Same as probably everyone on this planet, I was euphorically excited to get out of lockdown and start living. Talking to people in person, touching people, seeing their grimaces instead of just reading their messages, seemed like an actual, painful if not fulfilled –  physical need.

It was finally satisfied this Spring! I was all over the place; dancing eating out, going to rooftops, talking to people, hitting the beaches, day parties, night parties; and then it just suddenly stopped.

The parties continued, I stopped.

After such a short period of being back in the real world, I got exhausted. Exhausted to deal with people, exhausted to talk, exhausted to go out, exhausted to exist.

I profoundly thought it’s just me. “What is wrong with me” was a question I woke up to every single day, struggling to join existence. I felt weird. I felt guilty; I’m alive, I’m healthy, I’m able – why am I so ungrateful? Why am I always so passed-out sleepy but active in the weirdest hours of a day? Crashing faster than I rose up?

Then I ran into so many comments online that talked about very similar feelings and experiences:

  • “Feeling this so hard lately.”
  • “I’m tired, anxious, and scared.”
  • “All I can think about when I’m out is going home and putting on my “comfies”.”
  • “BEYOND done.”
  • “Okay, so it’s not just me. I’m not alone here. Sigh. Whew…”
  • “I thought there was something wrong with me, or just the year of sitting in front of a computer screen.”
  • “Been feeling like the smallest tasks take a zillion watts of mental energy. My productivity is whack right now.”
  • “I thought it was just my chronic illness.”
  • “Binge watching the series all morning cause I visited three different friends yesterday.”
  • “Honestly, the thought of having to leave my house on the regular basis has me tired. I’m not ready for re-entry.”

It all came down to one scary yet simple condition: we are not ready for re-entry.

How can we not be ready to re-enter the world after being locked up for a year and some change, when all we thought about during the lockdown is to break free?

I searched for answers, and I wrote this whole article not knowing there was a term associated with this feeling, called The Languishing.

Before I knew the name to it, after discovering an article in New York Times that came out two weeks after I wrote this, I decided to edit my original article and give you more context; also, the writer of the NYT article is Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton, and I will explain to you the condition we are all obviously experiencing by breaking down his article.

Here we go.

Adam writes about not recognizing the symptoms that we all had in common, at first. Then he mentions his friends talking about having trouble concentrating. His colleagues reporting that even with vaccines on the horizon, they weren’t excited about 2021.

“A family member was staying up late to watch “National Treasure again even though she knows the movie by heart. And instead of bouncing out of bed at 6 a.m., I was lying there until 7, playing Words with Friends.”

Adam continues how “it wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.”

What is languishing?

According to Adam: “Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.”

“As scientists and physicians work to treat and cure the physical symptoms of long-haul Covid, many people are struggling with the emotional long-haul of the pandemic. It hit some of us unprepared as the intense fear and grief of last year faded.

In the early, uncertain days of the pandemic, it’s likely that your brain’s threat detection system — called the amygdala — was on high alert for fight-or-flight. As you learned that masks helped protect us — but package-scrubbing didn’t — you probably developed routines that eased your sense of dread. But the pandemic has dragged on, and the acute state of anguish has given way to a chronic condition of languish.”

I found Adam’s connection with mental health the most interesting part of this phenomenon:

“In psychology, we think about mental health on a spectrum from depression to flourishingFlourishing is the peak of well-being: You have a strong sense of meaning, mastery and mattering to others. Depression is the valley of ill-being: You feel despondent, drained and worthless.

Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity.

Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.”

This part fascinated me, while also scaring me a bit:

“Part of the danger is that when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive. You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference. When you can’t see your own suffering, you don’t seek help or even do much to help yourself.”

How can we help ourselves?

Adam says: “We still have a lot to learn about what causes languishing and how to cure it, but naming it might be a first step. It could help to defog our vision, giving us a clearer window into what had been a blurry experience. It could remind us that we aren’t alone: languishing is common and shared.”

This part was fascinating since revenge procrastination is something I do on a regular basis.

“Last summer, the journalist Daphne K. Lee tweeted about a Chinese expression that translates to “revenge bedtime procrastination.” She described it as staying up late at night to reclaim the freedom we’ve missed during the day. I’ve started to wonder if it’s not so much retaliation against a loss of control as an act of quiet defiance against languishing. It’s a search for bliss in a bleak day, connection in a lonely week, or purpose in a perpetual pandemic.”

How do we overcome it?

“So what can we do about it? A concept called “flow” may be an antidote to languishing. Flow is that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away. During the early days of the pandemic, the best predictor of well-being wasn’t optimism or mindfulness — it was flow. People who became more immersed in their projects managed to avoid languishing and maintained their pre-pandemic happiness.”

For the longest time, I have been saying Netflix and such streaming platforms can be a form of self-care. I also wrote an article about it – ‘Why Netflix is a Form of Self-Care’.

Adam agrees: “A late-night Netflix binge sometimes does the trick too — it transports you into a story where you feel attached to the characters and concerned for their welfare.”

“While finding new challenges, enjoyable experiences and meaningful work are all possible remedies to languishing, it’s hard to find flow when you can’t focus. This was a problem long before the pandemic, when people were habitually checking email 74 times a day and switching tasks every 10 minutes. In the past year, many of us also have been struggling with interruptions from kids around the house, colleagues around the world, and bosses around the clock. Fragmented attention is an enemy of engagement and excellence.”

Adam suggests we focus on a small goal:

“The pandemic was a big loss. To transcend languishing, try starting with small wins, like the tiny triumph of figuring out a whodunit or the rush of playing a seven-letter word. One of the clearest paths to flow is a just-manageable difficulty: a challenge that stretches your skills and heightens your resolve. That means carving out daily time to focus on a challenge that matters to you — an interesting project, a worthwhile goal, a meaningful conversation. Sometimes it’s a small step toward rediscovering some of the energy and enthusiasm that you’ve missed during all these months.

“Languishing is not merely in our heads — it’s in our circumstances.”

“You can’t heal a sick culture with personal bandages. We still live in a world that normalizes physical health challenges but stigmatizes mental health challenges. As we head into a new post-pandemic reality, it’s time to rethink our understanding of mental health and well-being. “Not depressed” doesn’t mean you’re not struggling. “Not burned out” doesn’t mean you’re fired up. By acknowledging that so many of us are languishing, we can start giving voice to quiet despair and lighting a path out of the void.”

To read this fascinating article in full, click here!

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References in this article are researched by Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton, the author of “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know” and the host of the TED podcast WorkLife.