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St. Louis Area Expert Explains Psychological Concept of Languishing: the ‘Neglected Middle Child of Mental Health’

St. Louis Area Expert Explains Psychological Concept of Languishing: the ‘Neglected Middle Child of Mental Health’

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Dr. Russell Hyken

Adam Grant, organizational psychologist and bestselling author, penned a piece that was recently widely shared on social media platforms about “the neglected middle child of mental health – languishing.” Grant describes this mental state as the “void between depression and flourishing.”

I might add to Grant’s definition that “languishing” is also a pervasive feeling of disappointment, defeat, frustration and/or boredom that takes over one’s life and mental state. Languishing is that pit at the bottom of your stomach that something is wrong, an impulsive sigh of hopelessness that accompanies these tedious times or just a feeling of being stuck.

The concept of languishing has been around for decades. Since the pandemic began, however, feelings of aimlessness and stagnation have, unfortunately, reached epidemic levels. In fact, I have noticed a surge in therapy clients who come to sessions to process these types of feelings. Interestingly, most are not depressed or anxious; rather, they are just victims of circumstance. They are healthy people who are exhausted by how COVID-19 has affected their children, workplace and leisure time.

Grant, in his article, states that the best way to combat your sinking emotions during these troubled times is to find your “flow” by undertaking an activity that absorbs your being. In other words, pursue an interest, new or old, where you can lose yourself – an activity where your sense of time, place and being melts away.

Some may interpret this idea as finding a new hobby or taking on a complicated endeavor. That is not really the point. With my clients, I simply encourage them to take a break. Set aside protected time each day to turn off your phone, and do something that is both relaxing and enjoyable – binge a TV show, solve a puzzle or cook a new recipe.

To further combat the lethargy of languishing, one should also set small, tangible daily goals such as getting up on time, going to the gym, or talking to friend. We can’t control the world at large, but we can influence our personal environment and mood. Meeting a daily objective is a powerful way to boost positive energy.

Many of my clients are relieved to learn that they are languishing and not clinically depressed, and it is important to understand the difference. Depression is a pervasive sadness that takes over your life that makes it hard to get out of bed. Languishing, on the other hand, is that “dull” feeling that makes it difficult to function at full capacity.

Please note, however, that just because you’re not depressed doesn’t mean you aren’t suffering. The next time you are feeling weary, know that you are not alone. We all long to return some sense of our pre-pandemic life. These are challenging times, but hopefully, the light is at the end of the tunnel.

Prior to going into private practice as a psychotherapist and learning-disabilities specialist, Russell Hyken, Ph.D., Ed.S., M.A., LPC, NCC, worked for more than 15 years as an English teacher, school counselor and school administrator. Visit him online at ed-psy.com.

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Prior to going into private practice as a psychotherapist and learning-disabilities specialist, Russell Hyken, Ph.D., Ed.S., M.A., LPC, NCC, worked for more than 15 years as an English teacher, school counselor and school administrator.

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