Let’s talk about languishing

Let’s talk about languishing

Since it began, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on the mental health of many people throughout Australia. In addition to the obvious health concerns, everyday life has changed to varying degrees all across the country. Restrictions and lockdowns, particularly impactful in Victoria and more recently New South Wales and the ACT, are now common terms.

While many people are understandably struggling, there are plenty of others who aren’t, but who wouldn’t say they were thriving either. Those in this position don’t know how to describe it. If you’re one of these people, you’re not alone.

That feeling you can’t put into words does in fact have a name. It’s called languishing.

What is it?

Languishing is the feeling that you’re stuck and empty. That you’re not on top of everything but also not feeling really down. In a COVID-affected world, it’s something many people are feeling right now.

One of the key factors of languishing is that people might not notice they are experiencing it. Reaching this point is a more gradual process than, for instance, someone who is flourishing but then finds themselves experiencing depression.


Illustration of man sitting, slouched over a laptop, staring out the window

Where did it come from?

Languishing has recently featured quite a bit in the media lately, most notably in a New York Times article titled Feeling Blah During the Pandemic? It’s Called Languishing by American organisational psychologist Adam Grant. While the term languishing was actually coined by Corey Keyes in 2002, it has appeared regularly in mainstream and social media since Grant’s article.

How might it feel?

Languishing can take many different forms, and it won’t be the same for everyone. You might be less motivated or feel generally indifferent. One of the easiest ways to describe it is that when someone asks you how you are, the first thing that comes to mind is ‘meh’.

Because languishing can feel like being in limbo, you might not recognise it in yourself. You also won’t necessarily be able to tell if someone else is experiencing it. If you think someone you know may be languishing, be mindful of the following changes:

  • Not enjoying activities that they usually do
  • Cutting back on work
  • Trouble focusing.

How do you combat it?

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. One approach is to try and find a state of ‘flow’. This simply means becoming so absorbed in a task that you lose sense of time and place. Getting ‘lost’ in an activity can help increase creativity and productivity.

This could be painting, gardening or cooking. It might be running, cycling or playing guitar. It could be doing jigsaw puzzles or just reading a book.


Illustration of woman smiling and gardening
However, it’s worth noting that when you’re languishing, you’re likely to struggle with motivation and focus. This is a common barrier that can make it difficult to achieve flow. It may be frustrating at first but don’t be discouraged.

Rather than waiting for motivation to strike, start small and experiment with a few different activities. This is a good way to ease in and see if any of these options helps with your mood and motivation.

Make sure to choose something you’re passionate about. It’s a lot easier to motivate yourself when you’re doing an activity or task you care about and are invested in. It’s also important to pick something that’s challenging enough that you’re stimulated, but not so difficult that you can’t complete it.

Everyone will have a different approach to finding an activity that helps them achieve flow, and that’s okay.


The Coronavirus Mental Well-being service is available here


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