Are you worn down and unfocused? You’re languishing

A man leans on his table looking sad and looking out his window
During the pandemic and after the murder of George Floyd and a summer of racial unrest, many people feel worn down and unfocused. Mental health experts have a name for it — languishing.
Andrew Neel via Pexels file

The pandemic upended the routines of normal life and, for many people, ushered in a cascade of stress and grief. People lost loved ones and jobs; schools closed; and weddings, funerals and other life milestones were postponed. In the midst of it all came the murder of George Floyd, a summer of social unrest and the trial of Derek Chauvin. It’s been enough to wear us out.

Many people are feeling run down, unfocused and unmotivated. It turns out there’s a name for this state that hovers between true depression and being fully well — it’s called languishing

Host Angela Davis talked to a researcher and a therapist about the toll the pandemic and other stresses of the year have taken on our mental health and what we can do to become more resilient.

“I think a lot of people have been on a roller coaster during this pandemic, and they’re worn down,” said Ann Masten, a psychologist and professor in the Institute of Child Development in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota.

“We shouldn’t expect ourselves to be feeling great when we’re dealing with this kind of unprecedented, slow-rolling disaster,” Masten told Davis.

“Many of us are in a state of grief” over a sense of “ambiguous loss,” said Brandon Jones, a psychotherapist and a director of learning at Alia Innovations.

The pandemic has disrupted our routines, connections and freedom, Jones said, and even the prospect of returning to normal life after the pandemic can bring feelings of awkwardness and anxiety — what he calls “reentry stress.”

“Sometimes our cups run empty,” Jones said. “You can’t bounce back if you’ve given your all in so many different places.”

So how do we refill our cups with energy, hope and motivation?

Masten and Jones encouraged listeners to try new things and find solutions that work for them. They recommended taking action on personal projects and hobbies, volunteering, reaching out to people in your support system, exploring self-care practices and connecting with community or religious organizations.

Masten and Jones also reminded listeners to recalibrate their expectations for themselves and celebrate the small victories in tough times like these.

“It’s normal to go through adversity, and resiliency is possible,” Jones said. “Just the fact that you’ve been able to continue to move forward is a victory in itself.”

Guests:

  • Ann Masten is a psychologist and professor in the Institute of Child Development in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota. Her work focuses on resilience in children and families. 

  • Brandon Jones is a psychotherapist and a director of learning at Alia Innovations, a nonprofit organization working on child welfare system reform. He specializes in adverse childhood experiences and intergenerational trauma.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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