Languishing: 'The Neglected Middle Child of Mental Health'

Languishing: 'The Neglected Middle Child of Mental Health'
Languishing: 'The Neglected Middle Child of Mental Health'

By Pippa Gresham, School Counsellor

How many of us are bumping into friends and colleagues and being stopped in our tracks, baffled by answering the simple question of 'How are you?' Perhaps you try and find the words but are resigned to a non-committal shrug, a slow exhale of breath or an arch of the eye-brows with an unconvincing, 'Fine...?'

What we are perhaps searching for is a way to say that we don't feel terrible, nothing concrete is wrong, and we are not diagnosed depressed, but we are a long way from feeling buoyant, upbeat and flourishing. When you are used to this state it can become a normal sense of being and so we perhaps stop questioning it and it lies dormant.

In a recent New York Times' article, Adam Grant attributes this state of stagnation, emptiness, 'muddling through... and looking at your life through a foggy windshield...' as 'languishing'. It may not be all the time but there may be frequent periods where that description rings true. Grant goes on to say that, 'languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health... the void between depression and flourishing - the absence of wellbeing'. So, if we are to look at our own mental health as if it were a sulky, over-whelmed and attention-needing child we should, by rights, be giving it the attention it deserves.

You may wish to ask yourself, how much have you noticed these thoughts recently and do you need to treat them with more respect? Your spark, focus and motivation may need a boost because research shows that this can decrease the likelihood of you slipping into more concerning zones of frequent low moods, fragile tempers and perhaps more alarming behaviour changes.

Keeping to a fluent routine and incorporating fulfilling challenges encourages us to feel held with a nourishing intention to keep moving forward. This does not have to mean huge lifestyle shifts, learning new skills or conquering Everests. In fact, it is much better if it is manageable and accessible to you easily, otherwise it could end in more disappointment. It is the immersion in these activities that transport us mentally and emotionally to another time and place, just for a little while. Books can help us move to this place; great movies or TV series or getting out into nature. In noticing which social media applications don't bring you joy, and replacing them with injections of calm, beauty and health are all simple places to start.

In short we are looking for anything that absorbs, captivates and urges us to forget about our mounting 'to do' lists, emails and work deadlines. Some may find meditation, mindfulness or breathing a natural answer but for others it may come through journaling, gentle uninterrupted walking, baking or leafing through coffee table books with beautiful art or photography.

By carving out short and regular check-ins during protected time periods, it will likely increase your ability to regulate and recharge. These opportunities are enough to quiet some of the invasive thoughts and reframe our languishing narrative to that of growth and progress by celebrating the small wins.