May is mental health awareness month, but for many of us, we have had an acute awareness of our mental health for the last 14 months while enduring the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. For some of us, this has been a gentle disruption to our routines that we have come to understand and predict, and for others, this has been a downright upheaval of our lives in every sense of the word. As we continue into 2021 with a lot of the same feelings that we started 2020 with, a term that psychologists and sociologists have used is “languishing” which was originally coined by sociologist Corey Keyes as “the opposite of flourishing.”
This New York Times’ article describes languishing as “…a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield.” If you are anything like me, you relate to this. While your projects are still getting turned in, you’re taking care of a household, and you’re finding joy at the prospect of normal life returning once more, you might feel like you are going through the motions at times. You can look to COVID-19 as the culprit for this feeling. The “unrelenting fear and anxiety” has put many of us into this state.
If you’re one of the lucky folks who hasn’t experienced this, then perhaps this notion can help you extend some empathy to your coworker who seems to have lost their typical pep in the weekly Zoom meeting, or help you find patience for another who has forgotten to attach that spreadsheet to the email again.
So now that we understand languishing, what are some ways to combat it? Verywell Mind has some great tips for keeping the languishing at bay:
- Take some time off. If you can, schedule some time to be really off. No checking emails, no dialing into meetings. Be off. Find something that you enjoy doing and do it. Even if that just means catching up on your favorite television shows on the couch with your dog.
- Find an activity you enjoy and make time for it. For me, that’s biking 20-30 miles after work several times a week on one of my state’s many rail trails. Rail trails not your thing? What about painting by numbers? Too tired to paint? Try a new book. Studies show, fiction helps increase connectivity in our brains which is a great bonus.
- Change your scenery. Can you take the dog for a walk on a different street on your block? Can you make some time after you log off for the day to do something that doesn’t involve a screen? All of these small steps help stimulate your senses and get our brains going in a positive direction.
- Call in a professional if needed. Options for therapy are out there including tele-therapy. Find what works best for you.
Flourishing in the Long-Term
The website Positive Psychology cites Dr. Lynn Soots’ definition of flourishing as “… the product of the pursuit and engagement of an authentic life that brings inner joy and happiness through meeting goals, being connected with life passions, and relishing in accomplishments through the peaks and valleys of life.” I found a few more impactful and long-term practices to help work toward flourishing within the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond here. These were just a few of my favorites:
- Take time to enjoy the little things. What’s that mean exactly? It means you can celebrate your small victories in whatever capacity makes sense for you. Are you proud of the boxed cake you made with your daughter last Friday night? Give yourself permission to enjoy and celebrate that.
- Find time for gratitude. Write down a few things that you’re grateful for and go from there. The article explains that “Flourishing comes from daily routines, like working on a new skill or reaching out to thank the people you value in your life, and small moments of mastery, connection and meaning.”
- Do some good deeds. This shouldn’t be a burden for you. Instead try a “five-minute favor,” like “introducing two people who could benefit from knowing each other or sending an article or podcast link to a friend, saying you were thinking of them.” Being on the receiving end of this kind of thoughtfulness always feels good. So, pay it forward and be the one to spark it in someone else.
The bottom line is our mental health is important. You owe it to yourself to take steps toward a healthier mindset and there are both big and small ways to achieve these goals. With everything that has gone on in the past 14 months, give yourself some grace, let yourself be curious about any changes you’d like to make, and take it one step at a time.
Disclaimer: Aires does not provide health or legal services. This information is not intended to constitute professional and/or individual medical, mental health, or legal advice. It is for informational purposes only. If further or case-specific information is desired by the reader, Aires recommends that individual consult their personal doctor(s), specialist(s), or legal counsel.