The third wave of covid 19 is upon us. Many of us have either contracted the virus, have had to self-isolate or have someone close to us struggling with covid19. Just the other day a friend asked me how I was feeling? The question caught me off guard. I just could not seem to put what I was, and still am, feeling into words. I think the words ‘blah’ and ‘meh’ probably describe my feelings with regards to covid, and this third wave, the best. According to psychologist Adam Grant most people’s reaction to this pandemic, is to show up for life but live without purpose and aim.
Sociologist, Corey Keyes, has coined this feeling many of us are experiencing as ‘languishing’. Languishing is not depression or sadness, but rather ‘the absence of feeling good about your life.’ Keyes says languishing is the lack of meaning, purpose or belonging in life, which leads to emptiness, lack of emotion and stagnation.’ Languishing is neither feeling good or sad, it is feeling really nothing. Someone describes it as looking at your life through a foggy windshield.
Languishing is different from depression. When someone feels depressed, they often don’t have energy to do anything, while a person that feels languishing proceeds to go through the motions of life, but without much feelings.
It seems that part of the danger of languishing, is that you do not notice it. And when you cannot see your own struggles and suffering, you can’t seek help or do much to help yourself. So even if you are not languishing, please keep reading, because chances are you know someone who is.
A few strategies for managing languishing
- It’s ok to grieve
I recently saw a post that described the discomfort many of us are feeling as grief. We are all grieving. Many people I have spoken to feel a deep sense of guilt for feeling sad, because in their own words ‘I really have no reason to feel sad. It’s not like I have lost a loved one to covid.’ Even though you may not have lost a loved one or a job – it is ok to feel sad. And it is ok to grieve, because we all have lost a lot in the last year and a half. We have lost normality. We have lost the joy of visiting an art gallery, the cinema, or eating out without a mask. We have lost the privilege of having a cup of coffee, or watching our children play sport, without the niggling fear of what if I/we catch it. We have all faced loss in the last year. I have come to realize that grieving is not only good, it is necessary.
- Sharing honestly with one another
In a society where photos are altered and only happy things are shared on social media, we need to create spaces where people feel safe enough to say, ‘I am not ok.’ We still have a lot to learn about what causes languishing and how to cure it but naming it may be a first step. Being able to honestly admit our feelings to one another could remind us that we are not alone, and that languishing is common and shared. It could help to defog our vision. What would it be like, if instead of answering ‘great’ or ‘fine’ to the ‘How are you?’-question, we answered one another with: ‘Honestly, I’m languishing.’ This type of honesty will take some guts, but it just might rescue our communities from the toxic pressure of having to be upbeat and positive all the time. I am also hoping that my own honesty might challenge some of the stigmas concerning Covid-19 and mental health.
‘Being not depressed doesn’t mean you’re not struggling. Being not burned out doesn’t mean you’re fired up. By acknowledging that so many of us are languishing, we can start giving voice to quiet despair and lighting a path out of the void.’– Adam Grant
- Emotional vocab
At the best of times many of us struggle to find the words to describe our feelings. For many of us our emotional vocabulary basically consists out of three words – mad, sad and glad. These three words have proven to be wanting when living through a pandemic. Broadening our emotional vocabularies is crucial to emotional health – so why not start by adding languishing to your lexicon. As soon as I added it to my own lexicon, I started noticing it everywhere. In WhatsApp messages, social media posts and even in television shows.
Journalist, Daphne K Lee, recently tweeted about a Chinese expression that translates to ‘revenge bedtime procrastination’. (This caught my eye because I thought she was spying on Peet and I). She describes it as staying up late at night to reclaim the freedom we have missed during the day. I couldn’t help but wonder if it is not so much a retaliation against the loss of control as an act of quiet defiance against languishing.
Adding languishing to my lexicon has not only been a humbling experience, but has also invited me to a greater awareness of my own emotions.
- Find your flow
Finding your flow might be the antidote to languishing. Flow is an elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away. Flow will differ from person to person. For some it may a late-night box-set binge, or spending time taking photos. Others might find their flow playing video games, reading a book or hiking. According to some research people who became more immersed in their projects managed to avoid languishing and maintained their pre-pandemic happiness.
- Give yourself some uninterrupted time
Give yourself some uninterrupted time by setting boundaries, and then treat these blocks of time as treasures to be guarded. By giving yourself uninterrupted blocks of time, you are giving yourself the freedom to focus. Being able to focus helps us get more done which in turn is very motivating.
- Focus on small goals
Take time out daily to focus on a challenge that matters to you such as as an interesting project, a worthwhile goal, or a meaningful conversation.
Be safe and take care.
There’s a name for the blah you’re feeling: It’s called Languishing by Adam Grant
Living, but not flourishing: The Pandemic-fueled feeling known as ‘Languishing’ by Robin Young