When The New York Times first published a piece on languishing — a term coined by sociologist and psychologist Corey Keyes, PhD, which has gained more significance amid the pandemic — it felt like a sigh of relief. Finally, there was a word to describe how we've all been feeling for the past year. Dubbed the "neglected middle child of mental health," languishing may be the label you've been trying to attach to the "sense of stagnation and emptiness" you've experienced as weeks of COVID-19 turned into months. The good news? There are steps you can take to feel better.
What Is Languishing?
Languishing is "a prolonged state of 'blah' or feeling low, dissatisfied, and lacking motivation," Christina Cruz, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and mindset and confidence coach in Oregon, told POPSUGAR. You may also feel lethargic, cynical, short-tempered, chronically overwhelmed, or stagnant.
Dr. Cruz explained that languishing is by no means a new phenomenon. "Merely looking at the symptoms of languishing will tell you that we have been battling languishing, likely, at various times in our lives," she said. However, it has grown exponentially over the last year amid so much anxiety, confusion, fear, and stress. COVID-19 also stripped away many of the outlets and coping mechanisms people relied on to manage these symptoms prepandemic, from happy hours with friends to long sessions at the gym. Dr. Cruz said this has caused the symptoms of languishing to feel more intense than ever before.
Neha Mistry, PsyD, a therapist in Texas, noted that while languishing can cause you to feel sort of empty, it is not a mental illness or mood disorder. "It does not necessarily bring forth feelings of hopelessness, guilt, and prolonged periods of a low depressed mood as clinical depression does," Dr. Mistry told POPSUGAR.
Think of languishing as the place between feeling truly dejected and thriving, added Kelly Vincent, PsyD, a licensed psychologist in California. You aren't depressed, unable to get out of bed, but you also aren't living to your fullest potential. In order to be classified as a clinical mood disorder, the symptoms would have to interfere with your ability to go about your day, Dr. Vincent explained. "From what the current research says, languishing does not completely impair a person's ability to function or cope. Instead, it appears to dampen their emotional state, outlook on life, and motivation."
How to Manage the Symptoms of Languishing
The first step in managing languishing — or any big, uncomfortable emotions — is to acknowledge it. "This past year has been intense, so it makes a lot of sense why you may be struggling with motivation and finding a new groove," Dr. Vincent told POPSUGAR, adding that "normalizing the experience can lessen the intensity." These expert tips will help you find a path forward to feeling more energized and fulfilled.
- Focus on your basic needs. Dr. Cruz recommends asking yourself: Am I eating enough? Am I prioritizing sleep? Did I drink plenty of water today? Am I taking breaks in my day to regroup or to get social interaction? What is one thing that brought me joy today? This simple task can help you feel more centered and in control.
- Engage in activities that once brought you joy. "I have clients that used to find joy in walking and running, but when COVID-19 hit, they slowly lost their motivation to continue to do things that once brought fulfillment or relieved stress," Dr. Cruz said. Now is the time to (safely) get back to the things that made you happy.
- Keep up the hobbies you had while staying at home. Did you get into knitting or fall in love with baking? Perhaps learning how to master a new TikTok dance or exercise challenge was a source of happiness and accomplishment. Whatever helped you through the past year, continue doing it. As Dr. Mistry noted, it's important to put down your phone and shut off your work email from time to time.
- Create a helpful, purposeful morning and nighttime routine. They'll help fuel your motivation and ensure you get adequate sleep, which is crucial to feeling your best.
- Validate your emotions. "What you can name, you can tame," Dr. Mistry said. "Having the language to identify how we're feeling can help us talk about it, better understand it, and finally do something about it." Remind yourself regularly that there's a reason you feel this way, and allow that to fuel your efforts to take better care of yourself.