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Languishing: A New Label for COVID Mental Health

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Languishing: A New Label for COVID Mental Health

Thursday, May 6th, 2021

The past year has certainly been a challenging one for many people. The isolation and uncertainty caused by the pandemic have affected almost everyone’s mental health in some way. When it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what you are feeling, but you know you are not quite where you should be mentally, you may be languishing. The term is a new label for your COVID mental health, to describe what may just be the dominant emotion of 2021.

Somewhere In Between

In the mental health field, most professionals view the spectrum as ranging from depression to flourishing. When you are flourishing, you are at the peak of well-being. When you are depressed, you are in the valley of ill-being, feeling despondent and drained.

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton, writes in a recent issue of The New York Times that somewhere in between is languishing, when you are not feeling the symptoms of mental illness but you’re not truly experiencing complete mental health either. The COVID mental health condition is described as a sense of stagnation and emptiness, as though you are simply muddling through each day, viewing your world through a foggy windshield.

A Predictor of Future Concerns

The term “languishing” was coined by sociologist Corey Keyes almost 20 years ago. Keyes realized that there were many people who weren’t depressed but who weren’t thriving either. He conducted extensive research and found that people who are languishing are more likely to experience major depression and anxiety disorders in the years to come.

In fact, his research found that the risk of a major depressive episode was two times more likely among those individuals who were languishing than adults who were moderately mentally healthy. The risk was nearly six times greater among adults who were languishing than those who were flourishing. During the pandemic, evidence from healthcare workers in Italy shows that people who were languishing last spring were three times more likely to later be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Keyes found that languishing and depression were associated with significant psychosocial impairment in the limitations of daily living activities, perceived emotional health, and in lost or reduced workdays. In contrast, flourishing and moderate mental health were associated with a much higher level of psychosocial functioning.

Pandemic Emotional Long-Haul

COVID-19 has been discovered to have long-term physical effects, known as long-haul COVID. It’s also been found that many individuals are struggling with an emotional long-haul as part of their COVID mental health condition. Initially, many people experienced intense fear and anxiety. Those who lost loved ones or who suffered a job loss or physical illness themselves experienced an intense sense of grief.

Most people were unprepared for the emotions of the pandemic, as they were put in a completely new and unknown situation. After the initial fear and grief subsided, they may fallen into a sense of “blah” or languishing, feeling neither depressed nor anxious. As the pandemic drags on, that initial state of anguish has given way to the chronic and potentially long-term condition of languishing.

Languishing is Common Now

When you experience languishing, your motivation is dulled and your ability to focus has been disrupted. Your work may suffer as a result. Languishing appears to be more common than depression, particularly during the pandemic. You may not even notice that you’re languishing. As the isolation created by the pandemic grew, you may have just accepted the solitude and the indifference. The good news is, it may help to now have a name for what you are feeling. You are languishing and you can overcome it.

Start with Small Wins

Do you like word puzzles? Do you enjoy meaningful conversations? Is there a project that intrigues you? Carve out some time now, during Mental Health Awareness Month, to focus on a challenge that matters to you. Then, when you are able to solve the puzzle or have had a stimulating conversation with another individual, celebrate that as a small win. These small steps will help you rediscover some of your enthusiasm and your energy that may have been missing during the past year. Celebrating your small wins will help you overcome the big loss of the pandemic.

Contact R&A Therapeutic Partners for Help

At R&A Therapeutic Partners, we support you and your mental health needs, helping you find the path that works best for you. To keep you safe and healthy, we offer in-office and online therapy options during COVID-19. We encourage you to contact the Miami therapeutic consultants Raymond Estefania and Ana Moreno to find out the services R&A Therapeutic Partners offers. Call us at 786-452-7352 to schedule your appointment.

At R&A Therapeutic Partners Raymond Estefania and Ana Moreno specialize in substance use and mental health disorder evaluations, treatment, intervention and therapeutic/educational consulting for clients throughout the greater South Florida area, as well as nationally and internationally. For more resources and information please visit Therapeutic-Partners.com or on Facebook.

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