I be overwhelmed by a sudden sense of nothingness? How dare I prattle on about “nothing” when the pandemic has done nothing but overwhelm? Can nothing be everything at the same time?
“Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness,” Grant says. He latches on to languishing being the “dominant emotion of 2021,” what with the soul-sucking aimlessness the COVID-19 pandemic brought about.
So this is how it feels to have absolutely zero grasp of what comes next. This is what it feels like to be taking each day one task at a time, with that being the only attainable goal amid such uncertain times: To take things one day at a time.
In case it still isn’t clear, here’s a quick rundown of the symptoms of languishing:
- Lack of energy and enthusiasm
- Joylessness in tasks
- Aimless productivity
- Foggy thought process
- Inability to concentrate
- Feeling stagnant and empty
- Tendency to disengage and disconnect
Combat languishing: Address the bigger picture
The good thing is, now that we know what we’re dealing with, we’re one step closer to coping better. Here are a few general tips that might help to combat languishing:
Map out your mental health stages
Just because you haven’t been diagnosed with a mental illness, it doesn’t mean you aren’t struggling mentally and emotionally. Therefore, it will actually help to know where you stand at the moment.
Say it with me: Anguish, languish, flourish. Before you succumb to languishing (the point where you’ll feel most burnt out or spent), you might actually go through an unofficial stage marked by heightened negative emotion. This is where you’ll still have the energy to get frustrated or — as the name suggests — to be in anguish. Surely (and quite naturally), you’ll have the spirit to fully process your disdain or distress by agonising over it.
Once you’re overcome by numbness, aimlessness, or brain fog, you’ll have entered languishing. Get past this through this lethargy and you’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel: flourishing.
They say flourishing is the sweet spot of mental health in the spectrum that involves languishing. To flourish is to find our flow — and maintain it for balanced function and interaction.
Identify what drains and charges you
Easier said than done, I know; but it’s important to identify what (or who) actually drains you. There are several ways of doing this. The easiest would be to make a journal. If even this task seems too time-consuming for you, you can even turn to bullet points. Note moments that give you a high, or a sense of relief, calm, and freedom. Of course, the other chart would have to contain your drain triggers — where you feel most languid.
Once you have enough input, you’ll hopefully see patterns. This allows you to plan out next steps, whether you’re looking to avoid triggers or overcome them. The latter is our end goal, but don’t hurry yourself to get to the finish line.
What’s important is you also recognise your battery pack. Is it a habit or routine? Your pet or plant? Maybe it’s a loved one you haven’t been spending as much time with. Also find out what gives you that extra zing.
Find your medal
A tall order, but on the path to self-discovery, you must also find what gives you a sense of accomplishment. Small wins, big wins — they all count. Engage in friendly competition through board games and set your eyes on the prize. Make it your day’s mission to declutter or hit deadlines at work. Get into a hobby you’re willing to get good at. Burn your target calories. Start your creative outlet.
Find your prize in daily life. And remember, only you get to define your triumphs.
Give tasks focus and uninterrupted time
In his New York Times pieces, Adam Grant brings forward “flow” as a key factor to achieving your ideal state of flourish. The thing is, many things ruin flow: multitasking, interruptions, distractions, lack of motivation, bad news, and brain fog, to name a few.
So here’s the challenge: Allow mindfulness to take an active role in your day-to-day affairs. Just be in the moment, and give yourself time to fully process the ups and downs of daily living. This has been said before, but what makes mindfulness an ever-giving goldmine is the fact that there are many ways to practise it.
If you’re still finding your brand of mindfulness, whether it be meditation, exercise, or routine reflection, let’s start with giving tasks uninterrupted time. Go on DND mode at work on days when you’ll need ample concentration. Set boundaries between professional and personal life. Enjoy a meal without the added stimulation of television or YouTube. Call a friend and dedicate an hour to catching up.
Just remember, focus on one thing and nothing else. Multitasking has been an identifying mark of the way we live today; but there are times you have to take a step back from it, too.
Allow yourself to connect
As the pandemic set in and seeped its way through our realities, studies confirmed that humans were made to touch and be touched. Imagine growing up in a world where besos, hugs, holding hands, or even a gentle tap on the back are commonplace. Suddenly, *poof*, all gone.
Of course, connections are a huge part of finding our flow, too. We’re inherently social creatures and taking that away from your life does more harm than good. This reminds me of a conversation I’ve had with friends, when we expressed our growing concern for the extroverts in our lives. We were sure the lack of interaction was taking its toll on them. And certainly, even if you consider yourself an introvert, we’re pretty sure you took a hit, too.
Do yourself a favour and connect, interact, engage… meaningfully. With intent and openness. Do it at your own pace, with people (or any other living thing, really) you genuinely like.
Do nothing and don’t punish yourself for it
Flow connotes a steady movement of varying levels, therefore you cannot expect it to go just one speed or wavelength. Languishing will make you tired — trust us, we know. Rest and find momentum; when possible, do nothing and don’t punish yourself for it.
I’m no advocate of lazing around; but I was surprised, at the start of the pandemic, how easy it was to pick out the people in my life who seemed to go crazy when they were just at home “doing nothing.” These in-betweens and supposed episodes of inaction make movement all the more rewarding, so don’t skip them! Don’t hate on them, either.
How can you fully appreciate moving forward if you don’t give yourself the chance to look back on the distance you’ve already covered?
Combat languishing: Little things that help you find your flow
Reading articles (like this one I wrote myself), I tend to think, “Wow, what an umbrella statement” or “Nobody can be THAT positive, not while there’s a pandemic in full swing.” Maybe it’s me being nega or just tired of “the now,” but for people like me who’d want something more doable, these little things count; they might just get your flow a-flowin’.
- Wake up early — don’t snooze your alarm!
- Don’t stay up to make up for “lost leisure time” during the day. They call that “Revenge Bedtime Procrastination” and it’s an unhealthy cycle to fall into.
- Reply. I’m looking at the people who keep their messages on read (like me, ehehe).
- Verbally say good morning and good night (to something or someone).
- Respect your uninterrupted minutes/hours. Time them if you have to.
- Allow your mind to wander during busy hours but set a time limit, too!
- Take stretching and breathing breaks. Go the extra mile and work out when your schedule permits. Make time at least once a week to let endorphins take over.
- Get enough sleep. If you can’t do eight hours in one go at night, take naps.
- Set aside a day for general cleaning every week.
- Master a recipe. Own it like a kween/king.
- Make something (aside from food). An artwork, a playlist — whatever spurs self-accomplishment.
- Be in the care of a living thing (aside from yourself, lol).
- Take supplements and indulge in energy-boosting food (the good kind, not just sugary stuff). I am an advocate of adaptogens, wheatgrass, and probiotics.
- Start that journal. Again, bullet points are your best friend if you’re a person of few words!
- Practise gratitude. Say thank you. Send a We-Don’t-Talk-Much-But-I’m-Thankful-For-Your-Presence gift.
- Reward yourself for tasks completed. #Addutucart
- Pray. No specifics — just get into the habit of acknowledging a higher being or something bigger than all of this. Foster faith.
Combat languishing: It’s Okay That You Aren’t
In a world often defined by goals, deadlines, performance indicators, and fast-paced movement, multitaskers often win. Balance is hardly achieved. Relationships take a back seat. We are usually programmed to prioritise making a living, and in the process, we lose sight of actually living our lives. The expectation to be okay even when you’re not is stronger than ever, because, hey, you aren’t depressed. Or as some hastily put it, we all are anyway. Who isn’t down these days, right?
But languishing tells us that mental health is no longer black and white; even it has in-betweens that beg to be acknowledged. Combatting languishing comes back to mindfulness and the willingness to admit that everything is not okay. And that’s perfectly fine.
Acknowledge that perhaps, you are okay, but not really. Respect this time in your life and at least begin to process it the way a certain hit K-drama series has inspired us to. All together now: It’s Okay to Not Be Okay. *virtualgrouphug*