The 2021 Dominant Emotion.
As the COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath rumbles on, an emotion some of us may not be familiar with will likely pop up. It could even be here now, and may even have been here for a while.
Our pre-covid “normal” lives are gone. Everyone slowly adjusting to what is now being described as the new normal.
With the constant change of rules and regulations, some of which are confusing, our future is out of balance and many people remain stuck—living in limbo. A light at the end of the tunnel promised with the vaccine, soon challenged with new strains. Life feels confusing and, at times, too much.
When there is nothing to look forward to, some might stay stuck in a rut, feeling defeated. Too many variables to contend with. Life feels overwhelming. The simple stuff suddenly feels like too much. A haze appears, like a fog that you can’t shift.
These are all signs of a languishing state. Does this feel familiar?
What is Languishing?
Languishing is described as the neglected middle child of mental health, which can dull your motivation and focus. It is a sense of stagnation and emptiness.
You may feel you’re getting lackluster as you get to the end of the day. Life feels a little flat. There is a fog in front of you. You’re definitely not functioning at full capacity.
Languishing dulls your motivation—you have lost your mojo. That thing that drives you is gone. Like someone has stolen the joy from your day.
Is this a new emotion? The term was coined by a sociologist named Corey Keyes, who was struck by the fact that many people who weren’t depressed also weren’t thriving.
It can slowly become our dominant emotion if we don’t catch ourselves slipping into a languishing state. We may feel in a rut but can’t be bothered doing anything about it.
If you had to describe it:
It’s a search for bliss in a gloomy day, connection in a solitary week, or purpose in an everlasting pandemic.
You feel stuck in a sort of limbo meanwhile life buzzes around you. Life is, at the same time, too overwhelming and not engaging enough.
It will feel different for some and different for others. But you just know it isn’t you. It is a sense of restlessness, feeling unsettled, or an overall lack of interest in life and the things that typically bring you joy.
How do you spot the signs?
When we operate on autopilot, we can miss a change in our emotional state. The key to making any change in our life is acknowledging we might be feeling a bit lacklustre. By introducing a daily check-in, we may pick up any slight or sudden change in our mood.
These two questions may help to identify our current emotional state, and signal whether we need to bring more joy into our day and life:
1. In the morning: what am I excited about today?
2. In the evening: what is the good thing that happened today?
If both questions are blank, or we struggle to complete them, it may be a sign we are feeling flat and out of balance. One flat day can suddenly become your normal. It is okay to feel a bit of flatness in our life, but we need to be able to spring back. Life is too short to stay in a low vibe state.
How to Cope with Languishing:
We can feel overwhelmed—stuck in the past or waiting for the future. Let’s get back to the present:
>> Introduce a daily mindful practice into your routine. Twenty minutes of reading, writing, meditation, journaling, or painting. Something where your mind is present and focused on one single task. Stillness is key to feel your emotions; allow thoughts to bubble up and float away.
>> Connect back to you through nature. The feeling of the fresh air, smells all around, and the touch of grass on your feet. Feel connected back to the world and you.
>> Make sure you have clear boundaries from your work and life. Switch off from your work—fully off. Give yourself “proper free time” to relax. Take a real break.
>> Switch off from tech. Social media. All those beeps—turn off notifications.
Go easy on yourself.
Life can feel like it is drifting by with no clear purpose. One way to get motivated and bring some oomph back is to create a mini-project. It can be anything really. But it is important that we feel a sense of flow, where we are lost in the moment and learning—feeling we are developing a new skill or achieving something. It will bring some agency to our life.
Examples range from a DIY project or a big declutter exercise that gives us that feeling of control and progress:
>> Research a future trip or adventure—something to bring hope and excitement in.
>> Sign up for a new challenge and push our limits.
>> Learn a new skill—language, cooking, or musical instrument.
Focus on a small goal where we carve out time each day to work on it. Sometimes it’s a small step toward rediscovering some of the energy and enthusiasm that we’ve missed during all these months.
Stimulate your mojo.
Connect to a Community
We are designed to function in a tribe. They get us and have our back through tough times. Sometimes when we languish, we disconnect. Our tribe is there for us.
>> Lean into your inner circle of family, friends, work colleagues to chat about how you are feeling. You will be surprised how much saying out loud your emotions will release you and action will follow.
>> Join a community where there is a greater purpose. It should bring you back and provide perspective. This might be linked to a hobby or interest like a run or book club. Online yoga and meditation communities are springing up everywhere now. Even a regular personal training session can hold you accountable and boost your happy hormones.
>> Serve in your community. Join a volunteer group. Offer to help a neighbour who may not be able to get out and about. Litter picking is a big movement in the United Kingdom at the moment.
Tiny changes and connections can lead to feeling more invigorated and part of something bigger.
Give Yourself Permission to Enjoy your Daily Life
If you can’t remember what last brought you joy—explore and find it. What sparks a bit of joy in you and can be triggered? A song, movie, looking back over that dream trip or a period in your life where you felt alive. Something to spark you deep inside. Bring back that feeling of life.
>> Reminisce on some old photos, and memories. Recall that trip, festival, or moment in your life that makes you smile as you recall it. It is time to get your spark back.
>> Create a playlist to stir up those joyful vibes. We all have those tunes that bring the energy flowing in. Play them and get lost in the moment.
>> Recreate a night where you cook food from a trip or country, play some music, bring back that moment. Be Play.
>> Move into a high vibe state with a 20-minute movement. Feel reenergised. Schedule it in. Even move as you clean. Turn a mundane task into fun. Sidestep to a tune as you wait for the kettle to boil.
>> Small daily treats. A cup of coffee. Little tasty treat. A lush bath at the end of the day. A massage. A brisk morning cold water shower. Being grateful for what you have.
What makes you smile and laugh? Lean into anything that brings you enjoyment and repeat it daily, weekly, monthly until your life is filled with joy.
Change your Scenery and Create Boundaries
>> Enjoying a mindful walk or some form of physical activity can release endorphins, which can improve mood and motivation.
>> Reset in nature. It should help clear the fog. Be mindful. Appreciate it all. The fluffy clouds, the feeling of the air, the colours of your environment.
>> When possible, create a designated space to work separate from where you relax. Have an activity or ritual that signals the end of the workday and the start of your relax time.
During the early days of the pandemic, we all clung onto hope and optimism. Now we need to shift our attention to focus on daily joyful moments and finding our flow. Flow is where we are fully absorbed in a task. Time floats away, we feel a sense of calm as we gain momentum in our life. People who are more immersed in their projects, and life, manage to avoid languishing and maintain their happiness levels.
Key Actions to Implement
1. Check-in on yourself daily. Nothing changes if nothing changes. Ask yourself how you are feeling.
2. Practice being still and present for 20 minutes a day. Be gentle with yourself. Switch off from all distractions and allow the feeling of overwhelm to drift away
3. Reconnect with a community of like-minded people. Remember—you are not alone.
4. Do things to bring daily joy into your life by rediscovering what makes you happy. Schedule it into your routine until it becomes a regular practice.
5. Find flow by immersing yourself in a project, challenge, new skill, or playlist. Feel the life flow back into you as you move and create momentum.
Our overall well-being is not linear—it flows, and so should you. But we can be prepared with a languishing toolkit. Taking small steps daily will help us slowly form a new routine and a new practice. A practice that will serve us instead of languishing trying to engulf us.
Always remember—this to shall pass.