What is Languishing? Chances are you're already in the throes of it. Brought to our attention by psychologist Adam Grant in a piece for The New York Times earlier this year; languishing is the often overlooked middle course between flourishing and depression.
As we look back on the timeline of the pandemic, when everything began to unravel in 2020, we will remember that Harvard Business Review identified our collective feelings of despair as grief. At the time, pinning down and placing a name on those emotions brought immense relief. After all, isn't it only when you confront the feeling that you can begin to heal? Now 18 months on, the Delta variant is continuing to create havoc and for those in Australia, the pandemic is looking a lot worse than when Covid-19 first emerged last year.
As a result, limits have been set; by the government and by circumstance, on where you can go, who you can see, what experiences you can have. Operating within these limits can feel like trudging through thigh-high mud. Exhausting, yes. But also, dispiriting and de-motivating. You feel yourself slipping, or rather you don't (it's difficult to pick-up on languishing until it's in full-throttle). None of us are hitting our full potential. Growth feels hard to come by and as a result, it can feel like we're merely coasting along, stagnant. In fact, stagnation is the silent bass-line of languishing.
Grant writes, "As scientists and physicians work to treat and cure the physical symptoms of long-haul Covid, many people are struggling with the emotional long-haul of the pandemic. It hit some of us unprepared as the intense fear and grief of last year faded."
Where did the term come from?
Coined by the sociologist Corey Keyes in 2002, Languishing was Keyes response to the realisation that while people weren't depressed, neither were they living their best lives. What can we learn from his work? Keyes links languishing as a harbinger of depression and anxiety.
More common than depression, people who experience languishing are three times more likely to cut back on work and from what research tells us, it can often be a signal that more severe mental health conditions like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are on the horizon. As was the case for healthcare workers in Italy, who were reportedly three times more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD if they had experienced languishing in the aftermath of the pandemic.
What can we do to overcome Languishing?
One of the biggest symptoms of languishing is a lack of focus. This means practices like mindfulness, which at face-value seem like the answer, are often thwarted by our inability to concentrate. Although, there's no harm in trying!
What Grant suggests instead is the concept of flow. Forgive the woo-woo name, but flow simply refers to the feeling of being swept up in a meaningful project or activity. DIY projects like beading necklaces and moulding clay all hold the potential to bring on flow. Even the occasional TV show binge can elicit flow. Flow flushes out the external stresses of your world, allows you to get out of your head and become fully absorbed creating something that brings you meaning and a sense of accomplishment. All of which are a tonic to those feelings of bleh. Start small by cooking breakfast and then move on to more challenging projects.
In order to immerse yourself in flow, you need to ensure you're giving yourself enough time and space to do so. For those living with housemates, partners or small children this translates to setting boundaries. How do you do this? Carve out an hour a day that's free from outside interruptions or alternatively claim a certain room as your space. Affirming your sense of autonomy will help disrupt your feelings of languishing.