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Not depressed, but aimless, empty, ‘meh’? You may languish

You are not depressed and you do not have a burnout. But you feel aimless, have little concentration and you are not really enthusiastic. That has a name and it is called: withering away. And listen, you’re definitely not the only one struggling with mental health in 2021.

The ‘Meh’ or ‘Bleh feeling’ is what the American psychologist and writer Adam Grant calls it in the New York Times. It is in between being depressed and happy. According to the writer, it is the dominant emotion during the current corona crisis.

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You have too much energy for a burnout and you don’t feel hopeless enough for a depression yet. It is about withering away, or as the author describes it in English languishing. A feeling of stillness and emptiness. The writer highlights the fact that the current pandemic has major consequences for the mental state of humans.

At the beginning of the corona crisis, our brains were still operating from a fear mode. We then apply the principle of fight-or-flight ie fight or flight. We developed ways to relieve that fear, such as wearing a mouth mask or keeping a distance of 1.5 meters. But as the pandemic continues to erode, fear is giving way to withering away.

Between depression and ‘bloom’

According to the author, there is a lot between depression and, as he describes it, ‘bloom’. In psychology you experience a life purpose, personal mastery and the feeling that you matter to others when you blossom. Depression makes you feel despondent, exhausted, and worthless. Wasting away is therefore in between. You have no symptoms of mental illness, but you don’t feel mentally healthy either. You are not functioning optimally.

Sociologist Corey Keyes coined the term languishing within mental health. He predicts that the people who are now languishing will be at high risk for depression and anxiety disorders in the next decade. A new study of Italian health workers also shows that the 2020 ‘wasters’ were three times more likely to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Recognizing withering away

Slipping, deteriorating or weakening. You may not notice it so much with yourself. This means that you do not seek help. You probably know someone who is currently languishing, Grant says.

We often only recognize an emotion if it is given a recognizable name. Grant gives an example in his article in which the feeling surrounding the corona crisis is described as mourning. As a result, we understand our feelings better. With his article, Grant hopes that “ wasters ” will be more likely to recognize that they are wasters.

The writer and psychologist also offers some tips on how best to deal with withering away. Step one, he says, is naming the withering away. He explains that it would be good if we answered the question “How are you?” might say “Frankly, I’m pining.” According to him, you don’t always have to say that it is “Great!” or “Good” goes. As soon as you add withering to your vocabulary, you will increasingly recognize it in your environment.

Tips against withering away

  • ‘Flow’ – This term means that you allow yourself to be carried away by a challenge or connection. Your sense of time, place or yourself then ebbs away. People who immerse themselves in a project prevent them from languishing. This could be a computer game, Netflix series or other hobby.
  • Uninterrupted time and full attention – We do too many things side by side. Humans are not made to do too many things at the same time. Set boundaries, this promotes productivity. And getting more done means a lot to our daily portion of joy and motivation.
  • Focus on a small goal – Focus daily on a challenge that is important to you. An interesting project or a meaningful conversation. Sometimes you only need a small step towards energy and enthusiasm.

Normalize mental health

According to the American psychologist, in our current society we normalize physical health problems, but we stigmatize mental struggles. And according to him we need to change that. Just because you’re not depressed doesn’t automatically mean you’re fine. And if you don’t have a burnout, it doesn’t mean you feel terribly excited. Recognizing that many people are languishing can eventually open up opportunities.

Adam Grant is a psychologist and professor at Wharton University. He wrote the book, among other things Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know and is a writer for the American newspaper The New York Times. He also presents the TED podcast Worklife.

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Not depressed, but aimless, empty, ‘meh’? You may languish


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