When You’re Feeling Blah | Waiting for Godot aka Feeling You Are Languishing
You might know this feeling. You get lost in the fog of everyday life. Each day is the same as the others. As far as you can recall, nothing much has happened in your life for a long time and probably won’t in the near future. Thanks to epidemiological measures you have little to do, few places to go and fewer things to look forward to. You push on and hope that one day, perhaps life will be colorful again, full of experiences, emotions and exotic flavors, hugs with friends, dancing and fun. But actually, you can't even imagine what it's like anymore and in fact, you may not even have the energy to do it. You feel like a jellyfish struggling through a sea of jelly, and if you had to give this feeling a name, you’d probably say "blah blah".
You’re not alone. These days so many people experience similar feelings that scientists have pointed out the need to name the condition. The first to do so was the sociologist Corey Keyes who came up with the term languishing, expressing the opposite of mental well-being and flourishing.
What is languishing?
Languishing seems to be the dominant emotion of 2021. Good news: it is not a mental disorder. It's more of a mental state, a frame of mind. It differs from depression in that you don’t feel deep hopelessness, and from burnout in that you aren’t completely out of energy. You simply don’t have much to invest in.
Typical features of languishing are:
- decrease in motivation
- loss of concentration
- feelings of numbness and lethargy
- mechanical repetition of unproductive activities (e.g. watching a familiar film, playing simple games)
- absence of elation and joy
- feelings of emptiness
- the feeling of waiting for something that doesn’t come
Actually, it’s nothing so terrible that you need to seek professional help for or complain about it. Although, it isn’t anything you want.
Where did it come from?
The pandemic has contributed significantly to the onset of languishing, along with its solution and non-resolution respectively. Despite many limitations, new waves of outbreaks are still appearing and people are slowly losing sight of the light at the end of the tunnel.
Anti-pandemic measures have deprived us of many of life’s joys, limited all activities associated with increased social contact, everything non-essential has been suspended or limited - sports, culture, restaurants, social events, travel...
We carry out most of our work activities in the online world. We spend a disproportionate amount of time in various video conferences, which drain our energy and make us feel exhausted.
Our life and the quality of it largely depend on an external factor (the pandemic) that is outside our zone of influence (besides compliance with basic principles and hygiene rules). As a result, our genuine feeling is a sense of loss of control and we resort to the opposite strategy, that is, resignation.
How to fight it?
Maybe we should start with the question of whether it’s necessary to fight it at all. We can find many examples on how to survive temporary adversity in nature. Seeds rest in the winter and calmly wait for it to warm up in the spring, the African bullfrog lounges in its mud cocoon for several years before it finally rains, bears survive winter in a state of hibernation. They all rest and gather strength for getting back in action and hectic activity when circumstances allow.
We humans can’t handle true hibernation for many reasons, but we can still enjoy periods of reduced activity and increased respite without negative feelings. When it comes to languishing, we may be most annoyed by the feeling that we shouldn't feel that way.
Therefore, the key may be to name what is happening with us (naming emotions is the essential first step to managing them) and to allow yourself to have such feelings without remorse.
"What about it? I'm just hibernating and gathering my strength."
The second step may be that we talk about our feelings and know that we aren’t alone.
"I'm not a weird exception, I'm normal."
The third step can be very individual and lies in the following fact; even in the fog of daily life, we find moments that stand out from others. It is important not to expect that something will change or when it will, when the restrictions ease, when Godot comes…, but rather to directly take the initiative and responsibility for finding and creating such interesting moments ourselves.
We can start, for example, by finding new small joys. They can be things we always wanted to do but didn't have time for, or things we used to regard as a waste of time. Whether it’s reading that book that has always attracted us, getting our hands dirty pulling up all the weeds and dandelions from the lawn, assembling the 8000 piece puzzle we received ages ago but never had the space to build, or finally watching all episodes of Game of Thrones. Feel free to write down a whole list of such activities and gradually tick them off.
We can also start creating boundaries and milestones ourselves. Have time slots for work and time slots for fun. Not to continually do half the job, but rather to do it briefly and in full. I fully devote myself to a task, and then I chill and relax to the max once again.
We can plan rewards and fun experiences too. Instead of going to a great restaurant, we can buy ingredients and experiment, trying different foods at home. Find activities and goals that are only for us, and we will truly have full control over them.
We can also learn to enjoy the little things again. From the shining sun, to the smell of the grass after it rains, to the fact that we are alive. And if we feel it's just a little too dull and boring, remember the bullfrog, waiting in the hardened mud for the rain, just staring into the dark for years on end. Thank goodness we don’t have to do that… 😊