Here's How The Pandemic Is Really Affecting Your Mental Health

If you've been locked up, working from home, and/or unable to do the things you normally enjoy doing for the last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, we wouldn't blame you if you might be feeling a bit down. But if you're feeling as though your get-up-and-go got up and left a while back, that could be a sign that something else is going on.

"Languishing" might be a word used in Victorian romance novels to describe unhappy heroines, but it's very much a thing these days, and according to Adam Grant, University of Pennsylvania professor of management and psychology, it could also be what many are going through after more than a year of living with COVID-19. "Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness," he wrote (via The New York Times). "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."

There is a biochemical explanation for languishing

Professor Adam Grant points out that it is likely that many of us opened the door to languishing — which sits in the middle of depression and flourishing — after the initial panic surrounding the coronavirus pandemic first struck. During the early days of the pandemic, our brain's fight or flight instincts were in full force, and we found ways of coping with the threat of disease that could provide a level of comfort. But that panic, at least for a number of individuals, eventually gave way to what he describes as a "chronic condition of languish" as the panic receded, but the pandemic wore on (via The New York Times).

Languishing can also be positioned as the "pandemic blues," because, as psychologist Sheila Forman points out, few of us were prepared for the pandemic to carry on for as long as it has. "At first, for some, it was a welcome respite from the daily grind," she told Health. "But as time went on and the realities of the pandemic sunk in, what started as a nice way to spend some time became our lives and with it a heightened sense of sadness, loneliness, and depression." Languishing is most likely to hit extroverted people, because they get their energy from being in a crowd.

Languishing can lead to depression

If we don't think languishing is a thing, consider this. Back in 2003, Emory College sociology professor Corey L. M. Keyes defined languishing as "[a] state in which an individual is devoid of positive emotion toward life, and is not functioning well either psychologically or socially, and has not been depressed during the past year." As a result, Keyes points out that those who are "languishing" are neither mentally ill nor mentally healthy (via APA PsychNet).

One of the dangers of languishing is that you don't realize that you're not your best self, neither do you realize that your mental condition could be worsening, which is why the condition can be so insidious. In a separate research article published by the American Journal of Public Health, Corey L.M. Keyes noted that a shift in the level of mental health accurately predicted a decline in mental health.

Mental health experts say there is an escape from languishing, and it starts with taking care of yourself by staying physically healthy and staying in touch with both family and friends (via Health). Professor Adam Grant also suggests taking up tasks that call for uninterrupted time and allow you to focus on something that matters to you. It may not sound like much, but it could help you rediscover the energy and joy that you might have lost over the last year as a result of pandemic lockdowns (via The New York Times).