Yesterday, as I was talking to a friend, I let out the loudest, deepest Sigh, it tumbled out of my mouth, and it was only after it came out I had no idea where it came from. I actually apologized to her. I suppose it was a subconscious sigh, now that I am more mindful of what I feed it (my subconscious mind), I think it now has a “mouth” of its own!
The more I thought about that sigh, the more I realized that it completely articulated how I was feeling…. Apathetic.
As we are now full into our third wave of this pandemic, I am sure I am not alone. Although, this life-locked down life, is similar to an informal caregiver’s life; this one is sort of an HD version.
The added pressure of holding ourselves together, and trying to help our children, navigate through this (something we or our parents or grandparents didn’t live through); with their mental health intact, is such a huge challenge. I did not notice it with my son, until the days where he used to get up and go to the dining table to do his schoolwork, stopped and lying-in bed, became his past time. He would roll over, attend his Zoom class, and roll back over to go to bed. Then I started to become concerned. He was not okay. He said that this lockdown is seriously getting to him, all his friends are feeling the same way, and motivation is a struggle. (He is an A student).
In trying to balance my school-work, counselling and business, I didn’t even realize this was happening, under my own roof- and we speak several times during the day. Because I learnt how to navigate crisis I forget not everyone had the experience I have had- people are really suffering- and now it’s the person I am closest to, and didn’t even notice!
We have become silos in our own lockdown dread. There was a term used in the New York Times describing this feeling as languishing- the “neglected middle child of mental health”- that dulls your motivation and focus, and they described that this may in fact be the dominant emotion of 2021.
Sociologist Corey Keyes, coined this “languishing” term when he found that many individuals were not actually depressed, but they were not flourishing either. His research postulates that those that are likely to experience major depression and anxiety disorders in the next decade are not the ones with those symptoms today- These people are the ones languishing right now. Evidence from Italy has shown that health care workers from the pandemic that were languishing last spring are three times more likely than their peers to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
So that is what my son has- when you are languishing you may not notice the diminishing motivation. You can’t catch yourself falling into isolation; you become apathetic. When you are in this state, you don’t seek help, or even try to help yourself. Ah, there it is, a name to what my son is feeling!!!
Maybe you are not languishing, but I know many people that are. Most people I know are. So, understanding what it is can assist in helping them.
Putting a name to describe emotions is the first step in understanding how someone is feeling. So, when we ask someone, “How are you?” If someone honestly answered, “I am seriously, languishing!”
Adam Grant describes this perfectly when he says:
When you add languishing to your lexicon, you start to notice it all around you. It shows up when you feel let down by your short afternoon walk. It’s in your kids’ voices when you ask how online school went. It’s in “The Simpsons” every time a character says, “Meh.”
It’s time to talk about what the new post-pandemic reality will look like in understanding well-being and mental health.
“Not depressed” doesn’t mean you’re not struggling. “Not burned out” doesn’t mean you’re fired up.
We must acknowledge that this languishing term describes many of us. We can start talking about how we are feeling instead of remaining silent in our despondent feelings, and start talking about this neglected middle child of mental health.
So Now What?
This pandemic has been a driver of methodical fatigue, and each Zoom meeting, mask wearing, hand sanitizer has been a constant reminder of the threat.
Although it may be elusive to most, being CALM is necessary for wellbeing. Devoting energy to calmness rituals, is essential. When the nervous system is released from defensive mode, inner resources can be redeployed to repair, recover, imagine and explore, helping us to socially engage- which are vital elements of well-being.
Being calm, is a learnable skill.
Tuning out, detaching from news updates, people’s infringement of our time, and anything else that adds to our load, may work for a short period of time but guilt will add to our anxiety.
There are multiple paths to remaining calm, and one approach may not work for everyone.
When everything goes wrong, here are some cognitive emotional skills that can assist:
Don’t jump to conclusions before you have all of the information.
As hard as it is, get all the information before you act, it will help your anxiety. In other words- don’t panic prematurely.
Differentiate between a bump in the road and the end of the road.
When we are pursuing a long-term goal, we may experience several obstacles that may require extra work, or may create a temporary emotional toll on you, but will not significantly change the outcome. Your investments may take a slump, however, may turn around and give you the exact dividends you were expecting. Basically, don’t let the things that are stressful in the moment, ruin your day. The lesson here, is that there may be many detours that are stressful in the moment but will not prevent you from succeeding in the long run.
Ask yourself what you need to learn if anything.
Most emotionally challenging situations provoke some lesson to be learned, so that you don’t repeat the mistake. The lesson here is that if there is a blatant takeaway from a bad experience, embrace it, and recognize that rare stumble, it may not be worth the effort of prevention can help limit anxiety.
Consider a debrief.
Endless venting about something that has gone wrong can be psychologically beneficial. After the stressful incident it can be beneficial to share it with supportive people that you trust. Receiving empathy from someone you care about is always effective. Don’t live there, keep it moving.
The lesson here is, become attuned to the reiteration and rehashing of events, by measuring whether your rumination rises or falls as you share.
Let’s start talking about exactly how we are feeling… We are all languishing, time to pay some attention to that neglected middle child of mental health!
Boyes, A (June 2021), The high cost of Calm: Why relaxing is so much work, Psychology Today, June Edition
Delany, E, (February, 2021), I’m a Short Afternoon Walk and you’re putting way to much pressure on me. McSweeneys.net. https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/im-a-short-afternoon-walk-and-youre-putting-way-too-much-pressure-on-me
Grant A (April, 2021) There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing; https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/19/well/mind/covid-mental-health-languishing.html