Have you been feeling empty and unable to maintain the same strong emotional and mental connection to people since the beginning of pandemic? As the first few weeks of the lockdown turned into months and when eventually the first COVID anniversary was “celebrated”, for many of us life didn’t seem to have as much meaning anymore. I personally reached a point where I lost passion and motivation to get anything done. I did not feel strongly about anything. In fact, at times, I felt nothing at all! I did not know how to overcome the lingering emptiness inside me. When the lockdown restrictions finally became lenient, I realized how hard it would be to revert to our previous way of life. I, like so many of us, was still reluctant to return to a lockdown-free life. For some of my friends and acquaintances, it seemed like staying in isolation for such a long time had also changed their habits, and that their minds somehow refused to revert. Then I came across this New York Times article about “Languishing” and I had an Aha moment!
Languishing is a state that means neither depression nor happiness. It’s just not feeling anything at all. It’s like going through the day like a zombie, not being excited by anything and not feeling good about life in general. It is also about lack of meaning or purpose in life, hence leading to emptiness and lack of emotion. It is different from depression which is a mental health disorder, and characterised by symptoms of profound sadness, lack of energy to even get out of bed in the morning, and even having suicidal thoughts etc.
Well, it turns out that it was not just my social circle and I who were feeling that way. We all have been living in a heightened state of stress and anxiety for many months now. Cases of diagnosed burnout have been on the rise. We may not be mentally ill but our mental well-being has definitely taken a hit and we are not “flourishing” anymore. While languishing can increase the risk of falling in depression, it is not a mental health disorder in itself. Nonetheless, it can disrupt one’s life as we have been witnessing these past months.
What to do about Languishing?
1. Concentrate on one activity
A key to getting over the lingering emptiness is to condition oneself to focus without getting distracted. Forming a habit only requires a few weeks. While we developed habits of multitasking at home all day during the pandemic, we can also reverse condition ourselves now by concentrating on one task at a time. We can, once again, find joy in doing something we love such as gardening, painting or reading a book. Avoid distractions such as mobile phones. You could even reward yourself after the completion of the activity.
2. Give yourself time
Take time off and do not be reachable to your employer in the evenings. Get regular and consistent breaks so that you don’t feel pressurised into meeting deadlines all the time. Assign specific slots in your schedule for exercise, socialising, hobbies etc. Take your annual vacation and recharge even if it’s a simple “staycation”.
3. Reach out to people
Your friends may also have been feeling a similar void lately. You are now equipped to help them overcome the lingering emptiness they may have been unable to express. Reconnect and invite friends and family over regular calls on Facebook or Zoom. Have heart to heart conversations and share your feelings. Human beings thrive on occasional external validation which was easy to give pre-pandemic, in the form of compliments etc. People are now isolated and don’t hear good things about themselves or words of encouragement as often as they need to.
More than a year ago, our lives were abruptly put on hold. We took some time to get used to that way of life. We will, again, need some time to adapt to the new, socially-distanced lifestyle. Transitory feelings of emptiness and lack of will to engage are normal and should be normalised. People should be able to express their feelings openly, be it in their workplaces or among friends. We are all in this together, going through a collective experience. We can all support each other in flourishing and rising to new heights once we are able to put a name to the feeling of languishing. Help is just a phone call or message away, be it your friend, colleague or a professional therapist. So do not hesitate to ask for it.