Are We Languishing?

Psychologists often emphasize the importance of naming our emotions to better understand them and  work toward positive change. There is a name for the “meh” you have been feeling – languishing. Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist, refers to languishing as the neglected middle child of mental health and the dominant emotion of 2021.

When you reflect over the last two years, we may not be simply “burned out” – we’ve had (and continue to have) the energy to do things many have never been asked to do. We were likely asked to do even more with less. It may not be depression as we didn't feel hopeless. In fact, we were working in the concept of hope throughout the waves of the pandemic. In my many conversations with colleagues, it seems that we all felt directionless. This is what Grant describes as languishing. It is not depression, but it is far from thriving.

We have experienced long periods of uncertainty, and multiple instances of ambiguous loss, a term coined by Pauline Boss to describe a loss that cannot be fully defined. These may be big risk factors for progression to anxiety and major depression. As a result, many haven’t been functioning at full capacity. In some ways we have been sleeping with one eye open, wearily waiting for what is next – the next COVID-19 variant, the next work-flow modification, the next employee/colleague to be removed from active duty, the next crisis.

Grant suggests that there may be an antidote to languishing and it is found in the concept of flow. Flow is a term in positive psychology first described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi where you enter into meaningful activity that requires your full attention, and your sense of time, place and self gets “lost” in the activity. Human brains are serial processors (single task oriented) whereas computers are made for parallel processing (multiple tasks at once). Over time our brains have been asked to adapt towards a more parallel processing universe. This leads to fragmented attention and disrupts this concept of flow. We may find ourselves saying, “I feel like I moved 1,000,000 miles an hour today but really didn't accomplish anything” or “I got many things started but I don't feel like I finished anything.”

One of the most important factors in flow and ultimately impacting our daily joy is a sense of progress. Progress is more easily appreciated in serial processing, in a completing a task. What our brains are telling us to do is to create meaningful bonds between an individual agency and the collectively negotiated. These bonds or intentional togetherness is reflected in the Hindu concept of Sankalpa which is defined as a solemn vow or resolve to perform and achieve a goal. It is a positive declaration or affirmation as a union of heart and mind. Its motivational drive is to commit to life-defining projects that matter.

Our collective resolve has been tested during the pandemic. It’s important to focus on the projects and people that matter and to find the joy and meaning that your heart needs to break the bonds of languishing!

Clinical Topics: COVID-19 Hub

Keywords: SARS-CoV-2, Risk Factors, Anxiety, Psychology, Positive, Pandemics, Depressive Disorder, Major, COVID-19, Depression, Mental Health, Antidotes

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