Languishing – What It Is and How to Move Past It

At this point in the pandemic I’ve moved into the meh stage. I’m not depressed and I am definitely not flourishing. What I am is languishing and perhaps you are too?

What’s Languishing?

According to a recent article in The New York Times, languishing is, “a sense of stagnation and emptiness. 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.”

Pretty much sums up the collective feeling that my friends and I have been experiencing lately.

The reason behind this feeling? It’s because we’ve been stuck inside the grey for so long. The grey is this middle ground where things are “fine”. There not great or terrible. They just are. When you’re in the grey, things you used to find enjoyable have lost their shine. At the beginning of lockdown we all started to embrace new hobbies and activities. We adapted; we made sourdough bread; we put together puzzles. If there was a #challenge we were all in.

13 months later it’s not as easy to tap into that sense of camaraderie that pulled us through at the start. Don’t worry though, all hope isn’t lost.

Resiliency is Within Our Grasp

Humans as a species are pretty resilient; we can adapt and shift to what’s put in our path. This is an innate skill that all of us have and can tap into at any point.

But being in the grey for as long as we have, with no concrete end date for lockdowns and social distancing, with only the hope of vaccines, herd immunity and a return to “normal” one day has started to take it’s toll.

Which makes it feel hard sometimes to tap into that innate resiliency we all have. But just like how the sun is still shining in the sky behind the clouds on a rainy day, our resiliency is still there waiting for us.

So what do we do? How to we deal with this feeling of languishing and being stuck inside the grey?

Notice and Recognize What’s Here

First, we can take a moment and acknowledge that this is hard. You’ve been doing this a long time. You’re tired, you’re frustrated and some days you want to scream.

Which is good! Because when we know what’s here then we can work with what’s here.

As I share inside of STOP the Panic, learning how to recognize our thoughts, emotions and sensations and paying attention to them can help us in those moments when we feel like we are languishing.

Naming our emotions is one of the best ways for us to manage them. Because then we know what we are working with.

When we name our emotions, we recognize them, we allow them to just be and then we let them work their way back out of our bodies. (Don’t worry, I show you exactly how to do this in STOP the Panic) Which helps us to tap back into that innate sense of resiliency.

Now that you know you’re languishing, you know how it feels in your body how do you shift out of it?

By finding your flow.

Find Your Flow

what's languishing and how to deal with it

We’re in the flow when we are engaged in an activity that gets us out of our heads. That feeling of being so caught up in an activity that all sense of time and place has disappeared.

For me, teaching mindfulness (heck, even talking about it) puts me into a state of flow. I could talk for hours – no problem. Reading a book is another thing that puts me into a state of flow. I get so caught up in the story, the characters, and this other world that I lose track of time. I have definitely been that meme where I intend to only read one more chapter and then next thing I know it’s morning. #sorrynotsorry

Here are some ways that I’ve taught my students/clients to find their flow.

Find some activities that you can distract yourself with. A task that needs to be done, you can watch a movie, play a game, exercise, etc. I would normally mention taking a walk but at this point I think we are all walked out. When I was feeling sad the other day, I put on Spy with Melissa McCartney because it is guaranteed to make me life. Occasionally I will take my phone or camera with me on my walks. It helps me to see the same streets that I’ve been walking down for months in a diScrapbooking is another activity that I enjoy and one that can keep me occupied for hours. Looking through old photos, picking out which ones to include, writing little captions. I love it and it keeps me going.

Doing something for someone else is another way to get into the flow. Surprising someone with something nice. Picking up some groceries or takeout for a friend and leaving them on their porch. Calling someone you haven’t seen or talked to in awhile. Doing something nice for someone just because. All of these are ways of shifting out of the feeling of languishing.

Boundaries, small wins, and cutting ourselves a break

But how can you find your flow if you can’t focus? By setting some boundaries. The do not disturb feature on my iPhone is my best friend. I put it on when I need to work (like for instance writing this blog post). I will also leave it in another room when I notice that I am really distracted and want to zone out on social media.

Another tried and tested method is to set yourself some small wins by taking a task and breaking it down into bite-sized pieces. Back when I was recovering from my accident, my mom and I used to say to each other the following:

Mile by mile it’s a trial

Yard by yard it’s hard

But inch by inch it’s a cinch

At that time, I would only be able to focus on these next five minutes. Not the whole day, just these five minutes. Focus only on the first part of the project not it’s entirety. Like when I go to write this blog post I take it sentence by sentence. Inch by inch.

As I shared last week, self-compassion and kindness are so important right now. Taking some time to nurture yourself and your feelings. Recognizing that this is a really hard and challenging time that we are navigating. That you are doing the best that you can with the skills that you have.

Letting go of the thoughts and judgments that say “you should be doing more”. Some days you’re going to feel sad and frustrated and like making any kind of decision is just too much. That’s okay. Take some time to nurture yourself in this moment.

Mindfulness and The Two Arrows

As I teach my students, mindfulness reminds us that there are 2 arrows in life. The first arrow is the inevitable pains of life. Being stuck in traffic, getting into a fight with your parent, your child refusing to do something you’ve asked them to do. These things can and will happen. While a pandemic isn’t necessarily inevitable it is our collective current reality and the pain that we are all dealing with. The second arrow? That’s the judgements that we sling our way. The bitterness and resentments that we shoot towards ourselves. When you get mad at yourself for not being “more productive” (whatever that means) you’re slinging that second arrow. And this arrow my friends is optional. We can just leave it inside the quiver.

I hope that you found this post helpful. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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