Have you ever felt stuck? Like you couldn’t decide on anything. You were leaning in two different directions, and you honestly were afraid to go either way. Maybe, it was when you were trying to make a big decision like where to go to college, or perhaps it was a minor one like where to eat lunch. Nevertheless, you couldn’t make a choice. You almost felt like you needed to crawl back into bed and think about it another day. That’s a little bit what languishing is like due to COVID. Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote recently in The New York Times. "Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness," he wrote. "It feels as if you're muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021."
But why would you feel this way primarily because of COVID? Well, a lot has to do with the fact that lives have been on hold for the past year-plus. You're living in isolation, mainly at home, not making decisions about anything because they were primarily made for you. The pandemic took away the right to do precisely what you wanted to do when you wanted to do it. For some people, that was a relief at first. It felt less stressful to have decisions made for you and focus on fewer things at once. You could relax a bit until the whole thing went sideways, and you started becoming stressed for the very reason you felt good before; the decision-making process was taken out of your hands. Now you can’t wait to get back to your old life. So, why the drastic turnaround? Psychologist Sheila Forman, Ph.D., calls languishing the "pandemic blues" and says its pervasiveness comes as no surprise. "For over a year now, the majority of Americans have been asked to stay at home, work at home, do school from home, shop, play and socialize at home…. as time went on and the realities of the pandemic sunk in, what started as a nice way to spend some time became our lives and with it a heightened sense of sadness, loneliness, and depression."
Does this mean that everyone has this feeling? Well, yes and no. Most people feel off their game right now, but those that are better able to adapt to stress tend to avoid this languishing emotion. And while languishing isn't considered a mental illness, those with a history of depression or other mental health issues are more genetically predisposed to it. Extroverts also may be more likely to suffer from it because they thrive on social interaction with others, which has been primarily eliminated from their lives right now.
It's more than ironic that because decision-making has been taken away it makes it harder to make decisions now. The reality is that we’re out of practice. The same goes for normal socializing. Making small talk used to be easy for people who were outgoing by nature, but now it feels like drudgery.
So, what is the answer to this semi-paralyzed state? Well, one suggestion to get you out of your rut is to indulge yourself a bit. As psychiatrist, Craig Beach says, “If you feel like a Netflix binge, go for it! If you want to go for a three-mile run, do it! If you enjoy sitting in the bathtub and reading, no one is stopping you!” Another psychiatrist and author Gayani DeSilva, MD, said, “Ask yourself, 'what do I need right now?'" Dr. DeSilva says. Another recommendation is to practice something creative or physical and express your feelings through it. Whether writing in a journal, taking a ceramics class, or going for a long walk, do something that enables you to change your mindset for a few hours. Sometimes, a simple change of scenery can work wonders.
Finally, if you feel like you simply can’t do it on your own, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You might find that talking to a professional is the right solution. Behavioral therapy allows individuals to identify their anxieties first and then take healthy steps to overcome them. For example, Open Mind Health has wellness tracks overseen by expert therapists who help you identify the source of your problem and then give you tools to help you work through your challenges. And in some cases, medication might be an answer if you've tried everything else and you still aren't feeling better. Of course, you and a professional need to make that decision together.
In summary, we're all feeling a bit out of sorts these days, and for some, it's more complicated than for others. That said, there might be some comfort in realizing that your feelings are normal, and you shouldn't feel like you are the only one. Studies by Sociologist Corey Keyes estimates that about 12% of people are currently going through this languishing phase right now. So, take some time, acknowledge how you are feeling, and then try to take some of the recommended steps to help you get through it.
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