A confession: I haven’t felt “myself” since 2020. I am less creative, less energetic, less excited than I once was for life. Of course, it’s understandable. I lived through a pandemic, I lost family members, my life shifted dramatically in a short space of time.
Now I’m just tired, a lot. I do want to see people but not for too long. The second I get home, I go to bed. I lie there, I watch tv, I scroll on my phone and I just kind of... exist.
Sometimes, this kind of rest is essential. Our brains and bodies need to recover from the multitude of demands made of them. We need to be able to sink into our familiar comforts and recharge. This has even been described as “bed rotting” on TikTok.
Sometimes, though, it is a cause for concern. It’s a malaise that doesn’t shift, a recharge that never fully makes it to 100%, a spiritual and physical exhaustion that can’t be shaken off.
It’s something that Adam Grant from the New York Times described as “the neglected middle child of mental health”. It’s called “languishing”.
What is languishing when it comes to mental health?
To learn more about this phenomenon, I spoke with Clinical Psychologist Dr. Daniel Glazer from US Therapy Rooms about what languishing is and how we can recognise it in ourselves and close loved ones.
Glazer said: “Languishing is a sense of stagnation where motivation and purpose wither. When life becomes repetitive and predictable for too long, it’s common to feel uninspired, restless, and uncertain of what brings you joy or meaning.
“With structure and excitement lacking, it’s understandable to feel you’re just going through the motions aimlessly – losing your zest for existence.”
This definitely rings true of both the early days of 2020 lockdowns and even now, years later when the world is almost “back to normal” but not really feeling it. Of course, everything takes time, and even if we’re slowly coming to terms with the events of the past few years, it’ll still take time to get past that and stop our minds and bodies being on pause.
However, Glazer warns, this can be harmful for us in the long run. He said: “While occasional periods of drifting can be normal, extended languishing takes you further away from the vitality and renewal that comes with purposeful existence. Over time, this sense of just drifting can erode one’s passion and sap the very joy of being.”
This is ringing a lot of bells. It’s not quite depression, it’s not sadness, it’s a certain kind of emptiness that can feel endless at times.
However, Glazer has good news for me and fellow languishers: there is a way out of this feeling.
How to stop languishing and get back to being yourself
Glazer said: “The good news is there are myriad ways to regain momentum and lift languishing’s fog to find clarity and revitalisation. By redirecting your focus towards small, achievable goals that stir your creativity, growth, and curiosity, you can re-energise your mindset.”
Small, achievable goals? I think I can do that. Not quite writing the novel I hoped to by now, but instead a poem or short story? It’s possible, I think.
Glazer added: “Simple changes awaken fresh inspiration – learning new skills, taking on fulfilling projects, introducing variety to your scenery and social connections.
“When you stir up your everyday routines, you invite in renewed energy, motivation, and direction. Staying static leads to stagnation; changing course leads to islands of revitalisation where you rediscover your passion and joie de vivre.”
These don’t have to be big things. Glazer recommends trying a new hobby, planning a trip, and making sure you maintain essential social bonds whether that’s through video calls, volunteering, or even making plans with friends.
Finally, he says that we need to ensure that we’re looking after ourselves, saying, “And don’t forget self-care – prioritise sleep, nutrition, and exercise to fuel you with energy to pursue meaning.”