What You’re Feeling May Be Called Languishing, But The Key To Flourishing Includes One More Step

languishing

Whether you are hitting a wall, languishing, or suffering more severe forms of depression and anxious avoidance, chances are pretty good you may not be feeling quite like your pre-pandemic self these days.

Positive signs of pandemic progress, climbing vaccination rates, and restriction-lifting don’t seem to be quite the magic bullet we have longed for when it comes to mood, and you’re not alone if you notice yourself still flagging. The pandemic has been a long haul, and sadly its impact on mental health will likely linger beyond the return of our physical safety.

Following the Spanish Flu of 1918, mental illness soared, and its recovery trailed physical recovery by a factor of three (6 vs 2 years). Of course, there are many differences between then and now that should ensure a more efficient recovery this time. Lower relative mortality rates, better mental health care, and digital tools have helped buttress our collective resilience, but mental illness is still hitting record highs around the world.

Despite modern advances, our minds and moods have suffered, and will need space to recover. Likely more than we are expecting, or wanting.

Getting to a state of languishing took time, and growing out of it will too. Doing more and restoring pre-pandemic routines can certainly help, but even these well-meaning recommendations can feel premature. When the idea of doing anything else merely brings up dread, you may need to try something else first: managing your expectations.

Expectations, and their role in anxiety, are one of my favorite topics to discuss, in large part because they are always in our control (unlike so many other variables). And at the heart of almost all anticipatory anxiety, disappointment, and inner conflict, expectations can powerfully shape our experience, and thus our mental health.

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“It isn’t easy to resist hopes and expectations… As humans we think, create, and imagine. It’s what we do. But when we embrace these imaginings too tightly, we set ourselves up for disappointment and anxiety.”

~Dr. Alicia Clark, Hack Your Anxiety

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Rather than thinking about “gettting back to normal,” I’m talking to people about how to integrate pandemic experiences into new “post-pandemic” routines, as well as defining more realistically how pandemic recovery might feel. At the top of my list is always minding expectations to help manage fatigue, protect from disappointment, and realign focus back to our highest priorities.

Too often hopes can find themselves masquerading as expectations, stealthily dulling mood and outlook. To me, this is the heart of languishing. Expecting to feel differently, but not being there, yet.

Recovering mental wellness requires patience, and managing expectations can be central to staying on track. This is the “rinse and repeat” of protecting sanity, and a key way to take control when so much feels beyond reach. These five quick reframes can help reset expectations, so you can start breathing easier.

1. Arriving on the other side is still the goal

Mid-way in the pandemic quarantine, many appreciated the reminder of resetting our expectations, keeping in mind that the most important goal of the pandemic was to survive. While we are struggling with the weight of what this has required for all of us, it can help to remind ourselves once again of the “why” behind our various sacrifices, inconveniences, and mental scars. Recognizing our survival and tapping into our biggest goals can help put things in perspective.

2. Coping styles will continue to vary

With conversations about how to “go back,” how to do it safely, and bracing for new routines and systems, differences of opinion are to be expected, but can be irritating too. These feelings can be exacerbated as we emerge from our cocoons and see others—strangers and friends—who may see things differently than us. The key here is to remember everyone is wrestling with similar emotional strains and doing their best, even if that best is frustrating. Compassion, and reframing boundaries, can help keep you stay focused on yourself, and what you can control.

3. You get to define your “new” normal

Rather than thinking about getting “back to” normal, why not consider what your “new” normal should actually be? What lessons learned in the pandemic (ie how hard it is to “live” at work, connect through Zoom, or resist the temptations of your stocked pantry) could help your post-pandemic routine (ie stronger boundaries between work and you-time, prioritizing in-person meetings, or forcing yourself back to the gym)? Of those routines that will likely change, which will you miss, and which won’t be hard to see go? Taking stock of lessons learned, both good and bad, can help give purpose when languishing takes hold.

4. Notice progress, and celebrate wins…languishing will not last forever

Growth is incremental, and sometimes requires focus to be discerned. Thanks to our negativity bias, we are much better at noticing the negatives than the positives. Finding the proverbial glass half full can be harder than it sounds, especially when we are tired and worn down. If you find yourself feeling fatigued by the road ahead, take a moment to look behind you, at how far you’ve come already. Seeing progress, and celebrating it if we can, can deliver a needed boost to keep carrying on when feelings of fatigue and apathy threaten to take over.

5. Being gentle boosts resilience

It doesn’t feel good to languish, and feeling guilty about your mood can go with the territory. But feelings of guilt and shame seldom boost moods, and more often add to the negative emotional load. Guilt might seem like a reasonable way to dig deeper, find the positive, or even “snap out of it,” but exerting such intrinsic force only makes things harder.

Instead, try to make room in your life to be worn down, distracted, and dull. At the same time, notice any small sign of progress. Recognize that while you may be slower to return to “normal” than you’d like to be, you are still absorbing the impact of the pandemic and healing. Self-compassion, along with resetting expectations, can go a long way to buffering inner conflict and boosting resilience.

As you embark on life beyond the pandemic, aim to be as gentle as possible with your expectations. Getting back to “normal” may take longer than you’d like, but it will happen. And likely, you will emerge stronger and better for it.

There’s nothing wrong with you if you are languishing. It means you are human, and are surviving one of the greatest struggles of a generation. Why not recognize your strength in persevering, and give yourself the break you deserve?

Working with yourself is how you get through languishing, so you can feel what’s on the other side. As we once again welcome a new season and more change, here’s hoping you can be gentle with yourself, honor your progress, and celebrate your resilience, no matter how blah you may be feeling.

 

Looking for more help understanding how anxiety can be a tool rather than a burden? Check out my Anxiety Myths Navigator and discover the 12 key anxiety myths that are holding you back, how to reframe your relationship with anxiety, and take back control of your emotional life. Offered at a discount for a limited time, you can read more about it here.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Alicia H. Clark, PsyD

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