You feel different lately. You’re not exactly sad or distressed, but you couldn’t describe yourself as thriving either. You’re just feeling… “blah.”
If you can’t put a word to what you’re feeling, but you know something is going on, you could be experiencing languishing.
The opposite of flourishing — when you feel connected and purposeful — languishing is when you feel lackluster or disconnected, but you’re not in notable distress.
The word “languishing” can be traced to the early Latin root word “languere,” which means to feel faint or unwell.
However, in modern psychology, the concept has often been referred to as the opposite of flourishing. In 2002, psychologist and sociologist Corey Keyes was the first to describe both concepts as related to mental health.
In positive psychology, which centers on experiences and circumstances that contribute to well-being, flourishing is considered the state in which a person feels positive emotions toward life in general. This allows them to function mentally, emotionally, and socially. In other words, flourishing refers to mental wellness.
On the other hand, the concept of languishing focuses on the absence of such mental wellness. This means that you don’t have positive emotions toward life, which in turn may lead you to experience mental, emotional, and relational challenges.
But languishing is not the same as depression, even though it’s also associated with emotional distress. Instead, it’s more of a middle point in the mental health continuum that ranges from mental health and wellness to mental health conditions.
With languishing, you may not experience major depression symptoms, but you’re not functioning well socially or psychologically, either. Some experts associate languishing with overall feelings of emptiness or just not feeling anything at all.
In other words, you may feel different — low — but not experience any extreme negative emotions.
While languishing is not a formal mental health diagnosis, the emotions you’re experiencing are valid and real.
Not everyone who is languishing will experience it in the same way or with the same intensity.
In general, languishing will affect some of your decisions, behaviors, and emotions toward yourself, others, and the world.
Declining invites to activities you would normally enjoy, for example, can be a sign of languishing. You may not feel strongly about not going, but you might not see why going would be any better than sitting at home.
For someone else, languishing may mean attending the event only to leave early because it brought them no enjoyment.
Other possible signs of languishing may include:
- moods that are not too high or too low (you’re not happy but you wouldn’t say you’re sad either)
- feeling unmotivated more often than usual
- feeling unsettled but not highly anxious
- difficulty focusing on certain tasks, especially some days more than others
- feeling detached from life, tasks, or people but not experiencing negative emotions toward them
- apathy toward life and difficulty getting excited about anything
- fatigue and burnout
- loss of interest in passions and hobbies
- feelings of stagnation
- feeling disconnected from your purpose in life
Languishing is not the same as depression or anxiety. These are mental health conditions that can be diagnosed and treated by healthcare professionals.
If you’re living with depression, you’re likely experiencing feelings of extreme sadness or despair. You may contemplate self-harm or be self-critical. Some of your cognitive functions, like memory, may also be compromised when you have depression.
Languishing isn’t sadness. While you may feel “down,” you aren’t sad. Instead, some people may refer to this as “feeling blah” — where you aren’t happy or sad, just not quite yourself.
Similarly, anxiety disorders often come with intrusive thoughts of worry or fear. You may feel restless or on edge.
With languishing, you may have moments of anxiety or worry, but these are natural responses to everyday stress. These feelings don’t linger and they’re not your permanent state of mind.
If you feel you’re experiencing symptoms beyond languishing, consider speaking with a mental health professional.
Languishing may seem very similar to an existential crisis.
When you’re languishing, you may question whether anything has a purpose — something that you would also do if you were experiencing existential dread.
However, with an existential crisis, feelings of dread and sadness can become overwhelming and lead you to experience depression.
Existential crisis symptoms also may include:
- unexplained fear
- negative self-worth
While languishing may also make you wonder about the purpose of life, or of daily routines, strong emotions such as dread and fear won’t likely be present or persistent.
Languishing can affect anyone, though 2021 polling data suggests you may be more likely to experience languishing if you are:
- a millennial
- without a high school education
- not married
- an Independent voter
Living with languishing may also increase your chances of experiencing a mental health condition down the road.
Environmental factors and social situations may also play an important role.
If you’re an extrovert, for example, you may be more prone to languishing during times of isolation. Introverts may experience languishing more during social peaks of the year, such as holidays.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the mental health and well-being of people around the world. In fact, the 2021 Ipsos poll found that 1 in 5 adults in the United States is languishing.
Losing a loved one or experiencing dramatic lifestyle and income changes may have been important factors. Isolation and social distancing could have also taken away necessary support systems and led to more people experiencing languishing.
When compared to people who were flourishing, those experiencing languishing tend to feel that COVID-19 has more severely impacted several areas of their life, including:
- future career path
- current and future financial situation
- overall physical health
But languishing is not the only mental health concern associated with the pandemic.
According to a 2021 report, 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorders during the pandemic. This meant an increase from previous counts of 1 in 10.
Mindfulness is a state of moment-to-moment awareness where you experience thoughts and situations without judgment.
Mindfulness can help you feel less stressed and more mentally clear. It can help you develop effective coping strategies that may ward off languishing.
In addition to mindfulness, you can help improve your mental wellness by practicing self-care such as:
Focusing on physical well-being
Exercising, eating nutritious food, and getting plenty of quality sleep are important for both physical and mental well-being.
Keeping a journal can help you express your thoughts and see patterns in daily behavior.
Journaling is a space to focus on what you’re grateful for and what positive moments happened during your day. It may even help you identify signs of languishing early.
Being creative can help you remember how much you enjoyed certain hobbies. It can help engage your mind and encourage focus.
Art therapy may also help you explore your emotions without having to verbalize them.
Languishing may make you want to shy away from social settings. Keeping in touch with family and friends can be an important part of feeling connected and can help you feel supported.
Making environmental changes
Sometimes your environment may influence how you feel.
If you feel that your home or work environment may be contributing to languishing, it may be time to consider a change.
These changes may be small and progressive, like changing the color of your bedroom walls or adding fresh flowers to your desk. As you introduce these small changes, notice how they affect how you feel.
Volunteering for community service
Socialization can be an important part of mental wellness for some people.
Providing your community with a service, such as working at a food pantry, may not only help you feel connected to a higher purpose but also improve the lives of people in your community.
Learning new skills
Learning something new affects your brain and also helps you improve focus. It may even help you feel motivated and establish small goals that could build up a sense of accomplishment. This, in turn, could improve how you feel.
Seeking professional help
If you feel you’re doing a few things but your mood doesn’t improve, consider reaching out to a mental health professional.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and reminiscence interventions have all been found to positively impact mental wellness outcomes.
Living in a constant state of “blah” may be linked to languishing. While not a formal diagnosis, languishing is a valid and common feeling, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you’re not happy, but you aren’t sad either, you may be languishing.
Mindfulness and self-care may help you feel better.
If you feel that your languishing has progressed into something else, like depression, a mental health professional can help develop a targeted treatment plan to get you back on track.