From The New York Times article by Adam Grant
Grant talks about an emotion that’s not quite depression, nor burnout, but somehow touches on the two without delving right in. A space in our emotions that lacks a certain joy and embodies an aimlessness, of stagnation and emptiness – an emotion called languishing. Causing a fogginess of our view as we wonder….is it really worth planning? An emotion which few of us could deny having felt at some stage through the pandemic.
Initially we were gripped in a state of flight or fight as we harried to find a sense of safety in a world we didn’t understand. Especially for those of you with immune suppression, or just immune systems that are, well, not quite right (all of you with PSC fall into that category). But days turned to weeks, then months, then, well, here we are now. Vaccine hopes raised then dashed, then re-established, but with less certainty. Lockdowns and border closures raising the heightened response time and time again, but lacking the full relief as things settle. The acute response our minds and bodies took cannot be sustained – and so that dreaded word creeps in…..chronic. Not quite depression, but not flourishing either.
In psychology mental health is understood across a spectrum – depression to flourishing. Languishing falls somewhere in between. You’re not experiencing true symptoms of mental illness, yet your motivation may be dulled, you might be having trouble concentrating, and you may begin puling away from things like work and social experiences. This languishing, if left unaddressed, gives rise to a higher risk of depression and/or post-traumatic stress disorder developing down the track. We often lose objectivity on our own mental state – so be sure to listen to others who ask genuinely how are you? And watch for those around you, and sit and ask them too.
For some time, I think we have accepted the language of “grief” in terms of a response to the pandemic. Perhaps we can add languishing to our vocabulary. Could even doing that bring a defence against it? Very possibly! Knowing we are connected and not alone – having a way of sharing honestly – noticing it in others and ourselves. I suspect it is much more common than we think.
Grant goes on in his article to talk about some possible antidotes that I’ve summarised below, and added an additional one that I find very important.
Flow – I think I can best explain this process as getting lost in something…..a book, a show, an activity. It is about being so immersed in an activity that you become oblivious to the outside world. A reprieve, a retreat. If you’d like to learn more about how to help trigger this state you might like to check out this website. https://positivepsychology.com/what-is-flow/ There is nothing that personally takes me deeper into flow than helping others. Not because I compare my own situation to theirs – as better or worse, harder or easier – but simply my focus is on someone who needs help and in helping them I feel a depth of joy.
Boundaries – yes, boundaries. This can help us find that experience of flow, but also helps our productivity and focus. Having boundaries doesn’t mean we make the world about ourselves, it merely means we are conscious to care for ourselves, we have wisdom of self-reflection. When we have boundaries, we can give so much more freely and with much more compassion, because we are not worried about burn out.
Small goals – sometimes when our goals are so big and lofty they seem impossible. Can you break it down to something smaller? I need to remind myself of this – my goals for PSC Support Australia are so big, but when I break it down to the little achievable goals I find the energy to do the work for these – like writing a blog for example!
Gratefulness – this is not from Grant’s article, but a practice I am working actively on at the moment. Social Scientist Brene Brown talks about gratefulness as a conscious practice, not just a feeling. Do not confuse gratefulness with toxic positivity – gratefulness is choosing to actively acknowledge the things we are grateful for in some way. It does not mean we put a gloss on everything, nor should we ignore our own pain or the pain of the world. Just this last week I had a busy and stressful day – at the end I sat and sighed, and felt grateful that I have so many beautiful people in my very messy life. It didn’t make my day less messy; it just changed my focus on the day.
As we acknowledge our own moments of languishing, moments that sometimes turn to days, to weeks, months or perhaps even years, can we use that as a connectedness to a brighter future? I think we can. You don’t have to be depressed to be not flourishing. And when we accept this we can find our path to flourishing……take someone’s hand, it’s a stumbly kind of path……and just one step at a time, you might find that not only are you on your way to flourishing, but you may even be taking the hand of someone else on that same journey.