Mind & Body

Feeling just… blah? There’s a name for that and it’s called languishing


You’re not depressed, but you’re not quite yourself either. Could you be languishing? We spoke to psychologist Rucha Lele about this neglected middle child of mental health and how to get out of the rut.  

It first occurred to me something wasn’t right when I sat down at my WFH desk ready to start work and I just couldn’t get into it. I sat there in front of my digital to-do list, staring at it, unable to bring fingers-to-keyboard. I normally have no trouble concentrating at work in a job that I enjoy, so this cloudy, unmotivated feeling felt unusual.

Life was good; I had no real reason to feel the way I did. Despite a year of darkness in a global pandemic, vaccination rates in New York were surging ahead, life was opening up, and the sun was coming out for summer.

But I just felt… ‘blah’. Stagnant, empty. I wasn’t depressed but I wasn’t flourishing, either. As it turns out, there’s a name for this complex emotional state; it’s called languishing. In fact, it’s being called the dominant emotion of 2021.

Like what you see? Sign up to our bodyandsoul.com.au newsletter for more stories like this.

What causes languishing?

“There can be many causes of languishing however the biggest cause is the fear of the unknown,” says Lysn psychologist Rucha Lele.

“Right now, we’re all in a situation that could, or may have already, lead to languishing. The effects of putting life on hold due to COVID has meant that many people have been afraid to move forward with the lives for fear of things being shut down again or cancelled… The uncertainty that we’ve all been feeling is making many of us hesitant and unmotivated to make any plans or changes.”

It’s different from depression, as Lele points out, because there’s not that persistent low mood or feeling of hopelessness commonly seen in depression. While there may be low moods in languishing, it’s more a feeling of apathy, limbo, and a lack of enthusiasm.

“If you think of mental health as a spectrum, with clinically unwell on one side and flourishingly stable on the other, languishing is somewhere in the middle – we’re not struggling or as despondent as someone that is suffering from depression, but we’re certainly not feeling that sense of meaning that we would have if we were flourishing,” she explains.

Other signs include a feeling of indifference about the future, even things like promotions and travel; feeling aimless; feeling devoid of purpose; and an overall lack of enthusiasm for life.

How do you overcome languishing?

Overcoming languishing can be tricky right now because there are still so many things out of our control,” says Lele. “The best way to approach it is to start off small. If you are currently in a situation where you know you really need to make some changes, break up those big tasks into smaller ones. Write down a list of what you need to do and set yourself the challenge to complete smaller tasks over a longer period of time.”

1. Look for meaning

Try to find some meaning in your life again, no matter how big or small. Look at the things that used to bring you enjoyment and try to get back into that flow. No matter what it is, set some time aside each day to relish in the positive activities that make you feel fulfilled.

2. Get mindful

Practices like yoga, meditation, or crafting can be great to help you be present, which usually stops you from worrying about the uncertainty of the future.

3. Reconnect

Your social network may have been cast aside when you’re languishing, but it’s important to maintain those relationships as they’ll help manage those feelings of isolation.

4. Change is as good as a holiday

Mix up your surroundings to bring back joy, says Lele.

“Whether it’s buying an indoor plant or making a point to listen to your favourite music, these things can bring a feeling of happiness (however small) back into your life. This also establishes a sense of ownership and personal connection to your environment.”

5. Talk it out

It’s likely someone you know is going through similar emotions (after all, we’ve all experienced the same pandemic, right?) but it could be beneficial for you to speak to a professional, too.

“If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone close to you, consider speaking to a professional,” says Lele. “Feeling in a state of languishing for long periods of time has the potential to lead to other mental health concerns so don’t ignore those feelings.”

Rucha Lele is a psychologist at Lysn, a digital mental health company with world class wellbeing technology which helps people find their best-fit professional psychologist whilst being able to access online tools to improve their mental health.