After a year of COVID-19 loss and major transitions, many people are now mentally and emotionally struggling with the chronic effects of the pandemic. Psychology names this post-pandemic emotion as “languishing”.
It was first coined by the American Psychologist, Corey Keyes, in 2002, doing research about the topic for years to bring awareness to the group of people whose mental well-being are clinically described as neither good nor bad.
However, it became popular, creating awareness when the American Psychologist Adam Grant described languishing in the New York Times article as the “dominant emotion of 2021” related to COVID-19 pandemic.
What is the meaning of languishing?
American Psychologists Corey Keyes, Adam Grant, and the American Psychological Association (APA) all define languishing as the absence of well-being or poor mental health.
“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,” states Adam Grant.
Other psychologists simply define languishing as:
- Living but not flourishing
- That feeling of “fine, but not good”
- Surviving but not thriving
It’s “a life of quiet despair”, according to Corey Keyes. Moreover, Adam Grant remarks, “It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless.”
Indicators: How do I know if I am in a state of languishing? What is this feeling of “blah”?
According to researchers and psychologists:
- Languishing varies from person to person.
- There are a variety of manifestations.
- Symptoms are not clinically significant enough.
- It is a common and valid feeling, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Combining all signs provided by psychologists, the following emotions and states of mind indicate that an individual may be in a state of languishing. What is this feeling of “blah”?
B – eing socially withdrawn
Languishers tend to withdraw from social contact, feeling disconnected or detached from people, co-workers, or friends. Some psychologists suggest, though, that feelings of detachment related to languishing may not mean experiencing negative emotions toward others.
They struggle to form and maintain positive relationshps, whether at work or in their personal lives. Some lose their interest in events they normally enjoy, declining invites or leaving early.
L – ow motivation and productivity
Languishers have difficulty focusing, concentrating and feeling unmotivated on certain tasks and days, leading to decreased performance at work or in the usual activities.
Research says that languishers have enough energy to complete their tasks, but find little enjoyment, excitement, and urgency in doing so. It shows in procastination to complete assignments, disinterest in planning, abseenteism or tardiness at work, in meetings, and appointments. Others meet deadlines but creativity is not the same.
Notably, recent research shows a huge decline in motivation in the workplace and academics. For instance, only 15% of employees worldwide feel engaged with their work, according to 2021 Motivation Statistics.
Others may experience decreased interest or engagement in hobbies. They take less exercise or spend an extra hour in bed upon waking up.
A – pathy toward life
There’s a sense of reduced meaning, purpose or belonging in life for languishers. They tend to be apathetic and uninterested about anything. Instead of actively engaging in life, they scroll endlessly on social media, stare aimlessly at the computer, laptop, window, ceiling, or television.
They struggle to feel optimistic about the future, feeling as if there is nothing to look forward to. “You may not see the point of things or anticipate any forward direction or fulfillment in your life. You’re not necessarily feeling hopeless—just a bit ‘blah’,” states Adam Grant.
H – ollow and negative emotions
According to Corey Keyes, languishers experience “a sense of emptiness, describing life as ‘hollow,’ ’empty,’ ‘a shell,’ and ‘a void.'” It feels as if you’re just going through the motions.
Other psychologists remark that languishers express fewer positive emotions and more negative emotions. “What’s wrong with me? Why do i feel this way?” They find themselves in a moment of confusion, unable to describe what they feel, especially during the pandemic.
“When normally an outward going personality you retreat inward. [You’re] less humorous, more negative or apathetic about everyday matters. Basically a change in your normal behaviour,” according to Psychologist Cary Cooper.
Causes of Languishing: What led me to this feeling of “meh”?
According to researchers and psychologists, we still have a lot to learn about what causes languishing and how to cure it. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, here are some of the possible causes of languishing.
M – ajor loss of time perspective and normalcy
Undoubtedly, 2020 was a big loss of time perspective and normalcy, as COVID-19 has disrupted most of life’s normal schedules, routines, plans, and activites, greatly affecting people’s mental well-being.
High rates of job loss, unemployment, economic changes, lifestyle interruptions, losing a loved one, social distancing, and isolation have all been significant factors contributing to a state of languishing.
According to Psychology Today, “Beyond the disruption of developmental tasks and basic isolation, the loss of those ‘markers,’ distorts the sense of time, often into a blur, which can generate a sense of confusion, boredom, or even meaninglessness in life.” Thus, the state of languishing.
The change of environment from onsite to online is another cause interfering with motivation. 2021 Research reveals that 76% of undergraduates and 56% of graduate and professional students identified the lack of motivation for online learning.
E – motional isolation
Notably, one of the most difficult aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic was the mental and emotional isolation, aside from the social distancing. According to psychologists, part of the why so many people are languishing during the pandemic is that there is not enough positive human interaction and validation, both at home and at work.
There is no one who reaches out to ask how one is feeling after a tough online work or meeting, and how one is coping with all the transitions, loss, and personal concerns during the pandemic. There is decreased social positive interaction, lack of encouragement, diminished verbal validation, and more emotional detachment.
Research also states that if performance matters more than its people in times of crisis such as the COVID-19, it will lead to more negligence, unproductivity, and absences, connected to languishing. Moreover, if the surrounding is not open to mental health concerns, it may lead people to detach or discontinue.
H – igh-pressure work environment
Undoubtedly, 2020 was a year of no vacation, lack of time-off, and notably, increased work.
Study reveals that such combination of “no vacation and increased work” has contributed to the overall feeling of exhaustion and burnout connected to languishing. Instead of taking a break or rest, “most employees just kept working last year and now it’s really hitting them,” according to research.
The 2021 Employee Burnout Report indicates that 67% of the workers surveyed feel “employee burnout” has gotten worse since last year. 53% of employees are also found working longer hours and 61% report they are finding it harder to unplug after work.
Better Help Counseling states, “When someone feels like they have too much to do, they may not actually be able to accomplish anything at all.” This leads to demotivation and decreased productivity connected to languishing.
Why are millenials more likely to experience languishing?
Research states that languishing can affect anyone, though 2021 polling data suggests that millenials or young adults (including singles or not married) may be more likely to experience it.
Since the start of COVID-19 lockdowns and major shift in 2020, the mental health of young adults has been observed to decline drastically than any other age group, perhaps due to the following reasons:
According to studies, millenials are considered to be the largest generation in the workforce. Majority of these young adults who faced either job loss or increased work felt out of control, experiencing extreme stress during the pandemic connected to feelings of languishing.
The millenial lifestyle have been greatly impacted by the pandemic. Majority of the travelers, hikers, fun-seekers, and hobbyists are millenials who experienced dramatic lifestyle changes during the COVID-19 lockdowns and closures. This includes the decreased social engagement causing high levels of anxiousness and isolation connected to languishing.
Cognitive development and emotional growth
A 2007 study on interpersonal problem solving by Fredda Blanchard-Fields reveals that older adults are more effective in navigating social and emotional problems than the younger generation.
Moreover, a Netflix reality show, “100 Humans: Life’s Questions Answered”, reveals some interesting discoveries about human behaviors through different social experiments. In its 2nd episode, entitled “The Best Age to Be Alive”, different age groups were given tasks to test their stamina, communication in terms of working well with others, good memory, technological dexterity, creative thinking, and problem-solving.
Interestingly, the twenties did best overall. They were described as the smartest cohort in terms of Fluid Intelligence and Crystallized Intelligence. According to research, the 20s are the smartest when it comes to speed, quick reasoning, and solving novel problems, while adults (40s to 60s) mostly excel on matters of practicality, applying knowledge and wisdom gained through life experience.
Thus, scientifically, the millenial generation may not be as efficient as adults are in terms of cognitive development in everyday emotion and problem-solving. Yes, they may be advanced in terms of intellect, but behind emotionally, needing more accountability, guidance, counsel, and social support, especially in times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Antidote: How do I overcome languishing?
A concept called “flow” is a suggested antidote to languishing by Adam Grant and other psychologists. He describes flow as”the elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away.”
Gathering some suggested action points from psychologists and putting them altogether in one word using Adam Grant’s “flow”, here are some of the ways to manage emotions related to languishing.
F – ortify connections
One of the struggles of languishing is to detach one’s self from social settings. To fortify or strengthen connections during tough times is the antidote to isolation.
With this, languishers must make the effort to connect or reconnect with significant relationships such as family and friends as much as possible. Spending time with family and conversing with friends can be an important part of feeling connected, supported, instead of isolated, especially during the pandemic.
As connectedness with others plays a significant part in overcoming feelings of languishing, social groups must ensure increased and consistent togetherness in tough times to help each other protect their mental health and well-being.
L – earn new habits
Learning new habits or developing a new routine is the antidote to the disruption of time and normalcy. Languishers must do their best to occupy themselves in a meaningful activity where they feel utterly present.
Some people start gardening, others immerse their time in writing, painting, or baking with family members. It can be an interesting new project or simply rearranging your house, bedroom, or bookshelf.
Any engaging activity is helpful as long as it engages one’s mind, activates focus, creativity, giving a sense of meaning, accomplishment, purpose, and self-worth.
O – ffer kindnes and compassion
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health challenges are increasing worldwide, and such a crisis is suspected to be the next wave of pandemic. Thus, it is one of the biggest pandemic issues we’ll face in 2021, states CNN Health.
With such alarming concerns, it is the best time to offer kindness and compassion to fight the surge of mental health concerns. We have all been globally affected by COVID-19, either in a large or small way, and we must practice empathy to one another.
It is also reportedly proven that “workplaces with high levels of mental well-being are more productive and that addressing well-being at work increases productivity by as much as 12%”. To verbally acknowledge the work and progress of your co-workers, leaders, and friends help them thrive.
Study also reveals that if mental health and well-being are part of the core assets in an organization, classroom, small group, or workplace, it values and protects people, and helps boost performance levels.
The more people are supported, the more productivity is achieved, even during the pandemic crisis.
W – ork with boundaries
To set healthy boundaries at work is the antidote to lack of time-off during the pandemic.
Languishers need to be reminded that work-from-home (WFH) does not mean being available 24/7. Multitaskers and overtime workers who perform tasks even on holidays and rest days are challenged to be gentle with themselves.
Research says that when time outside of work is not valued, such as rest days, vacation leave, holidays, personal, and family responsibilities, work becomes burdensome, escalating chronic stress, demotivation, and burnout, and probably, languishing.
Therefore, set days of no distractions. Learn to unplug beyond designated office schedule. Moreover, turn down additional tasks that do not reflect your job description. It is okay to say no.
Taking a break is vital for a worker’s personal mental and emotional well-being. One must learn to slow down, recharge, and spend quality time with family and significant relationships.
What does God’s Word have to say about my state of languishing?
Notably, God’s Word says in Jeremiah 31:25,
- “For I [fully] satisfy the weary soul, and I replenish every languishing and sorrowful person.” (AMP)
- “For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.” (ESV)
- “For I give plenty of water to the weary ones, and [a]refresh everyone who languishes.” (NASB)
This is the Father’s heart to anyone who is in a state of languishing. He wants to replenish and refresh languishers with His living water. He wants to move them from a state of languishing to a state of flourishing.
Do you know what is one thing that people who are flourishing nurture the most? People who are flourishing feel connected to something bigger than themselves. It is faith in God. It is intimacy with God.
If you have faith or intimacy with God, everything else follows. You can cope with the normal stresses of life. You don’t panic. You are able to manage emotions well. You thrive instead of just survive.
With God, you are flourishing amidst any crisis. You have a strong connectedness to life, relationships, and ambition. You remain steadfast. “Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I have no fear.” (Psalm 23)
Flourishing is soul-deep. It is being connected, deeply rooted, and consistently intimate with the Higher Being, that is God. How is your state of soul and inner being? How’s your relationship and intimacy with God lately?