Oct. 13, 2021

Are You Languishing or Are You Depressed?

Are You Languishing or Are You Depressed?
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This episode is about not really feeling yourself but you're not really sure what's going on. Before you decide you are depressed, especially if you have never been diagnosed with depression, perhaps you are just languishing.  Listen for the characteristics of languishing and see it that's how you are feeling. Then listen to the tips to stop languishing.

Corey Keyes 2002 Article

Better Help

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I want to talk about languish today – or more specifically. The mental state of languishing. It’s been coming up more and more in conversations not only with my clients but also in casual conversations with friends and family.  

These conversations start with comments like:

I don’t feel myself. 

I feel out of sorts. 

I’m in a funk. 

I have no motivation. 

I don’t feel like me but I can’t put my finger on why. 

These are common phrases that come with languishing. But they are also common phrases that come with more serious mental health diagnoses. That is why we are going to talk about it. 

Languish became a term more commonly used in sociology/psychology and academia in 2002 when sociologist Corey Keyes wrote an article on languishing versus flourishing in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior

However, I’m sure Languishing has been around since the beginning of time. So if that’s the case, if it’s been around why has it become such a hot topic now and why are so many people living in this state of mind right now?  

It makes sense -  for the first time ever, we are all, as a global community experienced the same shutdown, the same shift from our normal life to one that was at least for a while of isolation, we’ve all had rules and restrictions put on us.  

And because what we are going thru is global, We can go anywhere to get away from it or get a break. Pretty much the entire world shut down in mid-March of 2020. For the most part, we were told to go home from our jobs or school and stay there for two weeks while this virus blows over. Two weeks ended up being significantly longer than that. The date lockdown ended was different for all of us. And was are still not back to what we considered normal before all this happened. 

Companies had to scramble to make it possible to operate as close to business as usual as possible. Schools from kindergarten to college were forced to very quickly design a work from home protocol. A worldwide work and school from home culture took over.  

For some people, their organization’s strategy meant being laid off, furloughed, or forced into early retirement. Many businesses were forced to close. A great number of people were required to do their job isolated in their homes. And for a significant number of people that meant together with their entire family in the same fate. For me, it was two adults working full time and three college students all trying to work and carry on zoom sessions simultaneously.  

Those with young children needed to work AND home school and take care of their children at the same time. All of this happened quickly and without a rule book. We were all reacting as new information and misinformation hit us daily. 

For some people, Fear became part of their everyday lives. But for all of us, the unknown of what was next became our reality. And, since we all were and still are going through this together as a global community, there was no place to go to escape it. Borders were closed and tourism was shut down.  

It is not surprising that mental illness, addictions, relapses, abuse among other things have ramped up and become frequent topics of conversation. As a world, we are still not back to what we once called normal.  

So how does languishing come in and why do I want to make a point to talk about it? Because languishing is a real side effect of what we are still working through. It’s showing up in large proportions and when you don’t understand how you are feeling it can be scary. Perhaps you are worrying in silence, and that is not a fun place to be. 

Languishing can be mistaken for depression – especially when you are self-diagnosing. You might be feeling like you’re depressed and if depression has never been part of your history you might be feeling scared, lost, or confused.  

By talking about languishing hopefully, you can relax by putting a label on how you're feeling and make some changes to get back to feeling like yourself. So were going to talk about what languishing is vs depression and get into some strategies to get out of languishing.  

Doing the work to make a shift.  That’s the important part. 

In so many instances having an answer, even if it’s a diagnosis of some sort, can be a relief, because now you know what you are dealing with, and you have a direction towards healing. For me, for most of my years in school, through high school, I struggled, then in college I learned I was dyslexic. Putting a label on it was a relief. I was able to put a name to it and implement skills and techniques that worked for my brain.  

Nobody wants to be diagnosed with something, but it’s better than the unknown. And if we're talking about a medical diagnosis of some sort, it is best to know what that diagnosis is so you can make a plan. Whatever you are dealing with whether it be mental illness or something else going on with your body, Something that doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t go away because you ignore it or because a doctor didn’t diagnose you.  

It's important to recognize when you are not feeling right and do something about it, take care of yourself physically and mentally, especially right now, if you’re not feeling yourself in any way shape, or form, get help. 

So let's talk about languish essentially languishing is the opposite of flourishing or thriving. Thriving and flourishing is when a person has positive emotions and energy towards life and the circumstances in their life. Languish is a state of mind, not a mental illness diagnosis.  

It’s important to know that there are mental illness diagnoses, and there are temporary states of mind we can get stuck in. Languishing is a state of mind where you experience a lack of feeling positive emotions with the absence of a mental health diagnosis or in some cases when you do have a mental health diagnosis, but you have that condition under control.  

If you are not functioning well socially, mentally, or physiologically when you usually do. If you would describe yourself as feeling numb, in a funk, empty or unmotivated when you normally are. If you feel you are losing sight of or no longer operating with your full potential. These are all indicators that you are languishing. If you personally have not experienced anxiety and/or depression outside situational depression or anxiety, you might begin to assuming you now have depression or are in a state of depression, but that might not actually be the case for you.  You might begin to think that way because you were never introduced to the concept of languishing. 

Let’s talk about some key indicators of languish Keep in mind, as with most things, each of us will experience languishing differently. Listen and see if you recognize these feelings or behaviors in yourself. Then we will talk about taking steps to get out from under them before depression does sets in.  

So, Indicators:

1.   Wanting to be isolated or alone - which is ironic, since being isolated and alone is what can contribute to languishing. Especially right now. Are you no longer interested in going out with friends? I know going out with friends was not something we could do for a long while, but in most places, it is no longer prohibited someplace have restrictions like size or gathering or masks required – I know this podcast is listened to in quite a variety of countries and I am not absolutely sure of the restriction all over the world, So take into consideration your level of ability to socialize when addressing this point. If socializing is not allowed or it's too difficult given your restrictions or circumstances, then consider, do you miss being social, or are you relieved? Ask yourself: has your attitude, behaviors, or emotions towards people or social events changed? 

2.   No motivation – Are you feeling like you’re in autopilot mode? – having no real motivation towards a specific goal or challenging activity. The whole “groundhogs day” phenomenon of wakeup do the same things as yesterday, go to bed and do it all over again – rinse and repeat. And you have no interest or don’t take any steps to break the monotonous cycle. 

3.   Feeling Numb – so not really sad, but not really upset or unhappy either, more disconnected and uninterested. Lacking excitement or motivation. Your mood is pretty stagnant, nothing brings you up or down, you’re just hanging out there, somewhere in the middle. Feeling a sense of being disconnected from either life, your interests, or the people around you.  

4.   Questioning self – low self-worth – not really sure what your goals are or what you are contributing that’s of worth – and maybe not even caring about that anymore anyway. No interest in growing or accomplishing anything. No connection to your purpose in life or the things that used to excite you. 

5.   Struggling – daily tasks that you previously would do without question – even things like basic hygiene, showering regularly or brushing teeth staying in your pajamas or sweats and for women with your hair and makeup (if you wear makeup) undone. 

None of these are priorities. You are not interested in things that used to relax you or bring you joy – like hobbies or passions, you feel indifferent towards or lack the energy to engage in them.  

Tik Tok has become your favorite place to be. 

6.   Restlessness - Even though there is an overall lack of motivation and energy, when you do have energy there is a feeling of not knowing what to do with it. Like you’re running in circles and accomplishing nothing. You feel unsettled but not quite anxious. Focus is an issue when it usually isn’t.  

7.   Not engaging – dropping the ball on deadlines or work responsibilities. No fully present or paying attention to the conversation.

You can argue that these sound close to depression or burnout - yes they do, these can all have the same or similar elements. The point is to know it is okay if you are feeling this way, that it is a normal reaction to what we are all living through right now. Again, especially if depression or other mental illnesses have not been part of who you are so far in your life. 

If you are not feeling yourself and you see yourself in some or all of these indicators, I am talking about this so you don’t start self-diagnosing and worrying that you are suffering from depression. But you do need to be aware that if you do not address your feelings of languish, you can slip into depression. 


So let's talk about the difference between languishing and depressions 

– depression is a mental illness diagnosis and languishing is more a state of mind or state of being. Depression is more about extreme sadness of having feelings of despair that are long-term and not situational. Languish is not sadness – sadness is different than just feeling down or unmotivated.  With languish, you just don’t feel yourself and can’t put your finger on it.   Because people who experience Languishing do not suffer from anxiety or depression or have it under control it can be scary because feeling this way is foreign to them, and you might silently start worrying about what is wrong with you, wrong is in air quotes…. Cause nothing is wrong with you.  

However, the reverse is also possible, you might actually be depressed and not take it seriously. It’s important to understand whether you are languishing or if you have depression.  

On another note, burnout can have the same traits, however, burnout is more in line with the aftermath of a mental or physical collapse it’s usually the result of something that’s been wearing on you long and hard like you were constantly running to keep up with something, but it eventually caught up with you and it took it toll on you and you breakdown.  

This is usually more related to stressors from your work environment. – so this is not to say that this last year and a half cannot have lead to burnout, it certainly could have, it’s just different than languish.


With languishing, You might have times where you are feeling anxious, or you’re worried about your state of mind and lack of motivation, this is all part of life and a normal reaction to stress – which this last year and a half have been, no matter your circumstances, what is happening in our world is stressful, the inconsistency of information and the arguments and outright vicious fights and insults over what the right thing to do regarding a variety of topics that are affecting our world right now - that is all very stressful.  

Then add to all that your job or financial situation, or family situation through all this… languish is all a normal reaction to life as we know it right now. The unknown and possible fear of the future can feel very real. 

So how do we regain control, reconnect with ourselves so languish does not turn into something more? The key is finding your way back to your true self a way back to actually living your life and not simply existing.  

Keep in mind, Just because you don’t have a mental illness diagnosis or you think you have it under control does not mean you are in a good place mentally. This is why it’s important to pay close attention to your state of mind.  

How we handle situations is essential in our mental health meaning how we respond to what’s happening in our environment is what creates stressors that can lead to mental strain, which can then lead to mental or physical illnesses.  

Being aware of what is happening, and finding ways to cope that don’t lead us down the road of languish or anxiety or depression is key. Having a worldwide shift in the normal routine of life, as well as being limited by the number of activities we can do or places we can go can certainly contribute to feelings of languish. and as of right now, things are still not back to normal. Although we can go places and do things, there are still restrictions and conditions, and having that hoovering over us – that alone can lead to mental unease.  

It is critical that you don’t take this information and conclude that all you are dealing with is languish and all is good in the land… Because languish can lead to more serious conditions - you might not have experienced depression or anxiety in your life and now you are feeling symptoms that could very well just be languish.  

However, you may have passed through languishing onto depression.

Here are some things to try to get out of your cycle of languishing, if these do not help you, there is a possibility you are dealing with depression and not languish. 

Okay, here we go… 

1.   Talk – ask for help, talk to friends and family about how you are feeling, talking, saying what you are feeling out loud is always helpful. Inside, in our own minds issues can seem monumental, but once you say them out loud to people you trust, once they are out in the vastness of the universe, you will see it becomes so much smaller.  

You will find that no matter what you are dealing with, you are not the first person to ever deal with that issue … which should be a comfort, you are not alone, and there is a way through how you are feeling.  

2.   Do something physical with your body – walk, workout, build a birdhouse, anything – this causes you to break through the lack of motivation that comes with languishing – to get from sitting and doing nothing to taking a walk, working out, or creating something leads to a sense of accomplishment and self-worth – all things we lose when we are in a state of languishing. Seeing what our mind and body are capable of doing when they work together can be very rewarding. Just giving yourself credit for moving is an accomplishment in itself. And bonus points when you start pushing yourself and your body to places you haven’t pushed it before. Pay attention to what you are eating and drinking and have healthy sleep habits. Have some or all of these changed in the last year and a half? 

3.   Practice self-love – give yourself a break, but stop giving yourself permission. Let go of the time you have wasted already and promise you will work hard at not wasting anymore. If you were talking to a friend, you would talk with empathy and encouragement, do the same when you are talking inward.  

Be connected to who you are and what you are doing, what you want out of life, and how you want to feel about yourself. If you are not taking steps to honor those things, start taking steps in those directions now. Now that you’re aware and now that you see there are ways to stop feeling this way.  

4.   Get outside your environment – plan a trip if you feel comfortable doing that. If you are working from home you might feel like the 4 walls of your home are closing in on you –finds ways to incorporate the desires of the positive region of your brain: exploration, curiosity and creativity -- our bodies and minds need these to feel alive and fulfilled. Maybe change up your house, rearrange the furniture put some new paint on the walls even remodel if you’re up for it and it won’t cause financial strain. 

5.   Get outside your world – read books this is a way to explore other places, hear stories, get to know other people, without leaving your home. Listen to podcasts, read or listen to things help you see you are not alone, that what you are feeling is a direct result of what our world is all going through together right now. 

Find a way to be less self-focused, maybe volunteer to help others less fortunate. Try something new, expand your horizons and challenge yourself.  

6.   Practice mindfulness. When I say this a lot of people think I mean meditation and get turned off – so not specifically meditation, that can be a tool in mindfulness, but mindfulness is really about being in each moment as you are experiencing that moment, eliminate the stressors or thoughts that are not relevant to this moment. Really connect to where you are in each moment and don’t let the thoughts that don’t belong there to take over your brain.  

7.   Journaling can be a tool in keeping yourself in the moment, it can also help you express how you are feeling and how you are reacting to your situation, remember stress comes from how you react and respond to things that are happening – not from what is happening.  

Reconnect with your definition of what flourishing or thriving means to you, to your life, where was your life heading? Maybe it’s time to refocus and get back on your path, or maybe it’s time for you to see it wasn’t your correct route to happiness and fulfillment and it’s time to find your true calling so a life defined by thriving and flourishing can become something you identify with.  

Remember when you have a goal, each step you make to get to that goal is an accomplishment that should be celebrated, these steps should bring you happiness and fulfillment, achieving the goal is just the icing on the cake.  

8.   Stay connected – maintain your relationships keep in touch with people, don’t allow yourself to slowly and quietly fade into the background. Languishing makes you feel like you want to isolate and disconnect, fight that feeling and stay connected. Go out if you can and if you feel comfortable reconnect with people – even if it is over Zoom. 

9.   Get back to your life, especially if you are working from home, get up and do your morning routine like you used to, shower, shave, do your hair put on makeup, stop dressing in sweats, or staying in your pajamas. If you were laid off and are looking for a job, then I highly recommend doing this. It will help you be more motivated and determined when faced with the stressors of job search.  

All in all - The concept to take note of is “permanent state of mind” are you just in a funk and not feeling yourself and you don’t have a previous mental illness diagnosis? Then you are most likely languishing.  If you have shifted to a new permanent way of thinking and feeling that is defined by negativity and sadness it is a good idea to talk to a professional. If you are feeling out of sorts implement some or all of the strategies suggested, if they do not help and you still feel lost, or especially if your thoughts have shifted to those of deep unhappiness or self-harm, please seek professional help. Don’t suffer alone with the thoughts in your head. Thoughts are not facts. 

So, bottom line, if you don’t have a history of mental illness or you have your mental illness under control, and you identify with this conversation around languishing, it is understandable and normal, given our global circumstances right now. There are a lot of people feeling this way, you are not alone, but now you know what it’s called and have steps to stop feeling this way.  

Wallowing in languish is not a good place to be, we need to take care of our mental well-being this means protecting our state of mind. Implement the strategies I talk about and get back to yourself. But, If that doesn’t work or if you currently feel more in line with sadness or dread, talk to someone.  

If you have a diagnosed mental illness whether it is under control or not, and you are feeling out of sorts don’t assume that it’s just languish take care of yourself, seek help, talk to someone. If you don’t have anyone to talk to or you don’t want to leave your house yet, there are online resources like “Better Help” – professional therapists online you can find them at Betterhelp.com.

My name is Wendy Pilcher and I thank you for listening to this episode of Identify and conquer, I hope this helps you see the difference between languish, depression, and burnout, if you are still not sure where you fall, reach out for help. 

You can also go to my community at changing my brain. Com to continue this conversation. You can see the various ways you can talk with me or work with me listed there. Connect with me on Instagram @identifyandconquer You can support this show by buying me a coffee, the link is in my show notes.