Personal freedom is tantalisingly close as the UK vaccination program rolls out. Coinciding with warmer weather as we head towards summer, it promises a brightening mood and energetic return to an action-packed lifestyle. However, the pandemic’s harmful effect lingers, with many of us experiencing low energy, apathy and a sense of depletion. If this seems familiar, the chances are that you are languishing in a place where everything feels like an effort. In short, you’ve lost your mojo.
What is languishing?
Sociologist Corey Keyes first coined the phrase ‘languishing’ to describe a state of being that is the opposite of flourishing. Weariness and lethargy creep in to steal away all the joy and vitality of life. Sometimes this is accompanied by a nagging suspicion that you might never feel fully alive again. The overwhelming experience is one of stagnation with little motivation to do anything about it.
Keyes identified the phenomenon of ‘languishing’ following research that he conducted in 2002. The resulting study indicated that about 12.1% of adults met the criteria for languishing. Additional research by Keyes found that those most likely to experience significant depression or be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in the next decade were those who were languishing now.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) research conducted during 2020 showed a sharp rise in anxiety levels during the lockdown. A more recent study in January 2021 indicates an upturn in the national mood. However, the ONS says: “Despite the improvement to levels of happiness and anxiety, they remain significantly worsened compared with pre-pandemic levels. Similarly, mean ratings of life satisfaction and feeling that things done in life are worthwhile to remain subdued.”
This knowledge goes some way to explaining any lack of drive to press forward and do things that previously you might have found exciting, challenging or joyful. While the phenomenon is not unique, the circumstances of the pandemic mean that more people are experiencing anxiety and low mood simultaneously and in a concentrated way.
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. – Adam Grant, organisational psychologist and bestselling author
What can you do about it?
If this sounds like you, then take heart. There are practical measures you can take to restore your mojo and raise your spirits. Here are five ideas that you might like to try:
1. Shake up your routine
The confinement of lockdown means many of us have existed 24/7 in the same space for living and working. Boundaries between work and home have blurred, and it is easy to get into a rut where you are not prioritising your personal needs. It is time to shake up your routine and address the situation head-on.
What might be the first easy thing to change that will boost your sense of vitality? Maybe lift your spirits by focusing on self-care and personal grooming. How about organising that dental hygiene appointment, having your hair cut, or buying a new summer outfit? Try to increase your social interactions as the restrictions ease. What about arranging an outdoor walk with a friend? Taking exercise in the fresh air helps release endorphins which can boost your mood and sense of wellbeing.
2. Step out of your digital cave
Hours of video conferencing and endless staring at screens take their toll and dull the senses. You might find that you spend much of your day on autopilot. Make it a priority to step away from technology. Take a few minutes to reconnect with the natural world by noticing your surroundings. Stretch and take a few deep easy breaths. Getting in touch with your sense of awareness will help you feel fully awake.
Have a proper lunch break rather than grazing at your workstation. If you are working from home, perhaps set the table as you listen to some relaxing music. Prepare something fresh such as washing a piece of fruit or making a simple salad, as the texture, smell and look will stimulate your senses, allowing your mind to relax. Spend time to appreciate the look and taste of the food as you eat and enjoy the experience.
In the evening, set a cut off time for scrolling emails and looking at texts. Banish smartphones to another room while you eat and chill into the evening. Avoid ‘doom scrolling’ and take time off from news and social media. Buy an old fashion alarm clock rather than using your smartphone, which will remind you that work awaits when you should be resting. After a few days, you will notice how a mini-digital detox can help you feel more relaxed and happier.
3. Nurture your relationships
Lockdown has been difficult for many relationships. Sharing the same space 24/7 creates tension and can exacerbate perceived flaws. Endearing habits might start to irritate. Switch your focus by thinking about what you value in others. Be specific and write down what comes to mind. Find an opportunity to express your appreciation to each person by telling them how they have helped you. If you can’t do this in person, perhaps write a thank you note or make a phone call. This exercise will lift your spirits and theirs, and writing things down gives them more emotional impact.
Communicate worries and share what is on your mind with the people in your life. Being open creates trust; however, avoid simply venting. Be considerate and ask how they are feeling. Then listen without jumping in. It is easy to slip into the habit of thinking about what you will say next rather than paying attention. Instead, extend the courtesy of being fully present, as this will create a meaningful connection. Ask questions that invite a two-way conversation. Talking things through will provide relief and shifts focus to finding solutions.
Invest in your relationships by being attentive, as this will strengthen your personal and professional relationships immeasurably. The bond created will amplify the shared good experiences and build resilience to support each other in tough times.
4. Tune into your senses
Small pleasures that make you smile can break the chains of stagnation. Use your senses to stimulate your mind and remind your body that you are open to life experiences. Take time to smell the fragrance of freshly mowed grass or feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. Try savouring the taste of food by slowing down consumption. Play music that lifts your spirits, and listen to a bird’s song as you walk outside. Stretch your mind by reading a different kind of book.
Laughter is also an excellent way of relieving stress as it stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins released by your brain. Endorphins are the body’s natural feel-good chemicals and promote an overall sense of wellbeing. Find things to do with your partner, family or friends that lighten your mood and make you smile. Active recreation has more benefits for well-being than passive recreation, like watching TV. Try writing a list of ten leisure activities that you find enjoyable, e.g. gardening, singing, jogging, dancing, playing frisbee with the kids or dog, then plan to do it.
5. ACE your motivation
If your lockdown to-do list remains unfinished, accept that you cannot alter what has been, but you can do something different now that will improve your future. A practical approach is to prime yourself to act using the ACE method, which stands for Audit, Consider and Energise.
Start with an audit of what depletes you and what replenishes you. Then consider the impact of various external and internal factors. External influencers include your work, relationships, everyday living arrangements such as shopping. Internal issues might consist of habits regarding diet, exercise routine and the quality of your sleep. Make a list of the times you feel low or stressed and identify the causes. Then energise yourself by looking at what gives you pleasure and makes you feel happy and proud.
What will you stop, continue or start doing to build upon the previous successes and tackle the areas you can improve? Choose one small step that you can take within the next five days. Languishing stifles motivation and affects the ability to focus. Breaking down goals into bite-sized chunks means you will be more likely to do it.
Languishing can sap resilience and leave you feeling listless. It is important to remember that you are not alone. Your neighbour, family, friends as well as your work counterparts are probably going through something similar. Focusing on what you can control rather than worrying about what you cannot control will help. In doing so, you can take steps that build positive experiences and will restore your cheerful enjoyment of life.
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