What’s this dull feeling that has you lying in bed, doomscrolling, or feeling uninterested or unenthusiastic about anything?
Click start to play today’s Spell It, where we try to figure out what’s making us feel ‘dull’ and how to get out of it.
It’s not burnout – you are likely still energetic when you need to be. It’s not depression, since you likely don’t feel completely hopeless. It might just be a sense of joylessness and aimlessness, or what social scientists are calling ‘languishing’.
According to a report in US-based news website The New York Times, languishing was the dominant emotion of 2021, and many people have experienced it at some point or the other over the last year, too. A feeling of stagnation and emptiness, it can feel like you’re just going through the motions in your daily life, or looking at your days through a foggy windshield.
In mental health terms, if depression is on one end of the spectrum and flourishing – the peak of wellbeing – is on the other, then languishing is right in the middle. It’s when you’re not working at full capacity, and you find that your ability to focus has been disrupted, and your motivation has been dulled.
So, now that there’s finally a name to this untethered feeling, what can we do about it?
One antidote seems to be a concept called ‘flow’. It’s an elusive state, where you completely immerse yourself in a meaningful challenge or a temporary bond – and in which, your sense of place, time and self just melts away.
According to a November 2020 study published in the online journal PLOS One, during the beginning of the pandemic, those who were able to maintain a flow state – by immersing themselves in projects – were able to avoid languishing and maintain their pre-pandemic levels of happiness far longer than those who didn’t.
Some ways to capture this state include a late-night Netflix binge, a morning puzzle, or a refreshing run. Anything that gets you out of ‘meh’ mode into another, more positive state.
Another way to avoid languishing is to set boundaries and give yourself some uninterrupted time. Dozens of studies show that a sense of progress is an important factor in daily joy and motivation – but this cannot happen if you don’t dedicate time to it. By clearing out constant distractions, and giving yourself peak moments of focus, you can dedicate your complete attention to projects, hobbies, or tasks, and find relief in the results.
Finally, focus on small goals to beat the feeling of languishing. Start with small wins, like figuring out a seven-letter word in today’s Spell It. According to the 1992 psychological and social research book, Ambition: How We Manage Success and Failure Throughout Our Lives, one of the best ways of achieving flow is by setting yourself challenges with ‘just-manageable difficulty’ levels. These challenges test your skills and build your resolve, helping you take small steps towards rediscovering some of the energy and enthusiasm you lost along the way.