For the past few months, I had a lot of trouble concentrating. It felt like I couldn’t get anything done. I wouldn’t call it burnout. It wasn’t depression, hopelessness, or despair. Ask me what was wrong, and I didn’t have an answer. But there was this sense of dullness that followed me throughout the day. Like floating in a sea of blah.
Turns out I wasn’t alone. A lot of people are experiencing this same emotion. Maybe you’re feeling it too, and are wondering what it is. I did some research, and there’s even a name for it: languishing.
Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re just puttering through your days, watching your life through fogged-up glass. Everything just seems dull. And it might be one of the most common emotions many of us are feeling in 2021, especially as the pandemic we thought was ending seems to be re-gaining strength. Tack on marital strain or divorce to that, and it’s no wonder you’re blue.
This article in the Times describes languishing as the ‘neglected middle child of mental health.’ “It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either… Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.”
Just reading that gave me a little wake-up kick in the tush. It’s been a hard enough 18 months already, and I really don’t want to spend the rest of 2021 moping around like George Costanza.
So, I thought about the things I could do to feel a little happier and energized. Then I incorporated them into my daily life, one at a time. They actually helped! I still feel myself languishing from time to time, but now I have some quick tricks to pull myself out of it. With all you’ve got on your plate right now, I’m hoping something on this list could give you a boost, too.*
1. Play a lot of music.
There’s really nothing like good music to instantly alter your mood. Play it in the bathroom while you get dressed. In the office while you work. In the kitchen while you make dinner. Whenever I remember to do this, I get an instant lift. After all, there’s something about a good beat that makes it hard not to feel a little better. Here’s a link to our playlist for just this sort of occasion.
2. Fake it till you make it… sort of.
We’ve all heard this saying, and I believe it, to a point. The idea here of course is that if you change your outward behavior, the inner feelings will follow. In her famous 2012 TED talk, Harvard Business School social psychologist Amy Cuddy says that the simple act of striking a “power pose” - chest lifted, head held high, arms propped on the hips – can actually boost confidence. “Our bodies change our minds,” Cuddy said. For me, there’s something about putting on clothes I love and a great shade of lipstick that makes me feel less blah (even if I’m just going to take the dog for a walk!). And there’s research from the Association for Psychological Science that shows how forcing yourself to smile actually changes your mood.
3. Call yourself out.
Don’t let those languishing thoughts run around your head out of control. It’s time to take charge and let them know you’re the boss! Use whatever works for you - like yelling “stop it” “get out” or “that’s enough!” And if your thoughts start to sound more like self-criticism, here are a few more tricks.
4. Set small goals. Sometimes the cure for languishing is accomplishment. Accomplishing a goal can help you regain a sense of meaning, purpose, and direction. It doesn’t have to be something big - even setting and then achieving small goals makes a difference. The key is to give yourself credit. So, write down something you want to get done that day, then when you do, be sure to give yourself a big “well done!”
5. Do something nice for someone else. When you do something that makes someone else happy, it helps lift you up too. Here’s an inspiring story to attest to that fact. Wondering if there really is such thing as a selfless good deed? We’re not sure it matters but it’s still funny to watch Phoebe and Joey debate that question.
Not so sure you can commit to these? There are some other fast ways to get out of your divorce funk.
Whatever you’re feeling, remember you are definitely not alone on this one. Things will get brighter, friend!
*This is not intended as a treatment for depression or any other serious mental illness. If you suffer from depression, lingering sadness, or any kind of mental health issue that you feel you can’t handle on your own, please seek professional help. If you’re not sure what kind of therapist to see, here’s a cheat sheet.