Ever have the feeling you’re reliving the same day over and over? Like life is on repeat, where you feel like you know what to expect, and yet don’t know at the same time? It’s an odd sensation. You can’t quite seem to put your finger on what the issue is, but a feeling of restlessness exists. There’s a term for what you might be experiencing: Languishing. You may have heard the phrase before, perhaps in passing, or even read about it recently.
What is Languishing?
Languishing was first coined by Corey L.M Keyes. Keyes defined it as a feeling of emptiness and stagnation; a life of quiet despair. It can present as: a lack of motivation, disinterest in things/people, feeling unsettled, reduced capacity to cope, reduced ability to focus, and feeling apathetic (or blah).
It may feel like you’re going through the motions of the day-to-day, like a state of being on autopilot. Where you get up, get ready for work, walk to the dining room/office, go online…and so forth and so forth. It can feel like looking at life through a foggy windshield, or listening to a song on repeat. A recent example I had shared with me was that it feels like the movie GroundHog day, just without the happy ending. The state of stagnation can feel like being on a never ending ladder, or feeling stuck in the mud. You’re not sinking; you’re just there.
Languishing is a state of in-between. It is not defined as a diagnosed mental health concern, but it is not a state of well-being either.
According to Health Canada, mental illness is defined as “the reduced ability to function effectively over a prolonged period of time.” There is ongoing distress, changes in mood, thoughts, behaviours, reduced capacity, and there are impacts to physical health. There are also changes in social baseline functioning, which can present as wanting to isolate, and these impacts can show up in multiple settings (e.g., home, work, social). In the early days of the pandemic, when the initial shutdowns occurred, our brains went into a state of vigilance. People reported feeling anxious and worried about the future.
However, now people are struggling with the emotional long haul of the pandemic. There are constant changes around COVID such as variants, possibilities of returning to work, new rules, passports, vaccinations, and the list goes on and on. These constant changes can slowly diminish capacity and hope due to having to adapt over short periods of time.
Part of the danger of languishing is that you may not notice the diminishing of pleasure, or the decrease in drive. You may not catch yourself feeling indifferent, and before you know it, you’re feeling blah about being blah. Languishing, like burnout, can be devious and sneaky.
Imagine you’re heading out on a hike, and you’re handed a 50 pound boulder. You’ll probably feel the weight of it, and likely (especially if you have my upper body strength) put it back down because it may not be realistic to complete the hike with such a significant weight. Now, imagine that same weight being piled into your backpack, in one pound pebbles, while you hike. It sneaks up on you slowly, you feel more tired and exhausted than usual, you may feel frustrated, and it may be that completing the full hike is no longer an option.
What can help?
I don’t know about any of you, but I’ve been more distracted recently. My children will tell you that I’m typically prone to my ‘squirrel’ moments, but more so lately. Perhaps you can relate to those instances where you’re watching TV, but the constant buzzing of the phone shifts your attention. It could be that you’re attempting to do several things at a time (e.g., Watch TV, scroll social media, send emails, etc.).
Maybe you’re noticing the distractions at work, and the constant interruptions mean you just cannot get your stuff done. Taking some time for ourselves, without interruptions, serves a few purposes. It allows
us to set healthy boundaries, prioritize our needs, be more present, and really invest in the activity we’re engaging in.
At home, that may look like going for a walk and putting on the do not disturb feature on your phone. Or it may look like enjoying some family time together playing games without technology interruptions. At work, it may look like scheduling some time in your calendar for you. Yes, you read that right.
Put yourself in your schedule, and make yourself unavailable for that period of time. Even if it’s only for a five minute break. Setting boundaries is a healthy way to prioritize our needs, and allows our bodies to recover from daily stressors.
Focusing on small goals and intentional behaviour changes can help with the reduced motivation that comes with languishing. Consider something you enjoy, an activity you’re familiar with, and add something to it.
For example, if you enjoy being outdoors, consider taking a walk, or taking small breaks outside throughout the day just to refocus. Consider what’s manageable, but most importantly, what’s enjoyable. Small behaviour changes, and achievable goals, can help us feel proud of our efforts, and
create a greater sense of self-efficacy and meaning.
Stay safe and healthy everyone!