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Blog 10 May, 2021 Back

It’s official - the name for the blah you’re feeling: It's languishing

Becky Malcolm

Neither depressed nor flourishing, languishing is not mental health or mental illness, but a sense of stagnation and emptiness

Neither depressed nor flourishing, languishing is not mental health or mental illness, but a sense of stagnation and emptiness. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.

During the pandemic, we have become low on the "psychological fuel" that we need to operate at our peak, which generally comes from new experiences and rest.

Languishing is not burnout or depression, it’s a feeling of joylessness and aimlessness leaving us feeling off our peak performance. In the current climate it is a result of the endless grinding anxiety associated with the pandemic.

Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote recently in The New York Times, "It feels as if you're muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield.”

The term originates from the Latin "languere," which means to be weak or faint. Languishing was coined in 2002 by sociologist Corey Keyes. Long before COVID-19, Keyes’s studies found 12% of the researched population fit the criteria for languishing – closer to the negative end of the spectrum of mental health, but not far enough to be considered an illness. It is however a risk factor for major depression and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness. Even an undiagnosed epidemic.

The symptoms are not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls motivation and disrupts ability to focus or concentrate.

"In psychological terms, when we cannot readily make a decision between known choices, it's called ambivalence," psychiatrist and author Dr. Gayani DeSilva explains, "Languishing can be thought of as the physical and conscious manifestation of being unconsciously or subconsciously ambivalent.”

To combat languishing, it is important to take care of the healthy basics: nutritious diet, exercise, relaxation, connection with friends and family, and taking on small but achievable challenges can sharpen focus and rekindle enthusiasm for life. Make time each day to focus on something that matters to you, it could be a personal goal, project or just catching up with someone.

Even if you’re not languishing, you may know people who are. Understanding it better can help you help them.

We still have a lot to learn about languishing and how to cure it, but naming it might be a first step. It could help to clear our vision and remind us that we aren’t alone: languishing is common and shared.

As scientists and physicians work to treat and cure the physical symptoms of long COVID, many people are struggling with the emotional long-haul of the pandemic.

If you think your feelings may be due to a mental health issue, for instance if you're feeling anxious, sad or hopeless and it's affecting your ability to function as you would normally, consider making an appointment with a psychiatrist or medical professional.

We have all been universally affected by the pandemic, either in a large or small way, no two experiences will have been the same, but through this collective experience, we hope that we have all developed more compassion and empathy for each other, especially regarding mental health.

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

Languishing is not only in our heads — it’s in our circumstances. Culturally the acceptance of physical health challenges are seen as normal, but mental health continues to carry a stigma. Yet at least one in four people will suffer from a mental health issue at some point in their life.

As we emerge into a post-pandemic world, it is time to rethink our understanding of mental health and wellbeing. By acknowledging that so many of us are languishing, we can help identify, raise awareness of and address mental health concerns.

Anvil can work with you to provide a range of different wellbeing programmes for your employees aimed at improving the overall awareness of key health and wellbeing issues and the uptake of health focused initiatives. Via our own in-house trained counsellors and medical practitioners, we also provide 24/7 global support for employees who may find themselves affected or have individual concerns.

Learn more here or contact us for more information.