During this past year, whenever someone checks up on me asking me how I’ve been doing, I reply with a simple ‘I’m fine’ and move on to ask them about their life. The answer I really want to give them is ‘I just am’. Not good, not bad, just existing.
Doing basic, everyday tasks are becoming so hard to do and they drain my energy. Concentrating has become hard, not functioning at my full capacity, lack of motivation and drive. I haven’t necessarily felt bad or good. It’s not exhaustion or depression. I am not overworked, not hopeless. I do have quick bursts of high energy sometimes, only to feel demotivated shortly thereafter. I feel joyless and aimless, like the days are passing by and I’m just there.
Do all these feelings sound familiar? Well, I recently found out that I wasn’t alone and this feeling had a name: languishing. Languishing is indifference, a sense of emptiness and monotony or a lack of interest in life or the things that typically bring you joy. Unlike depression or other mental illnesses, languishing is a series of emotions, the absence of feeling good about life, it’s feeling nothing.
The term was first coined by sociologist Corey Keyes who realized that many people who weren’t depressed also weren’t thriving, and researched about this topic years ago but the Covid-19 lockdown continuation in 2021 helped the term resurface again. In 2020, when the pandemic first hit, we were on survival mode, we were reading the news, taking precautions. And we innocently thought that the year after would bring back our old lives, right?
Wrong! It’s true that 2021 has made vaccines more accessible, giving us a glimpse into the future, however, it has also highlighted the feeling of waiting, repeating the same days, making our routines pointless and with an unclear future.
I read somewhere, maybe it was a meme, something that said ‘lately I feel like I’m a Sim. It takes me six hours to cook spaghetti and if something is blocking my path I start crying.’ For non-millennials who don’t know what Sims is, it’s a simulation video game where the player creates virtual people and places them in houses, directs their moods and satisfies their desires. The reference here implies that the characters are drained and can easily get frustrated. Which is what languishing feels like. While it isn’t a mental illness, research about the topic has concluded that people who are languishing risk getting depressed down the line.
On the bright side, there are things we can do to ‘cure’ this languishing feeling. A concept known as ‘flow’ is a state we enter when we are doing a task that we’re so involved in that our sense of time and place fades away. Becoming immersed in a project avoids the languishing and can get you to your state of pre-pandemic happiness. These are small tasks or things you love to do that will give you a sense of productivity and progress.
Here are a few small and predictable things I’ve been trying to do — on and off — to create my own ‘flow’:
1) Making to-do lists and crossing them off:
I love making lists. So, every morning I plan my day (including activities such as ‘have lunch’) and I cross them off as soon as I do them. Something about crossing things off gives me satisfaction.
2) Stopping to work like I would if I worked in an office:
I step away from my desk and I stop myself from getting sucked into a project. I set a specific time and I close-up shop even if I didn’t finish everything on my to-do list.
Putting feelings on paper really helps me personally. Doing this daily becomes repetitive, so sometimes I simply write 3 things I’m grateful for.
4) Blasting music and singing my heart out:
Singing drastically elevates my mood (sorry neighbors).
5) Going for walks:
Of course, any kind of exercise boosts our mood, but sometimes a simple walk (with blasting music) can do the job just fine.
6) Watching lighthearted shows and movies:
Netflix can sometimes get very intense as if we need more negativity. I find that watching feel-good shows makes me laugh and lightens up my mood.
If you’re also feeling the same I hope these things pave your way to well-being too.
So now, after knowing more about this pandemic blah feeling, whenever someone asks me how I’m doing, I’m going to simply respond with ‘I’m languishing’.