Coping with Languishing
Heidi Zwart

Many of us are experiencing the “blah’s” after a year of unpredictability, hardships, and lack of direction. In a recent op-ed for the New York Times, psychologist Adam Grant, referred to this shared experience as languishing, an emotion coined by Emory University sociologist Corey Keyes. Over a year into the pandemic, many of us need help coping with languishing.

What is languishing 

According to Keyes, the opposite of flourishing is languishing. Licensed professional counselor and certified alcohol and drug counselor, Shemiah Derrick says, “Languishing is apathy, a sense of restlessness or feeling unsettled or an overall lack of interest in life or the things that typically bring you joy.” Unlike depression which can often immobilize you in daily life, languishing keeps you going through the motions. Keyes adds that, “Languishing is neither feeling good nor sad,” he says. “It’s feeling really nothing.” Because languishing can lead to depression, anxiety, and even suicide, it’s important to pay attention to how you’re coping with languishing and seek professional help when needed.

Identifying languishing

Your energy level is a good indicator of whether or not you’re coping with languishing. The normal activities of your life bring less enthusiasm, you are more drained by them, and you have a general sense of malaise. You may experience the passing of time differently, either feeling the crawl of the day or seeing it pass so quickly that you don’t savor the moments. You may alternate between short bursts of energy and lethargy or ask yourself “what’s the point?” during some of your daily tasks. Lacking a sense of purpose and focus can make you question the big things and the small things. The common denominator to identifying if you are coping with languishing is an overall sense of surviving instead of thriving. 

Coping with languishing

Much like recovering from burnout, taking time to relax, decompress, and hit the pause button can help. Take time off from work to engage in activities you love or simply rest from the daily to-do’s. Grant calls this finding flow. Recharge with people who make you feel good or other things you enjoy. Experiencing things that can engage and immerse you will help you gain more energy going forward. While not a cure, when you’re coping with languishing it’s a helpful step forward. The World Health Organization predicts that depression will be the number one cause of burden to every country in the world by 2030. With this in mind, it’s critical to pay attention to how we’re coping with languishing today so that we can reverse that prediction. Recognizing that the lack of a mental health condition does not equate to optimal health and then providing effective interventions is an important step in that direction. 

Coping with languishing will likely be a part of our near future as we continue to move into an unpredictable future in work and life. Putting a name to the “blah” we’re feeling may be a good step in the right direction as we collectively seek better health and wellbeing. 

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