If we were to sum up the overall feeling of 2021, most of us could either let out a giant sigh or just say BLEH. The monotonous life of waking up, working from home, staying home and not seeing an end in sight.
It’s not burnout because you still have energy, and it’s not depression because you don’t feel hopeless. You just feel somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.
So, could you be a contender for the mood of 2021 and what can you do to beat it? Read on.
Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness, like ‘no-man’s-land’. It feels as if you’re JUST getting through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield.
In psychology, we think about mental health on a spectrum from depression to flourishing. Flourishing is the peak of well-being: You have a strong sense of meaning, mastery and mattering to others. Depression is the valley of ill-being: You feel despondent, drained and worthless.
Languishing is the Jan from the Brady Bunch of mental health. It’s the space between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re far from flourishing. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness. Those with a history of depression and anxiety are also more prone to languishing than others as well as extroverts.
Not everyone who is languishing will experience it in the same way or with the same intensity.
Languishing will affect some of your decisions, behaviours, and emotions toward yourself, others, and the world.
Languishing can look like declining invites to activities you would normally enjoy. You may not feel strongly about not going, but you might not see why going would be any better than sitting at home.
For someone else, languishing may mean attending the event only to leave early because it brought them no enjoyment.
Other possible signs of languishing may include:
As explained earlier, languishing is not the same as depression or anxiety. These are mental health conditions that can be diagnosed and treated by healthcare professionals.
If you’re living with depression, you’re likely experiencing feelings of extreme sadness or despair, like you’re stuck in a hole, and you can’t get out. You may contemplate self-harm or be self-critical. Some of your cognitive functions, like memory, may also be compromised when you have depression.
Languishing isn’t sadness either. While you may feel “down,” you aren’t sad. Instead, some people may refer to this as that ‘bleh’ — where you aren’t happy or sad, just not quite your usual self.
Similarly, anxiety disorders often come with intrusive thoughts of worry or fear. You may feel restless or on edge. You also may overthink situations and let thoughts grow out of proportion.
With languishing, you may have moments of anxiety or worry, but these are natural responses to everyday stress. These feelings don’t linger and they’re not your permanent state of mind.
If you feel you’re experiencing symptoms beyond languishing, consider speaking with a mental health professional or your doctor.
If it sounds like you're languishing, you are far from alone. It is a product of the uncertainty and limits brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and has specific coping mechanisms. Little by little, the pandemic will end and the added distress it brought will disperse with it. In the meantime, follow the above, connect with friends and family and share your feelings.
Remember, don't go it alone. Please reach out for help.
Lifeline: 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 or beyondblue.org.au
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 or kidshelpline.com.au
Headspace: 1800 650 890 or headspace.org.au