The fallout from experiencing this pandemic has had a broad sweep. It has inordinately impacted parents.
Juggling work, social isolation, virtual school for your children, your daily life, safety protocols and possibly illness has created a profound drain. As a result, are you burned out or are you languishing? Does it matter?
First, putting a name to what is going on does matter. Naming it — whether it is a feeling or state of being or circumstance — helps us wrap our heads around it. It gives us something more concrete to consider.
Children putting a name to a feeling is a part of social-emotional learning. They can then recognize it and say, “I feel sad [mad, happy, afraid, embarrassed].” That is the beginning of both an internal and external dialogue that now has a jumping-off place.
Languishing is something new to me. I read about it in a recent New York Times article by author and organizational psychologist Adam Grant. He wrote, “It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: 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.”
Burnout, on the other hand, feels different. In burnout, you may be emotionally exhausted. You may not care at your typical level. You may not be able to summon your usual compassion or empathy. You may feel that nothing you do has any significance or impact. There is a weariness to it, yet you may not feel aimless or empty.
Once you name it, what do you do?
With burnout, you address your stress. You complete what Emily and Amelia Nagoski call “the stress cycle” in their book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. You run, cry, hug, interact, laugh, connect or find a way of creative expression. This allows the stress to leave your body.
With languishing, you find flow. As Adam Grant wrote, “A concept called ‘flow’ may be an antidote to languishing. 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 their projects managed to avoid languishing and maintained their pre-pandemic happiness.”
A friend of mine who is an artist has loved nothing more than going into her studio during the last year and a half. She has produced a tremendous body of work. She found her flow by immersing herself in her art.
Grant also suggested allowing yourself uninterrupted time. Make it a rule. Work on something at set times of the day without interruption — no checking emails, no making or answering phone calls, no scrolling through social media — and see the sense of accomplishment you feel. That brings greater joy and satisfaction.
Grant closed by saying, “Languishing is not merely in our heads — it’s in our circumstances. As we head into a new post-pandemic reality, it’s time to rethink our understanding of mental health and well-being. ‘Not depressed’ doesn’t mean you’re not struggling. ‘Not burned out’ doesn’t mean you’re fired up. By acknowledging that so many of us are languishing, we can start giving voice to quiet despair and lighting a path out of the void.”