When I think back to the very first days of Covid-19, I had no idea that I would end up riding the Anaconda of roller coasters. I would never have guessed that I’d be contending with more tummy-twisting “downs” than I’d ever experienced before. It wasn’t specifically Covid-19 per se, but everything it stood for. Uncertainty. Fear. The fragility of human life. Change. And of course, death.

Like many people, I started off believing it would only last a few months at most. As time elapsed, my resolve weakened, and I’d just about had it with all the Covid-19 statistics, my-fellow-South-Africans speeches, and literature waxing lyrical about a stupid virus and its effects on mental health. I wanted to move on — get to a place of stability and certainty. But the thing is (and I’ve learned this the very hard way), if we don’t address our emotions over everything that has happened and continues to happen, choosing to push them away instead, they will continue to snowball. And when that happens, the rollercoaster goes faster.

My rollercoaster began doing weird turns around the time I suspect I was “languishing.” Of course, I didn’t know such a thing existed until recently.

Coined by American psychologist and sociologist Corey Keyes, “languishing” describes that feeling or state of being disconnected, sluggish, and off-purpose. A person who is languishing doesn’t feel great about life and just isn’t able to function at full capacity.

Imagine that you’re walking through a haze, dragging one foot in front of the other, merely going through the motions. You know you’ve got things to do, but sometimes find yourself thinking, “But what’s the point?” That’s languishing. And it’s been called the “dominant emotion of 2021.”

If flourishing (functioning at your best) is akin to wellness, and depression is a state of ill-being, then languishing is somewhere in the middle. While it may not be considered a mental health disorder like depression or anxiety, it is still something that warrants addressing.

Signs that you may be languishing include:

1. Feeling apathetic, restless, unsettled, and empty
2. Lacking motivation
3. Procrastinating more than usual
4. Being unable to concentrate
5. Being unable to embrace an attitude that focuses on self-care
6. Struggling to complete basic tasks
7. Declining invites to events/outings you would normally accept/ accepting them but leaving early because you can’t seem to enjoy them
8. Engaging in risky/unusual behaviour to break the feeling of blandness

If I’d known what these signs meant, and that my history of anxiety made me more susceptible to languishing, I’d have been more cautious. I’d have acted quicker — done whatever I could to prevent myself from barreling past the languishing stage and dropping straight into the rabbit hole of ill-being where my anxiety rose to extreme levels. But then again, we don’t get re-dos in life. We get opportunities to learn, grow, and be better.

The way we do that, or the way I’ve been doing that, is through hindsight. I experience the struggle, get knocked down a few notches (or more), and then learn the life lesson, which in this case is: Always be cognizant of what you’re feeling so you can act swiftly the instant something feels “off.”

I now know that this can be done by:
1. Making it a practice to go inward to become aware of the type of feelings that lurk there.
2. Establishing what your baselines are for optimal functioning, enjoyment, and productivity.

If you are languishing right now, don’t despair. There are ways to get to a healthier headspace.

One of the best ways to do that is by engaging in activities that allow you to enter into a state of flow. Flow is a state in which you become so immersed in an activity you find worthwhile, you lose track of space and time. For me, that activity is working on a writing project I’m inspired by. Whatever activity you choose, be it painting, hiking, dancing, creating music, gardening, or cooking, ensure that it isn’t too simple (you’ll get bored) or too challenging (you’ll feel overwhelmed). It should be just challenging enough.

Practicing gratitude is another way to feel better about life. Granted, it can be incredibly difficult to find things to be grateful for when you’re not in a good mental space (trust me, I know). However, this is precisely the time to identify the blessings in your life because gratefulness has immense power. It opens the heart and shifts perspective. Keep a gratitude journal, and make it a practice to list the things you are grateful for every day.

You could also try journaling. I’ve found that journaling is a fantastic way to express emotions freely and identify thought patterns that aren’t conducive to wellbeing.

And if you can’t help belabouring over the monotony of life, it’s a good idea to start looking for the meaning in some of the things you’re bored or have grown weary of. Seeing how those very things benefit your life and maybe even the lives of others will help you feel more purposeful.

When I saw how emptying remaining food from the pots not only made my mum’s life a bit easier but also taught me to be more responsible, it didn’t seem like such a painfully boring task. Because I acknowledged how it served me and her, it felt like I was making a meaningful contribution.

Another thing you can do is be kind to yourself. There’s nothing “wrong” with you — languishing is part of the human condition.

Like languishing, we’re probably going to come across more and more states of mental being as they are discovered and given names. Sometimes we will learn about the newest state by experiencing them, knowing someone who is experiencing them, or through various forms of media. Not only is it important to develop strategies to cope with or overcome unhealthy mental states, but also to get to a place where we can flourish.

Flourishing can only be possible if mental health is given the attention and funding it deserves. While funding may be (a lot) harder to come by, we, as a society, can strive to create a safe space for people to ask for help when they are struggling. To normalize therapy as both a proactive and reactive action step. And to pass around love instead of judgment.