Personal Development
Are You Languishing? Here's How to Regain Your Sense ...

Are You Languishing? Here's How to Regain Your Sense ...

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What is Languishing?

Languishing is a state of being far from one's best self, even in the absence of extreme stress. Core Keyes labeled it as an "emptiness and stagnation, constituting a life of quiet despair" and the American Psychological Association (APA) defined it as an absence of mental health. It is characterized by dissatisfaction, lack of engagement, and apathy, reflected in words like 'deteriorating' and 'wasting away', which refer to a decrease in energy.

Languishing in the Age of the Coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic has markedly disrupted many lives, leading to high levels of fear, grief, and anxiety. This crisis of prolonged isolation from loves ones and an unceasing sense of insecurity has left many people languishing. A moderate level of stress is healthy, but an enduring state of overwhelming stress takes a toll on both the body and the mind, leading to exhaustion of all kinds, difficulty focusing and remembering, increased irritability, cynicism, and apathy.

The Symptoms of Languishing

  • Feeling aimless
  • Restless scrolling of social media or staring at the television
  • Lack of energy and conviction that anything is worth the effort
  • Disconnection or dissociation from coworkers
  • Irritability, confusion, or sadness
  • Inability to get excited about upcoming projects
  • Difficulty retaining focus or remembering
  • Cynicism about leadership, coworkers, or career
  • Procrastination and lack of motivation in completing tasks
  • Increasingly stressed or constantly battling the Sunday scaries
  • A sense of emptiness or existential crisis
  • Absence of wellbeing even though one is not sick
  • Inability to verbalize one's feelings
  • Feeling like there is nothing to look forward to
  • Engaging in risky behaviors to relieve the 'blah' feeling
  • Feeling as if one is just going through the motions
  • Experiencing a crisis
  • Difficulty forming and maintaining positive relationships

Languishing is not as obvious as more extreme mental health conditions, so it can be hard to identify. While one might answer 'I'm fine' to the ubiquitous 'how are you?', others may be languishing, masking the state they are in. As time passes and we shift away from the pandemic, many people are processing the weight of the difficulties that had to be pushed aside during the crisis. It is possible to feel a spectrum of emotions, such as gratitude, joy, enthusiasm, and simultaneously feel the effects of languishing.


The coronavirus pandemic has caused many people to experience a form of mental fatigue, known as languishing. It is an emptiness, apathy, and stagnation that can go unnoticed. However, it is important to recognize the symptoms of languishing in order to better understand ourselves and the people around us. As the pandemic wanes, many of us will be processing the intense emotional burden of the past, while simultaneously finding ourselves capable of gratitude, joy, and enthusiasm.

Languishing, Burnout, Existential Crises, and Flourishing: Understanding the Mental Health Challenges of Our Time

Recent research has suggested that those who suffer from languishing are more likely to develop more severe mental health problems such as PTSD, anxiety, and major depression.

Flourish and Languish: How to Beat the 'Massive Middle' and Live Your Best Life

Burnout and languishing both can have an adverse effect on one's mental health, but there are important distinctions between them. Burnout is specific to work and is caused by a mismatch between values and skills, whereas languishing is a global state of being that affects all facets of life, but does not meet the criteria of a mental health disorder. People in a state of languishing might feel 'stuck' and unable to liberate themselves, though simultaneously they lack the energy and ambition to strive for true wellbeing.

Languish, Burnout, Existential Crisis and Flourishing

Mental health is an increasingly important topic, and understanding the differences between languishing, burnout, existential crises, and flourishing are essential for getting the most out of life. In order to do this, it is important to take proactive steps to develop the skills and psychological resources necessary to understand and act upon our own well-being.

What is Languish?

Languish is an unpredictable emotion that can last for days, weeks or even longer. Those who are in a state of languish may be at higher risk of developing depression, and its associated deep emotions can even be predictors of anxiety disorders and depression. While those with more severe mental health issues will benefit from therapy, many who experience languish can benefit from developing their own coping strategies.

What is an Existential Crisis?

Though it may be similar, an existential crisis is distinct from languish. It is characterised by apathy, disconnectedness and a feeling of stagnation; but its roots are much deeper and can lead to feelings of dread, anxiety and negative self-worth. People experiencing an existential crisis often question the direction of their life, relationships and work. They can feel disappointed in their current circumstances and lack the confidence to make any changes.

What is Flourishing?

Flourishing is the opposite of languishing, and is characterised by engagement, joy and connection to life purpose. People who are flourishing are energised, self-assured and have the skills and resources to adapt to life's difficulties. Additionally, studies have shown that those who are flourishing are likely to be healthier and require fewer health treatments. Flourishing gives people the confidence that challenges are achievable.

PERMA and Flourishing

Dr. Martin Seligman's PERMA model suggests that by actively cultivating Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment, people can reach a higher level of life satisfaction. In addition to this, Dr. Lynn Soots outlines flourishing as the pursuit and engagement of an authentic life which can bring inner joy and happiness. Soots emphasises that flourishing isn't an unchanging trait, and with effort and practice, it can be achieved.

Moving from Languishing to Flourishing

Coaching is one of the most effective ways to move out of languish. Coaches can help people build resilience and emotional regulation skills and hold them accountable to encourage change. For those who require additional help, behavioural therapy may also be needed to address underlying causes such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.

Combatting Languishing: How Organisations Can Promote Flourishing Among Employees

Languishing is a common feeling, but it's possible to beat it and live your best life. With the right support, coaching, and techniques, mental fitness and flourishing can become habits. By focusing on the PERMA framework - Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishments - it's possible to find the ability to flourish in our lives. Here are some tips to help:

Stop Languishing Through Increasing Positive Emotions

  • Create a gratitude practice and name your feelings
  • Have fun

Decrease Languishing by Increasing Engagement

  • Get into a state of flow
  • Be honest about your feelings
  • Take care of yourself

Improving Relationships Can Help Stop Languishing

  • Connect with others
  • Talk to a coach or engage in behavioral therapy

Finding Meaning Can Help Stop Languishing

  • Choose work wisely
  • Give yourself grace
  • See your challenges as a chapter in your life, and learn what you can from them

Plan for the Future

  • Plan a trip, a class, a date night, or a virtual happy hour

Accomplishments Can Help End Your Feeling of Languish

  • Find a new way to challenge yourself
  • Take on a new hobby

Set Small Goals for Yourself

  • Set small, achievable goals for yourself
  • Making progress in small ways often leads to big changes

Celebrate Your Successes, Large and Small

  • Make a list of everything you did today
  • Look back and cheer yourself on the next time you're in a slump

Organisations and Combatting Languish

The symptoms of languishing, such as sadness, apathy, and feeling lost, have been linked to poor psychological and physical health. In light of this, organisations should be aware of the potential effects that the pandemic may have on their workforce and respond with initiatives to help support employee's mental health and adapt their workplace practices.

Organisations can shift their focus from identifying what is wrong and towards what is right, to foster a healthy, flourishing culture. Leaders can encourage resilience in their employees and help them take ownership over their health and wellbeing. Stress is unavoidable during this time, but it can be managed through conversations about resilience and wellbeing, and by supporting employees in building up their capacity to remain strong.

Organisations should also be aware of and address any emotional exhaustion that may result from a crisis. This can be done by reducing burn out throughout the workforce, engaging with employees, and fostering purpose and passion. Diversity and inclusion initiatives can also help to create a safe and healthy environment.

Organisations should continue to share best practices, in order to further cultivate a sense of well-being. This may involve encouraging events, insights, and ideas to bring employees together and help them to become more resilient. By providing employees with the appropriate guidance and the necessary support, organisations can help them to flourish, increase their confidence, and feel empowered.

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