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Languishing: The Neglected Middle Child Of Mental Health

The organisational psychologist Adam Grant, who is responsible for bringing the concept of “lockdown languishing” into the public consciousness, describes this common experience as “a sense of emptiness and stagnation… indifference to your own indifference”. Most often, languishing manifests as lack of motivation and low-level distraction. Fittingly, I spent the morning that I’d set aside to write this article rearranging my sock drawer, double washing my hair and preparing an excessively decadent lunch. Even you weren’t aware of the concept of languishing before reading this, it’s likely that you’ve experienced it over the past year and a half.

One of the fascinating things about COVID is its universal impact. In previous years, it’s likely that we’d each be experiencing various situations, challenges and mental states at different times, but lockdown has thrust all of us into the same, pretty monotonous boat. As Adam Grant explained in his TED Talk presenting possible antidotes to languishing, the “acute anguish” we experienced when COVID first hit has given way to “chronic languish”. While the emotional states that emerge immediately after a life changing event such as lockdown are more extreme (grief, fear), the low-level dissatisfaction that results from months of monotony is arguably just as dangerous. Described as “the neglected middle child of mental health”, languishing is the type of quiet, insidious despondency that can easily remain unaddressed, and slowly eat away at your happiness.

Lockdown isn’t going anywhere just yet, so the question is: what can we do about the sense of languish that comes along with it? Adam Grant prescribes playing family games of Mario Kart, but if the necessary equipment isn’t available to you, there are other options. The theory Adam puts forward is that a sense of languish can be quelled by experiencing flow state: total absorption in an activity that provides a balance of “mastery, mindfulness and mattering”. Adam explains that taking the steps to ensure that, at some point in your day, you’re engaged in an activity that utilises your skillset, requires your undivided attention and engenders a feeling of usefulness can help combat the sensation of languishing.

To learn more about flow state, you can read our article here, and if you’re looking for a bitesize takeaway, this is what we’ve got:

 

  • Block out precious time to be un-distractible

  • Choose an activity that provides the right degree of challenge

  • Where you can, make that activity one that helps others

 

We’re all on this journey together, and any advice on how to promote happiness through these universally challenging times is very much appreciated. For more advice on how to care for your own mental wellbeing through lockdown, you can read our interview with Mindfulness Teacher and Leadership Coach Sarah Nguyen here, and if you have any personal tips, feel free to drop us a DM on Instagram – we love hearing from you.

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