Understanding Languishing

Feeling "meh?" Overcome the emotional state between joy and depression

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Understanding Languishing

Languishing falls somewhere between joy and depression. It can be described as feeling aimless or lacking in purpose, or not being able to focus or function at full capacity. For many people during the pandemic, languishing has been the dominant state. It can be a challenge for people who feel like they’re languishing to start feeling joy again, but there are strategies that can help.

This activity card can help you: 

  • Understand the current state of emotion you may be in, known as languishing
  • Gain actionable steps for overcoming languishing

What is Languishing?

The state of languishing is not quite happy and not quite depressed. Some describe it as not having a clear sense of purpose, or even a clear sense of what exactly they’re feeling. Some simply describe it as feeling “meh.” If you’re languishing, you may want to get out of this state, but aren’t sure how. 

Here are some tips to help you move forward: 

  1. Acknowledge and share your story. 

Take the time to truly reflect on your feelings about your circumstances and name your emotions. Then, tell your story, whether it’s through journaling, talking to a friend, making a video, or through forms of art. Be honest with others in sharing how you truly feel and what you’re going through—your struggles, how you’ve coped, how you have grown, or how you’re working to heal yourself. 

Acknowledgement and storytelling can help you let go of shame and can allow you to remove the story in your mind and bring it to reality. Acknowledgement helps you feel more in control; it gives you ownership of your life, helps you truly understand the reason behind your feelings, and most importantly, allows you to create a plan of action to move yourself out of your current state. Storytelling makes connections between people and can create a path to healing. It can remind you that you aren’t alone in the way you feel, and it brings out compassion in others and helps us be more compassionate with ourselves. Check out these mental health stories at Ginger Chats

  1. Re-shape your brain. 

Our brains are neuroplastic, which means our brains can change through growth and reorganization. Your brain is constantly changing based on your thoughts. This means that although you have been stuck in a phase of languishing, you can rewire your brain to move past this. Your mindset determines how you respond to challenges as they arise each day, and in the long run, how you work on overcoming symptoms of anxiety and depression. One way you can shape your mindset each day is through a routine called priming your day. You can do this first thing in the morning for about five to ten minutes. Here’s how it works:

  1. Set an intention for the day. This is like setting a goal for yourself on the values you want to embody and what you want to aspire to throughout the day. For example, “I will be compassionate and patient today.”
  2. State three things you’re grateful for. These don’t have to be big things. They can be as simple as having good coffee to drink in the morning, waking up in a comfortable home, or being able to breathe. Gratitude forces you to focus intentionally on the good and what you have, rather than the areas that are lacking or that you’re unhappy with in your life.
  3. Recite positive affirmations. With both hands on your heart, breathe in “I am” statements that empower you, such as “I am loved,” “I am grateful,” “I am whole.” This form of meditation helps you think of yourself with more compassion and self-love, which can help reduce symptoms of anxiety. 

  1. Adjust the way you speak to yourself. 

Part of strengthening your mindset is changing the way you communicate with yourself.

It’s common to lean toward a negative bias. By intentionally and mindfully choosing your thoughts and the way you talk to and about yourself, you can build resilience. For example, rather than saying, “I don’t have any motivation to complete my project; I haven’t put in effort, this is useless,” try to show yourself compassion and discover why you haven’t been able to accomplish the project. You might instead say, “This project has taken me longer than usual to complete because I’ve been focused on caring for a family member who needed me. I will adjust my deadline and write out my next steps to complete it.” This shifts your thoughts from shame and blame to one of empathy. It better enables you to move forward. 

  1. Reframe Your Thoughts

Another way to get out of the cycle of negative thinking that’s linked to languishing is with a thought-evaluation tool, which can help you change the way you view and react to your situation. When you find yourself having difficult thoughts about a situation, this tool can help you identify what your thought process is. 

Here how it works: Take out a sheet of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle, making two columns. At the top left side, write “Shame, Blame, and Justification.” At the top right, write “Personal Responsibility.” Write down the things you’re blaming yourself for or trying to justify in the left column. Then, in the right column, write what you can do to take responsibility with compassion, or find a solution to the problem. This tool is designed to help you shift from a primal brain to the conscious brain, acting as a guide for making informed decisions based on reasoning, rather than reactive, illogical, or irrational thought processes, which can make you feel like you're a victim of your circumstances.

  1. Move your body.

Your body and mind are connected. Exercise and movement can help reduce stress and anxiety that may build up throughout your day. Choose activities that you enjoy, such as biking, walking, dancing, yoga, or weight-lifting. Consider the “Sandy Beach Towel” analogy when thinking about how exercise can help with stress and anxiety: at the end of the day, when you pick up your towel to leave the beach and shake out the sand, there’s still going to be sand stuck in your towel that you bring home. That’s the anxiety that sticks with you. You might have a lot of “sand” that comes home with you, or just a little. Use the “Sandy Beach Towel” analogy to gauge how much anxiety you have and how much movement your body needs to “shake out” your anxiety.

Languishing can feel a lot like being stuck in thick mud. However, just like being stuck in the mud, with some effort and movement, there is a way out. Acknowledging your feelings and sharing your story can help you feel more in control, can help you cultivate compassion for yourself, and can create a path to healing. Reshaping your mindset and adjusting your communication can help you build resilience and be prepared to manage challenges as they arise. Finally, incorporating movement can help release stress build-up at the end of each day so you can free yourself from the thick mud of languishing.