Understanding Pandemic Languishing: Healing When Emotions Are in Limbo

Many people are struggling to cope with their emotions, even as we find ourselves finding our footing toward the other side of the pandemic. Many still don’t feel safe, satisfied, or empowered, and lack the energy and motivation necessary to make life-altering changes. What is happening is called languishing, and it has become a widespread phenomenon. Fortunately, it can be overcome, with a sensible self-help strategy backed by consultations with mental health professionals who understand the depth and nature of the problem.

During the year-plus-long pandemic, our daily living patterns have been significantly altered. This has inevitably had an impact on the mental health of most everyone, forcing adjustments in outlook and behavior that have been difficult to make.

In response to the uncertainties and disruptions, many people have found themselves sinking into a state of confused and conflicted emotions.

Robbed of energy and motivation, they drift through their days and nights, feeling increasingly detached and unable to summon the inner resolve required to change their circumstances for the better.

Mental health experts have come up with a label for these feelings. They call it languishing.

What Is Languishing and Why Has It Become a Problem?

The concept of languishing is not new. The term was coined several years ago by Emory University sociologist Corey Keyes, who calls it “the absence of feeling good about your life.” He associates it with feelings of purposelessness and meaninglessness, and an overall stagnation that hinders movement and stifles attempts at self-improvement.

Languishing is a tendency more than a universal feeling. While you may feel fine in some moments, others are taken over by feelings of sadness, emptiness, anxiety, frustration, or despair.

It is easy to confuse languishing with depression. It contains elements of that disorder but is more complex and situational. It is not a form of mental illness but a persistent sequence of emotions that inhibits living and makes happiness and satisfaction elusive.

There is nothing random about the epidemic of this condition, which is making headlines as the global pandemic continues. Languishing is a predictable outcome of the stressful changes brought about by this worldwide crisis.

For many people, life has taken on a disconcerting air of unreality, as everything is so different and was transformed so quickly that people didn’t have time to adjust. Even as vaccines promise a better future, there is still a pervasive concern that things will never be the same, and that much of what has been lost will never be recovered.

Four Steps To Help You Overcome Your Emotional Struggles

If your emotional health has been compromised by the challenges of coping with the pandemic, you can take steps to reverse course and overcome your loss of initiative.

Here are four things you can try that can shake you from your slumber and get you moving again:

#1 Seek Small Pleasures and Satisfying Achievements

When people get bogged down by feelings of depression or hopelessness, they lack the energy and motivation to take dramatic action to turn things around overnight. This tends to deepen their discouragement.

But no matter how mentally fatigued and short of inspiration you may feel, you should still be able to work up enough energy to do something positive, uplifting, or interesting.

No great effort is required. Just a few minutes a day spent reading, exercising, practicing a sport, playing a game, working on a skill, or otherwise taking steps to improve your life can make a dramatic difference. If you keep doing that day after day, adding a few extra minutes of activity whenever you feel capable, you should notice a steady improvement in your mood and energy levels.

#2 Alter Your Environment

Rather than a place to relax and find comfort, your home may have come to seem more and more like a trap from which you cannot escape. You want it to be your oasis. But instead, in your mind it has become associated with all the restrictions and limitations that have been placed on your life (through no fault of your own).

Since you’ve been forced to spend so much more time in your home, it can reinforce your sense of stagnation. That’s why it’s a perfect time to make some changes.

This may involve redecorating or remodeling. Or you may want to take the opportunity to do a complete house cleaning, from top to bottom. You can sort and reorganize everything, and ultimately convert your home into an entirely different space. You can try to make it a group activity, so everyone in the house is involved in your exciting (but sustainably paced) decluttering project.

Any constructive alterations you can make to your environment are likely to have an elevating effect on your mood. As you cleanse your home, you’ll also be cleansing yourself of unwanted emotions. Your feelings and attitudes will slowly shift, as your living environment is transformed into something fresh and new.

#3 Assess What You’ve Been Doing and Then Do the Opposite

If your feelings of emptiness and loss of purpose have been going on for a while, your habits of thought and action are likely reinforcing your misery. Your routines need to be shaken up, and you can do that by intentionally changing those routines to include contrary elements.

For example, if you’ve been trying to cope by spending a lot of time on the computer or in front of the TV, you should cut those hours dramatically and replace them with time spent reading or being outdoors. If your exercise routine has proven hard to maintain, stop exercising and take up an actual sport instead, which will let your fitness develop naturally. If you’re stuck inside all the time, start taking every opportunity you can find to go outdoors, even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time.

All of this requires a more conscious approach to living. This puts you in charge of your emotions and replaces your reactivity with proactivity.

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#4 Don’t Remain Isolated With Your Feelings

Pandemic-related languishing is a growing issue. What that means is that you won’t be the only one in your family or social circles experiencing its debilitating effects.

It is important to share what you’ve been feeling in general. But if you discuss it with others who’ve been going through the same thing, that alone should make you start to feel better.

Your conversations with loved ones about this topic should be solution-oriented. Together, you can brainstorm and come up with ideas about how you can improve your mood individually or through coordinated actions. Fun activities with friends or family members can be mutually uplifting, and can help inspire you to make a real effort to keep pushing forward even when it is difficult to do so.

Beyond talking with family and friends, you can also benefit from therapy sessions with a trained mental health professional. You can find this type of support either online or in-person, and benefit from the skills and expertise of someone who understands your suffering and can offer suggestions for healing.

How To Know if More Treatment Is Necessary

Languishing is not a mental health disorder. But it can exacerbate any existing conditions you might have, like a mood disorder or anxiety disorder. If left unaddressed for too long, it can plant the seeds of a disorder like this, or possibly leave you vulnerable to a substance use issue if you’ve been trying to cope with drugs or alcohol.

If you feel your life spiraling out of control, self-help strategies might not be enough. If your struggles are intense and persistent and are compromising your health and welfare in serious ways, you should see a mental health professional immediately for a full evaluation.

If languishing has impacted mental health or substance use disorders in yourself or a loved one, consider residential treatment to get yourself back on track.

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