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Are We There Yet? vol. 58

As more and more people get vaccinated and the world starts to open up, many have hopes for a return to normal. Normal activities and possibly normal emotions.   If you have been having difficulties focusing on tasks or some level of apathy about things that used to excite you, you are not alone.  

Adam Grant, the author of Think Again, notes that there is a term for the feelings I describe above: languishing.  He wrote an article in the New York Times on Monday called “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing.”  Languishing is “a sense of stagnation and emptiness.  It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield.  And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.”  I think that part of the reason it could dominate our emotions has to do with our expectations.  I feel that most of us reacted to the pandemic with action.  We were in a fight and we needed to react and fight against it.   Now, we have expectations that a return to normal is just around the corner but it seems to be an elusive corner.

“Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health.  It’s the void between depression and flourishing – the absence of well-being.  You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either.  You’re not functioning at full capacity.” Grant further adds the “part of the danger is that when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive.  You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference.  When you can’t see your own suffering, you don’t seek help or even do much to help yourself.”

What can we do if we identify that we or someone we know is languishing?  First, just putting a name to it and acknowledging that we are not alone in feeling this way is helpful.  Grant notes that an antidote to languishing is to create flow in our lives. “Flow is that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away.   During the early days of the pandemic, the best predictor of well-being wasn’t optimism or mindfulness – it was flow.   People who became more immersed in the projects managed to avoid languishing and maintained their pre-pandemic happiness.”

How can we help ourselves?  It seems like trying to create “flow” can be one solution or, at least, help. Think about identifying something you like to do or something that you used to like to do and give yourself the freedom to do it.  It could be working on a puzzle in the middle of the day, painting or sculpting, gardening or even just binge-watching a series on Netflix, Prime or Hulu as a small escape.  Consider writing a blog.  It’s certainly helped me. But, most of all, cut yourself some slack for feeling the way you do right now.  As I noted earlier, you’re not alone.

This week’s selection is:

BOOK or MOVIE:

Lenox Hill (Netflix)

An intimate look at the lives of four doctors -- two brain surgeons, an emergency room physician, and a Chief Resident OBGYN -- as they navigate the highs and lows of working at the renowned Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. With extraordinary access and an unflinching eye, the series shows each physician's struggle to balance their personal and professional lives, and delves into each patient's personal journey. From birth to brain surgery, each case offers a rare inside look at the complex, fascinating, and emotional world of medicine.