Depression and anxiety are probably two of the most notable and visible topics in mental health today. However, there’s one mood that practitioners are taking a closer look at this year – languishing.

Fueled by the social and economic disruption caused by the global pandemic, more Singaporeans have been languishing. In this New York Times article, Adam Grant describes it as, “A sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield”. It’s not quite depression but it can eventually lead to it if left unchecked according to this journal article from Corey Keyes.

A lot of it has to do with the abrupt halt to most of the things we’ve grown accustomed to. The past year has put a stop on a lot of the things we use to cope with everyday life such as social interactions. Other avenues for blowing off steam like going to the movies, dining in at a favorite restaurant can no longer be relied on because of the threat of COVID. More generally, we’re no longer able to cope with the stressors because of what our principal consultant psychologist in Singapore Sue Ann Han calls extended period of ambiguous adjustment in a recently concluded panel.

How Does Languishing Affect Us?

People who are languishing are typically unmotivated, unfocused, and unproductive. And as Singapore slowly transitions back from the Circuit Breaker measures, this state of languish isn’t the most ideal.

It’s important to hit the ground running after the catastrophe that is 2020. But, when people are in a state of languish, this fast restart won’t be possible. And unfortunately, languishing doesn’t have an off switch. It can take time and a whole lot of effort to get out of this frame of mind. Especially in a challenging time of ambiguous adjustment, we can get caught up in our emotions.

How the State of Flow Can Help Deal with Languishing

Luckily, Singaporeans have the option to be proactive about languishing. The effective vaccination programs have already brought some industries back to operational. This can go a long way in reintroducing a semblance of normalcy back into our lives which should eventually lift our collective moods.

But if you’re looking to get out of the feeling of being stuck in a rut as soon as possible, then there are a couple of things that you could try. An important concept recently made famous by psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jeanne Nakamura is the flow state and it can help in beating the feeling of languishing.

It’s a state of mind wherein your focus is so intense that there’s barely anything else that can enter your stream of thoughts. In the flow state, the mind’s typical chatter fades into the background putting you in a zone where nothing distracts you. In some instances, even physical pain, fatigue, and hunger can’t affect you when you’re in the flow state.

Both Nakamura and Csikszentmihalyi theorize that a smaller scale of the state of flow can be purposely achieved. The trick is to string together small wins and set yourself up with a period of uninterrupted focus.

Setting Yourself Up for Small Wins

To get out of languishing, we must be able to settle for small wins. This means setting out for small but meaningful tasks that are easy to accomplish. This sense of accomplishment should propel you to successfully execute bigger challenges later on.

If, for example, your goal is to start exercising but can’t find the enthusiasm to do so, you may want to reframe your mindset into thinking that the simple act of putting on workout clothes to be a small victory. Later on, you might just naturally progress into actually going out for a quick walk.

You don’t necessarily have to do something related to your goals to achieve your small wins. For some people, finishing a full episode of their favorite TV show can count as a small victory. It has a lot to do with managing the difficulty of your activities. Make sure that you set out for something that you know you can achieve immediately. The important thing here is to achieve some kind of small win with the aim of making it snowball in to bigger and bigger accomplishments.

Uninterrupted Time

Of course, you can’t aim for small wins forever. You need to naturally progress to more difficult tasks. It’s won’t be easy, but in a lot of cases, it only takes some time to be able to focus on a challenging undertaking.

At this stage, it’s important to set some time aside for uninterrupted focus for the tasks you’re setting out to do. The Pomodoro Technique is a great example of this. The Pomodoro Technique requires people to give a task their undivided opinion for a set duration of time. This entails breaking down a huge task into smaller chunks and working on it piece by piece. While you’re on the clock for a specific chunk, there are absolutely no kind of distractions allowed. During this period not even related problems from other chunks of the main task but isn’t yet part of the piece of the task you’re working on are allowed to creep in.

The key here is to set clear boundaries both physical and mental. This means removing things you don’t need for the particular task from your work station and clearing your mind from clutter through a quick meditation. During this period of uninterrupted time, deliberately ask your housemates and family for some private time to focus if needed.

How Adelphi Psych Medicine Clinic Can Help

It’s important to remember that languishing is a natural state to be in especially in these uncertain times. None of us know when we might be able to give our loved ones a hug or interact with our friends normally again without the threat of giving them COVID-19 and these thoughts naturally lead to this particular mood. The good thing is that there are steps that we could take to get ourselves out of it.

And if, for some reason, you just can’t get out of it on your own, please do remember that there are psychologists in Singapore that are equipped to help you through it. The roster of psychiatrist and psychologists at the mental health clinic of Adelphi Psych Medicine, for example are experts in some treatment that might be able to help with languishing such as Art Therapy and EMDR.