At first I did not recognize the symptoms that we all had in common. Friends said they were having trouble concentrating. Colleagues reported that even with vaccinations on the horizon, they weren’t excited for 2021. One family member was staying up to watch “National Treasure” again, even though they know the movie by heart. And instead of jumping out of bed at 6 am, I stayed in bed until seven playing “Words With Friends.”
It wasn’t exhaustion: we still had energy. It wasn’t depression: we didn’t feel desperate. Simply we felt joyless and aimless. Turns out that has a name: languor.
Laziness is a feeling of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you were passing your days aimlessly, looking at your life through a cloudy windshield. And it could be the dominant emotion of 2021.
While scientists and Doctors work to treat and cure physical symptoms of COVID-19 long lasting, many people are struggling with the long emotional duration of the pandemic. Some of us have been hit unprepared as the intense fear and pain of the past year has faded.
In the uncertain early days of the pandemic, your brain’s threat-detecting system, called the amygdala, was likely on high alert to fight or run. As you learned that masks helped protect us – but scrubbing packages did not – you probably developed routines that alleviated your sense of dread. But the pandemic has dragged on, and the acute state of anguish has given way to a chronic condition of languor.
In psychology, we think of mental health on a spectrum from depression to flourishing. Flowering is the pinnacle of well-being: You have a strong sense of meaning, mastery, and importance to others. Depression is the valley of discomfort: You feel dejected, exhausted, and worthless.
Laziness is the middle child of mental health. It is the gap between depression and flourishing, the absence of well-being. You have no symptoms of mental illness, but you are not the image of mental health either. You are not running at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disturbs your ability to concentrate, and triples your chances of cutting back on your work.. It appears to be more common than major depression and, in a way, may be a greater risk factor for mental illness.
The term was coined by a sociologist named Corey Keyes, who was struck by the fact that many people who weren’t depressed didn’t prosper either. Their research suggests that the people most likely to experience severe depression and anxiety disorders in the next decade are not those with these symptoms today. if not people who are languishing right now. And new evidence from healthcare workers from the pandemic in Italy shows that Those who languished in the spring of 2020 were three times more likely than their peers to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Part of the danger is that, when one is languishing, may not notice the dulling of pleasure or the decrease of urge. You do not realize that you are slowly slipping into solitude; you are indifferent to your indifference. When you can’t see your own suffering, you don’t seek help or do much to help yourself.
Even if you’re not languishing, you probably know people who are. Understanding it better can help you help them.
A NAME FOR WHAT YOU FEEL
Psychologists consider that one of the best strategies to manage emotions is to name them. Last spring, during the acute anguish of the pandemic, the most viral post in Harvard Business Review history was an article describing our collective unrest as mourning. Along with the loss of loved ones, we mourned the loss of normalcy. “Duel”. It gave us a familiar vocabulary to understand what had felt like an unfamiliar experience. Although we had not faced a pandemic before, most of us had faced the loss. It helped us to crystallize the lessons of our own past resilience, and to gain confidence in our ability to cope with present adversity.
We still have a lot to learn about the causes of languor and how to cure it, but naming it might be a first step. It could help defog our vision, giving us a clearer window on what had been a blurry experience. It might remind us that we are not alone: languishing is common and shared.
And it could give us a socially acceptable answer to “How are you?”
Instead of saying “Great!” or “Good”, let’s imagine I answers: “Honestly, I’m languishing.” It would be a refreshing complement to toxic positivity, that quintessential American pressure to be optimistic at all times.
When you add languor to your lexicon, you start to notice it around you. Show up when you feel let down by your short evening walk. It is in the voice of your children when you ask them how they did in school online. It’s on “The Simpsons” every time a character says “Meh.”
Last summer, journalist Daphne K. Lee tweeted about a Chinese expression that translates to “Procrastination for revenge in bed.” He described it as staying up late at night to reclaim the freedom we have lost during the day. I have begun to wonder if it is not so much a retaliation against a loss of control as an act of silent defiance against languor. It is a search for happiness on a gloomy day, for connection in a lonely week, or of purpose in a perpetual pandemic.
ANTIDOTE AGAINST LANGUAGE
What can we do about it? A concept called “flow” can be an antidote to languor. The flow is that elusive state of absorption into a significant challenge or momentary bond, in which your sense of time, place and yourself fades. During the early days of the pandemic, the best indicator of well-being was not optimism or mindfulness, but flow. The people who immersed themselves the most in their projects managed to avoid languishing and maintained their pre-pandemic happiness.
A play on words first thing in the morning makes me flow. A late night Netflix binge sometimes works too: it transports you into a story where you feel attached to the characters and care about their well-being.
Although finding new challenges, enjoyable experiences, and meaningful work are possible remedies for languor, it is difficult to find fluency when you cannot concentrate. This was a problem long before the pandemic, when people routinely checked email 74 times a day and switched tasks every 10 minutes. In the last year, Many of us have also been struggling with interruptions from children at home, colleagues around the world, and bosses at all hours.. Meh.
Fragmented care is an enemy of commitment and excellence. In a group of 100 people, only two or three will be able to drive and memorize information at the same time without their performance being affected in one or both tasks. Computers may be made for parallel processing, but humans do better with serial processing.
GIVE YOURSELF A NON-INTERRUPTED TIME
That means you have to set limits. Years ago An Indian Fortune 500 software company tested a simple policy: no downtime on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays before noon. When the engineers managed the limit themselves, 47% had higher than average productivity. But when the company made quiet time an official policy, 65% achieved above-average productivity. Doing more was not only good for performance at work: We now know that the most important factor for joy and motivation daily is the feeling of progress.
I don’t think there is anything magical about Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays before noon. The lesson of this simple idea is to treat uninterrupted blocks of time as treasures to be kept.. It clears constant distractions and gives us the freedom to focus. We can find comfort in experiences that capture our full attention.
FOCUS ON A SMALL GOAL
The pandemic was a great loss. To transcend languor, try starting with small wins, like the tiny triumph of cracking a clue or the rush of playing with a seven-letter word. One of the clearest paths to fluency is a barely manageable difficulty: a challenge that tests your skills and increases your determination. That means dedicate time each day to a challenge that matters to you: an interesting project, a worthwhile goal, a meaningful conversation. Sometimes it is a small step to rediscover some of the energy and enthusiasm that you have missed all these months.
The languor is not only in our heads: it is in our circumstances. A sick culture cannot be cured with personal bandages. We continue to live in a world that normalizes physical health problems but stigmatizes mental health problems. As we enter a new post-pandemic reality, it is time to rethink our understanding of mental health and well-being. “Not being depressed” does not mean that you are not struggling. “Not being burned out” does not mean that you are aroused. By recognizing that many of us languish, we can begin to give voice to silent despair and illuminate a way out of the void.