What is languishing and how you can overcome it
In her latest guest post, workplace wellbeing educator Anna Glynn explains why languishing is considered the dominant emotional state of 2021, and how you can overcome languishing and move closer towards thriving.
Have you been feeling a bit ‘meh’ lately?
If so, you’re not alone.
For many, feeling demotivated, bored, tired, restless, or fed-up has been common over the past year or so whilst we face frequent lockdowns and ongoing restrictions.
These feelings have been attributed to an emotional state called languishing. This term has resonated with many, and there’s a sense of relief for some when they find out that there is a word to describe the feelings they’ve been experiencing.
In his article on this topic, Wharton Psychology Professor Adam Grant suggests that languishing “feel(s) as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield.” Which is a pretty sound way to summarise the feelings a lot of people have been experiencing lately.
The good news is that positive action can be taken to move yourself away from this state and towards thriving.
You can read Professor Grant’s article here
What is languishing?
Languishing was first coined by Corey Keyes, who suggested that mental health sits on a dual continuum of good and poor mental health, and the presence or absence of mental illness. Mental health isn’t just about having no mental illness as some may think. But rather, the aim is to have high wellbeing and no mental illness, which Keyes described as a state of flourishing.
Keyes argues that languishing is the opposite of flourishing (as illustrated in the figure below). You may or may not have a mental illness but when you’re languishing, your wellbeing isn’t that great either so you’re definitely not flourishing or at your best.
Unfortunately, languishing can impact anyone. About 20 years ago, research found that only about 12% of adults were considered languishing. Yet fast forward to today, and we can only assume that this figure has grown significantly given the negative impact the pandemic has had on so many.
Why has languishing increased?
You’d think that with vaccinations being rolled out, there’d be more hope and optimism being felt right now. But given everything that has happened over the past 18 months and the ongoing uncertainty that continues to prevail, it shouldn’t come as a surprise as to why so many are languishing at present.
Firstly, we’re all still on high alert and fearing further COVID breakouts that could put us into lockdown at any minute.
Secondly, we currently have little to look forward to as we’re reluctant to make any social plans or to take trips away – those things that used to bring us happiness – given the risk that they could be cancelled at the last minute. So the ‘seeking’ part of our brain is shutdown, as we have nothing to be motivated about. This isn’t good for our wellbeing.
And finally, we haven’t properly recovered from the trauma of the past 18 months. We’re worn out and fatigued, and the anxiousness that persists is adding further to our already heightened levels of stress.
See Beyond Blue’s dedicated Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service
What impact does languishing have?
It can be quite dramatic. Those languishing tend to be lacking focus and are easily distracted and irritated. They lack drive and energy, and can feel aimless and empty.
The consequence is that those languishing can start to disconnect from those around them. At work, this state can have an impact on job engagement and performance, which has led some to leave their employers
Often languishing can go undetected, which is why it is important to regularly check-in with yourself and consider how you’re really feeling. The worry is without action, people can move into a worse state and even develop symptoms of mental illness in the future.
How can languishing be overcome?
The first step is to recognise how you’ve been feeling lately, and determine whether you may be experiencing languishing. The second is to then take the pressure off and remind yourself that this is your body’s natural way of responding to what’s going on. The third step is to take positive steps so you can improve the way you’re feeling and move away from languishing and towards thriving.
Pushing yourself to take those positive steps towards thriving is incredibly important. Here’s some strategies to try:
- Pursuing goals or challenges (whether they are big or small) can provide you with a sense of accomplishment and add more meaning to your life.
- Making the effort to stay connected to those around you will give you a sense of belonging, which is particularly important during difficult times.
- Focusing on hobbies that make you happy will bring on positive emotions like joy, pride and hope, and feelings of flow, which is when you’re completely absorbed in the task in front of you.
- Establishing routines will give you a sense of control over your life when so much feels outside of your control.
- Making plans for the future to take a break will enable you to rest and recover from stress, and always have a plan B ready just in case.
- And finally, be kind to yourself and focus on activities that fill (not empty) your cup.
For a great Ted Talk on ‘Flow’ by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, click here.
You can also read previous articles by Anna here:
How to overcome our brains fixation on the negative
How to be optimistic even when the future looks uncertain
How to avoid negative thinking traps
The four questions you need to ask to shape your new reality
Strengthening your resilience muscle
Nurturing your relationships with your colleagues when working apart