Recently, each day when I sit down to write a new blog, I end up feeling empty, exhausted, and uninspired. In the past, I’ve been energetic, enthusiastic, and full of ideas. I find myself wondering if there’s something wrong with me. What has changed? Am I depressed?

As a Mental Health Professional for over 30 years, I know what to do. I whip out the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and look up the well-documented symptoms of depression. I carefully consider each symptom, but no, I’m not clinically depressed.

So, knowing that something is not right but without a clinical diagnosis, I kept at it – researching various articles and scientific papers. And then I came across something that spoke to me and gave name and definition to my present state. I’m not depressed; I’m languishing!

The studies in Positive Psychology describe my lethargy to a tee:

”Languishing” is used to describe a mental state that may make it hard for you to feel positive about your life. People who feel this way lack the same joy they once had. They may feel a general lack of mental well-being, but they do not have depression or other diagnosed mental health conditions.

I began to wonder if this is common. Maybe I am not alone in my languishing state. I took to my Facebook page and posted this definition for my friends and followers to read. I asked, “Is anyone else languishing lately?”

I wanted to know more about how others were coping and if languishing was a widespread concern. In return, I received a lot of engagement with that post. People wrote:

• I’m exhausted all the time.
• I’m languished to bits.
• This is an exact description of how I feel.
• I’m depleted.
• I’m working harder than ever but bored and restless.
• I thought I was just lazy, indecisive, bored, and lacked ambition.

When faced with these honest and forthright answers, I started to review the stories I’ve heard in my therapy practice with individuals and couples during the past two years with a new lens. I’ve noted more anxiety, more depression, and more angst in individuals. With couples, it seems that they are arguing more, needing space, and divorcing at higher rates. What if we are all “languishing”?

I had been blaming most of these changes in our emotional and mental well-being on the Pandemic. We have been faced with unprecedented changes in our lifestyles and careers, loss, illness, constant decision-making about safety and best practices, lack of connection, and even death of loved ones.

As I thought further about life in recent years, I could easily identify many other factors contributing, as well. This is not an exhaustive list, but that fact alone is not comforting. Other issues we are facing include:

• The threats to our democracy
• Systemic Racism
• The disdain and disrespect we have for our fellow beings
• Animal cruelty and extinction
• Injustice
• The Climate Crisis
• The economy, unemployment, poverty, homelessness
• Neighborhood crime

We also have personal lives with daily ups and downs and real-time personal crises with which to deal.

Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner wrote an article in which they talk about societal exhaustion. Is exhaustion a root cause of our languishing? Are we overwhelmed with the threats inherent in the issues we’ve been made to face? When life as we know it is threatened, our brains react by going into fight or flight mode. When we cannot get away and cannot win by fighting, we shut down, freeze, or even collapse. Perhaps this is what languishing is all about.

For me, it’s not enough to know what’s going on. I also wanted to look at some possible remedies to our feelings of malaise and discontent. I informally polled my Facebook followers for their strategies to re-energize themselves. Among the solutions, people said that they need:

• Positive interactions with others
• Nature
• Art
• Healthy Food
• Positive intentions
• Goal setting
• Social Connections
• Focus on appreciation
• Taking breaks
• Self-Care
• Physical Touch

There is a lot of wisdom in this list. If you are privileged enough to take a break, to rest, you should prioritize it. There’s a reason why so many of the world’s religions have a built-in day of rest and reflection.

I would love to hear about your experiences of languishing and your strategies to feel more alive. Eventually, and hopefully soon, we will be returning to our lives. I’m guessing that they will look different than before 2020. Whatever emerges, I wish us all less languishing!

Author's Bio: 

Mary Kay Cocharo, LMFT has been working with couples and families for over 30 years in her private practice in West Los Angeles. She is deeply passionate about helping couples improve their communication skills, deepen their connection, resolve conflict and rediscover the joy of being together. She offers weekly sessions, Private and Group Intensives and Workshops for Couples. She is active in preparing engaged couples for marriage through several different formats, including The FOCCUS Premarital Inventory and Start Right, Stay Connected Workshops. Her Ebook entitled, 8 Essential Topics to Discuss Before Saying I Do, is available on her website.

Mary Kay has two Advanced Certifications in Couples Therapy: Imago Relationship Therapy and Encounter-Centered Couples Therapy. She also has training in the Gottman Method and Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.

Mary Kay is happily married in an intimate relationship and is the mother of three grown children. She also plays an ongoing role in being a teacher and mentor to new couples therapists, students and interns as they learn and practice their art of connection.

Mary Kay is an active member of the California Association for Marriage and Family Therapists, Los Angeles Chapter of California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, IMAGO Relationship Institute, and the Southern California Imago Therapy Association, and founder of The Conversation Group in Los Angeles.