In the midst of a Covid-stricken world, many people began to feel an air of mystery. It wasn’t necessarily depression, but it wasn’t hope or positivity either. Rather, this feeling is what is known as languishing. In 2021, The New York Times described languishing as “the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity.”
Languishing is tricky. On the one hand, a person experiencing this sensation may not be mentally ill, but on the other hand, languishing can deeply affect general well-being and performance in the workplace. Furthermore, languishing can sneak up on us and become an auto-piloted way of living.
While this indifference, boredom and overall lackluster energy for life is more recognized today, the question of proper solutions and effective methods to combat languishing remain. Luckily, this blasé state does not have to be permanent.
Before chalking up your symptoms to languishing, it is important to assess your mental well-being, as depression and other mental illnesses look different for everyone. Walking depression, or maintaining a somewhat “normal” lifestyle while depressed is very real, so please assess your mental well-being first and foremost.
- Let it Be
As counterintuitive as it may sound, acceptance of what’s going on can be strangely liberating. When we face obstacles and unwanted feelings, it can be natural to fight against these things. While solutions-based thinking is effective and admirable, putting in vast effort to go against the current when you’re already exhausted might not be the best solution.
Mindfulness is an eastern practice that put simply, helps us observe our thoughts as an unbiased spectator. Paying attention as different thoughts and feelings arise can be uncomfortable, but it also offers insight into something deeper: our everyday functioning.
“As a writer, it’s my job to be inspired and create fresh content constantly,” says Jessica. “There have been periods in my life, due to all different reasons, where my inspiration, energy and drive were in the negatives. It’s scary, because it feels like I’m a failure.”
Jessica’s feelings are actually more common than you might realize. We often forget that as human beings, as strong and resilient as we are, we are similarly fragile and emotional and require rest, support and time to shut off the brain.
“One day after therapy, I decided I’d mentally give myself permission to truly rest. To let go of forcing myself to create a masterpiece every day. And sure enough, my inspiration came back.”
If you can, allow languishing (and all feelings) to be a temporary guest in your mind. Give yourself permission to rest without guilt, and if this seems impossible, try the next step:
- Introspect, but Not Too Much
Looking within during trying times is admirable and often effective. Taking time to explore why we are feeling certain things, acting certain ways and existing as we are can help make ourselves and the world a better place. However, introspection can turn into over-analyzing, and this line can be thin.
Setting aside time to explore feelings of languish might be all you need to work towards solutions. For instance, Jeff, an interior designer, realized the core of his languishing after starting journaling. “I’m so busy and I love what I do, so when I started feeling blah out of nowhere, I was so confused and annoyed,” Jeff remembers.
“Journaling was recommended to me, and I started noticing a pattern. While I still loved interior design, I had an ongoing dream of branching off on my own. While I was at a place in my life to finally do so, fear of failure was holding me back and keeping me tied down.”
Jeff was able to start working towards his goals after identifying the core of his feelings. On the flip side, Marissa, a teacher found that over analyzing her feelings was not beneficial and in some cases, caused her to negatively spiral. For Marissa, it was about going back to the basics.
- Back to the Basics
Conducting life is no small feat, and many of us have full (or overflowing) plates that we constantly try to balance. Sometimes, through the busyness of staying alive, we forget the very basics. In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow presented his hierarchy of human needs in his book “A Theory of Human Motivation.” At the very bottom of this pyramid are basic needs such as air, water, shelter, food, clothing and sleep.
While we might be lucky enough to technically have all of those needs at our disposal, this doesn’t mean we are actually meeting them. For instance, Paul, a baker and father, has food in his home for a meal, but because he bakes all day, he usually ends up snacking on small, low-protein snacks.
“I started cutting out time to actually eat proper meals, with protein and veggies and a nice dessert. This drastically improved my mood, even though it seems so basic.”
Don’t underestimate how far the basics can go. Bathing ourselves, eating regularly, hydrating, sleeping well and other basic care tasks can truly make a major difference in overall wellness.
- Talk to People!
We are not meant to internalize our feelings. According to BetterHelp, “research suggests that continuing such behavior can cause serious damage to one’s overall mental health, self-esteem, and relationships with others.”
When we internalize, it remains within, so if anger and sadness and other intense feelings have nowhere else to go, they stay stuck. Talking to someone, whether a friend, family member, therapist or online support group can offer insight and remind us we are not alone.
Something magical happens when people choose vulnerability. It is not always easy, but allowing others and ourselves to genuinely listen and share in a judgement-free zone can be transformative.
“My adhd causes a lot of embarrassment for me,” Maggie, a guidance counselor says. “My house is a mess and I struggle to shower regularly, and admitting that to others when I should be a functioning, capable adult is really hard.”
Maggie found a Reddit thread dedicated to women with ADHD, and talking to anonymous yet supportive people who experience similar situations has helped Maggie realize that she is a functioning and capable adult, just with different challenges than her neurotypical peers.
“Having supportive people doesn’t cure my ADHD, obviously, but knowing there are people like me is a comfort I never had before. Also, we encourage each other to keep going when life feels impossible.”
- Re-Examine Free Time and Hobbies
Some people have very specific hobbies, some people have maintained the same hobby their whole life. Some people have no idea what hobby to choose or what brings them joy, and this is perfectly okay.
Examining and reassessing what you choose to do in your free-time is a way to optimize your life. In the age of steaming, there are so many award-winning shows and movies right at our fingertips. While consuming movies and television as well as social media isn’t necessarily bad, it may not be how you truly want to spend your time. Or, it might be something you want to adjust.
If finding a hobby or other activities is difficult, try imagining what you enjoyed as a child. Sometimes, revisiting our old joys can spark inspiration and remind us of what we truly love to do. Also, there are massive lists of hobbies. A quick google search will give you a list of pastimes from adult sport clubs to baking to crocheting. If you try something you don’t enjoy, on to the next!
On the flip side, if you spend your free time consumed in work, overextending yourself or committing to unwanted events and engagements, focusing more on yourself might be the next best move.
- Try Some Inspirational Media
“On my worst days, nothing satisfies me. I don’t want to talk to anyone, the tv annoys me and I feel stuck,” Wade, an account says. On the days we need time to be alone and process, learning inspirational stories from influential people or people we don’t know can remind us of the good the world has to offer.
“Comparing pain is not productive. My grandma used to tell me that my sadness didn’t compare to the people who are poor and struggling,” Wade remembers.
While awareness of our blessings is important, dismissing someone’s struggles because others have it worse is simply not helpful and does nothing to solve the issue. However, other people’s stories of pain and triumph can remind us that we are capable and worthy.
“During one of my bad days, I googled ‘inspirational stories’ and that’s when I learned about a book by holocaust survivor Victor Frankl.”
Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” explores the author’s time in a concentration camp during Nazi Germany. What’s remarkable about the story is how Frankl found positivity and purpose in the bleakest of situations.
There are many podcasts, books, Ted Talks, and more that offer insight into what it means to be human. These stories and wisdom can change our perspective, and this is a powerful thing.
- Try Something New
Comfort zones are cozy, but they can become stagnant with time. One reason time feels quicker as we age is because we usually experience less novelty. First times are exciting, nerve-wracking and fresh, and whether they turn out well or not, they cause us to grow.
YouTuber Grace realized that as a highly anxious person, getting out of her comfort zone needed to be small acts. “It sounds silly but I’ll change my hairstyle, curling it instead of wearing it straight like normal.” Even though small changes might seem pointless, they cause a new experience in the mind.
Trying new things by no means requires a major change. You don’t have to skydive to feel alive, although if that works for you, dive on! For anyone looking for simple, practical and affordable ways to change up routine, consider the following:
- Change around the furniture or wall decor
- Schedule time fro shake up your normal routine: a weekend bath, a call to a friend, a trip to a new grocery store
- Take a different route to a familiar location
- Try a new recipe
- Prank call someone
- Relax YOUR Way
Finally, relax the way that brings you comfort, rejuvenation and joy. Rest is often seen as sleeping, napping or being in bed. There are many types of rest, and they benefit different parts of our minds and bodies.
Sometimes, as humans, we want clearcut answers and solutions to discomfort. Ultimately, lists and advice can guide and inspire you, but you know yourself best. If taking a bath and doing a face mask give you little satisfaction, it makes no sense to spend free time doing this.
When it comes to rest, ask yourself the following:
-When and where do I genuinely feel relaxed?
-How can I bring the essence of that feeling, place or person into my life more?
-Does rest make me feel guilty? Where does this stem from?
-How can I take care of myself more?
At some point or another, we all face feelings of languishing, discouragement and low motivation for life. It is highly important to ensure these feelings aren’t a symptom of mental illness, like depression. If they aren’t, they’re still necessary to address. Remember, you are not alone and life is filled with constant ups and downs.
Feeling exhausted and indifferent are not signs that something is ‘wrong’ with you or that you’re lazy; these symptoms give us the chance to care for ourselves more. When we can treat ourselves gentler and kinder, we are able to return to life and lovingly guide ourselves through the unpredictability.