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The COVID pandemic took the wind out of a lot of sails. People all over struggled with anxiety, fear of the unknown, and being confined to their homes.
Many folks had their plans disrupted. They couldn’t make the progress they hoped for, higher education was derailed by remote learning, and trips had to be canceled. The pandemic affected all of our lives in ways that we could not anticipate. That disruption caused a lot of problems for people.
Extroverted people had a particularly difficult time with the restrictions placed on them by the pandemic. An extrovert typically builds on social and emotional energy by interacting with other people, whereas introverts do not. Though extroverts take more from social interaction, most people experience difficulty because of that lack of socialization.
One such problem is a mental health issue that is known as languishing. Languishing, or the direct opposite of flourishing, is when a formerly motivated, thriving individual loses that part of themselves due to their circumstances.
Languishing is not considered to be a mental illness. Instead, it’s more a mental health issue where you are not at your best. Languishing sounds a lot like depression on the surface, but they share different characteristics.
Languishing or Depression?
Though languishing shares similarities with depression, there are some pretty major differences.
A rather informal definition of languishing is feeling “blah” about life. But let’s get more specific. Some symptoms of languishing include:
1. A feeling of aimlessness.
The person may feel as though they no longer have any concrete goals or any kind of drive to work towards them.
That may look like blankly scrolling social media, disengaging from life, avoiding social commitments, or staring at the television.
The person may even be entirely disengaged from what they are consuming. They are looking at it but they are not actively watching or thinking about what they are watching.
2. Lack of energy.
There may be things that the languishing person wants to do, goals they want to accomplish, but they cannot find the energy or motivation to pursue them. As a result, they inspire no action, and it’s tough to even get moving on the things they need or want to do.
3. Stresses are experienced more acutely.
The stresses of work, life, and commitments may feel more severe than normal. Things that a person experiencing languishing would typically brush off cause them greater trouble. They may find themselves experiencing anxiety or heightened stress because of those stressors.
4. Difficulty focusing and remembering.
A person needs to feel engaged and mentally stimulated to experience motivation and drive. But people who experience languishing may find that they cannot focus for an extended time. Their memory may also suffer as they become more disengaged with their life and desires.
5. Increased cynicism.
Being disconnected from goals, desires, and the ability to pursue them can dramatically increase one’s cynicism.
Why bother doing anything if it can all be so easily interrupted and go straight down the drain? What’s the point? And why are these other people so happy and seemingly put together when such terrible things are happening?
But isn’t all that describing depression?
The symptoms described here may be part of depression, but people with depression typically experience more severe symptoms.
For example, a person experiencing languishing does not feel hopeless for the future, experience suicidal thoughts, or suffer from a complete inability to get out of bed.
Instead, the person languishing will still perform all the basics of self-care. They just have no motivation or desire to pursue the various activities in their life.
There are some connections between languishing and mental illness, though. For example, people with mental illnesses like anxiety and depression are more likely to experience languishing. In addition, the pandemic affected many people with mental illness more severely than those without.
How do you break through languishing?
There are different strategies to get out of the rut of languishing and back onto the road of forward progress. It will take some dedication and time. It’s hard to just snap back out of the years-long stress and anxiety of dealing with the pandemic. Don’t expect it to happen overnight.
1. Dedicate blocks of uninterrupted time to activities.
Distraction is the root cause of so many problems. People regularly check their phones, email, and social media to make sure they aren’t missing anything.
Part of the problem is just feeling you need to check every message and notification. The other part of the problem is that social media giants have purposefully hired psychologists to exploit dopamine reward receptors to cultivate people into needing social media.
People need uninterrupted time to do their work, engage in hobbies, and pursue their goals. But, it takes an average of 15 minutes to get into a work mindset. So, suppose you are checking your email every hour. In that case, you’re spending time thinking about reading and responding, the time it actually takes to read and respond, and then another 15 minutes to get your bearings back into your work. So, what is that? Like a half-hour of lost productivity and work every hour?
It’s far too much. And, contrary to popular belief, most people can’t multitask well. What actually happens is that the person does a less than average job on multiple tasks instead of a good job on one task.
Set yourself a schedule. Turn off the notifications on your phone unless they are necessary. Then, set aside some dedicated time to check your email, social media, and other notifications. A good choice is to check email once in the morning and in the evening, or at the beginning and end of your workday.
Don’t let yourself mindlessly scroll on social media. Instead, pick a dedicated time to check out the things that interest you, and then put your phone down so you can do something else.
2. Build momentum by focusing on small goals.
You may find that you do not have the motivation or desire to attack your bigger goals in life. Instead, focus on your smaller goals that will take you closer to the bigger goals. You can build momentum as you seek to get that fire lit back under you.
An excellent way to go about goal-setting is with the S.M.A.R.T. system. The S.M.A.R.T. is a well-used system because it is so effective. We’ll give you a cliff-notes version so you can see if it is a good fit for you or not.
S.M.A.R.T. stands for:
Specific – Your goal should be specific. “I want to lose weight” is not specific. Instead, you want to pick a smaller goal that will take you closer to that larger goal. Instead, you’d make a goal like “I will limit my calories to 1500 a day.”
Measurable – A measurable goal is a goal that has a success or failure state. In our example, you either limit yourself to 1500 calories or don’t. There’s no variation. There’s only you did it, or you didn’t do it. And if you didn’t do it, you strive to stick with your goal the next time.
Actionable – An actionable goal is possible to do. For example, some people starve themselves to try to lose unhealthy weight. However, the body is a machine. Like most machines, it needs fuel to function correctly. Furthermore, starving yourself can turn into an eating disorder. So, starving yourself to lose weight is not an actionable goal. Limiting your calorie intake to a healthy level is.
Relevant – The smaller goal should be relevant to your bigger goal. Restricting calories and monitoring what you eat is a common, healthier way to lose weight. It’s relevant to the bigger goal of losing weight.
Time-bound – A time-bound goal can be a bit trickier. And again, we are staying more specific. “I want to lose 50 pounds in six months!” That’s not a goal that you can directly control. Maybe you’d lose 50 pounds in six months, maybe you won’t. It all depends on your body, health, and sticking to the smaller goals. Instead, we’ve already addressed the time frame in the original goal. “I will limit my calories to 1500 a day.” That is, the time frame is one day.
Let’s use another, different example. Let’s say you need to find a job. You can’t say, “I will find a job within the next 90 days.” You have no control over that. But what you do have control over is “I will apply to 5 different jobs per day until I find something.”
Your S.M.A.R.T. goals should focus on what you can control.
3. Separate your workspace from your relaxation space.
Many people experience languishing because everything in their life just runs together. This is especially problematic for people who don’t know how to manage working from home well. People who are new to working from home may not know how destructive certain habits can be.
A common piece of advice for freelancers and people who work from home is to separate your work and relaxation spaces. This is because your brain creates subtle cues based on your environment. So if you are working in the space that you generally relax in, your brain is getting ready to work when you enter that space instead of switching into a state of relaxation.
What does that mean for you?
It means that your brain is constantly switching into work mode when you should be relaxing and enjoying downtime. That means you’re constantly experiencing that “I need to be working” stress instead of shutting off and disconnecting.
Create a different workspace. Set up an office if you can. If you don’t have room for an office, use a kitchen table instead of your living room or bedroom. You’re typically only going into the kitchen to eat or prepare food, so it’s basically a workspace already.
Another thing you can do to help your brain switch on and off is to work set hours independently. That way, your brain can get in the habit of switching on for work during the work hours you’re used to and switching off when the workday is over.
That also helps with this suggestion. Get ready for work before your shift like you would if you were going into a physical location. Take a shower, put on makeup, shave, and put on your work clothes. This process helps your brain switch from rest mode to work mode. Many people talk about the joys of wearing pajamas or lounge clothes while they work. Some people can do that with no issues. Others need to get out of those lounge clothes to let their brain switch on and off from work mode.
4. Schedule set times to rest.
The days can easily blend together when you work from home. Furthermore, some employers try to take advantage of your working from home to infringe on your personal time. You need to set clear boundaries on what is and is not acceptable. You need to set a time to rest when you absolutely will not engage yourself in your work.
And do not answer work calls or handle work needs during your time off. Don’t install any apps on your phone or check your work email from your personal device.
Sometimes an employer will require you to have some kind of connectivity. There are a couple of approaches you can take there. The first is by explicitly stating your boundary, “No, I’m not going to do that.” But as anyone who’s worked for a garbage manager knows, they can make your life a living hell if you don’t play ball.
A more diplomatic option is to just pick yourself up a cheap burner phone from a big box retailer, pharmacy, or convenience store. Buy a time card for it, so it’s active. Give that phone number to your work, install work apps, and then ignore it when you’re not on the clock.
5. Force yourself to get out and change your scenery.
Being confined to your home is difficult for extended periods. You likely need a break from your general environment to allow yourself to reset. So get out there and change up your scenery.
Can you spend some time with a friend?
Can you visit a location where you won’t be around many people?
Can you take a nature hike on a walking trail in your area?
Can you get out for a local jog around the block or around town?
Maybe there is an outdoor activity you can go for?
Try to get yourself out of your typical environment to allow your brain to rest and reset.
6. Seek out therapy.
Do consider seeking out professional help if you find that you have a hard time getting your spark back. It may be that the problem is more severe than you realize. A knowledgeable mental health counselor can help you identify it, work out a strategy for dealing with it, and get you moving forward again.
There’s no shame in seeking some additional help if you need it. And while you may be able to tackle the issue, a therapist can often help you get to the resolution faster than you would on your own.
A good place to get professional help is the website BetterHelp.com – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.
Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.
Click here if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.
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