Feeling a bit ‘blah’? You could be languishing

After a tough few years, most of us have probably felt a bit “meh” at times. Here’s how to tell if you are languishing and what you can do to fix it.

If you’ve felt empty, apathetic or a little “blah” recently, you may be languishing.

You’re not alone.

An international study of participants from 78 different countries, found 10 per cent experienced feelings of languishing during the pandemic.

What is languishing?

Languishing is the opposite of flourishing, according to US sociologist Corey Keyes, who defined the term back in 2002.

University of Pennsylvania senior research fellow Reb Rebele says if you are languishing, you might feel stuck, disengaged or just kind of “blah”.

“The defining feature of languishing is a sense of lacking, like something is missing even if nothing is obviously broken,” Reb, who studies wellbeing and burnout at Wharton People Analytics, explains.

“As someone put it to me recently, it’s like the world is in greyscale rather than full-colour.”

Beyond Blue clinical lead advisor Dr Grant Blashki says there can be many elements to languishing such as:

  • Feeling aimless
  • Loss of motivation
  • Fatigue
  • Not enjoying activities that you usually would
  • Trouble focusing

Dr Grant Blashki says languishing has become an increasingly popular term, particularly in light of the pandemic.

But he says it is important to note that it is not considered a mental illness.

“It’s more of an experience, or symptom that people are describing, particularly during the pandemic,” Dr Blashki says.

“So it can have some overlap with depression type symptoms, but it’s not a defined mental illness.”

How do you combat languishing?

If you are languishing, there are several ways to get yourself back on course.

Find your flow

Flow theory is based on the idea of being completely absorbed in an activity.

The activity could be anything from painting, gardening or running, through to playing guitar or simply reading a book.

“Finding flow may help with languishing by breaking up the monotony of a person’s thoughts and experiences,” Reb adds.

Limit bad news

Keeping up-to-date is important, but try to limit bad news on social media and your screens.

“Your mind only has so much bandwidth, if you fill it up with all terrible news, you can stress yourself out before you’ve even started your day,” Dr Blashki says.

He recommends allocating a limited amount of time for scrolling social media feeds.

Reframe it

Another strategy is to consider what advice you would give to your best friend if they were going through a similar experience.

“Research suggests when we give advice to others about the same challenges we’re facing, it can help us identify changes we hadn’t considered making ourselves,” Reb says.

Set achievable goals

If you are languishing, Dr Blashki warns against setting major goals like running a marathon.

“Just start up with small activities, like ‘I’m going to get up and go for a walk every morning before the day starts’,” Dr Blashki says.

Find a cause

“If you find something you care about, maybe volunteer or get involved in a community group, it gets you out of your own head,” Dr Blashki says.

Research shows volunteering is good for your health and can improve social wellbeing.

Reach out

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether from a friend or from a professional, Reb advises.

“People may worry others will think poorly of them if they acknowledge when they are not doing great, but research suggests these predictions often don’t come to pass,” he says.

When to seek help?

“If you’re having two weeks where you’re really not functioning, it’s affecting your work, it’s affecting your relationships, or your sleep is really disrupted, then maybe you need more help,” Dr Blashki says.

He recommends support services likes Beyond Blue or visiting your GP.

Written by Bianca Carmona.