• Baxter Bell, MD

Feeling Flat or Uninspired? You are Not Alone!


At a recent outdoor summer gathering, a few of my friends were updating one another on how they have been doing this last year. When things got around to me, I admitted that under the positives of my past year- continuing to be able to work from home sharing yoga and yoga therapy, playing my violin on a daily basis, getting out on the tennis court a few times a week with my sweetie- there was this other reality: a subtle, persistent feeling of emotional flatness and being uninspired. Having been around for a bit over 6 decades now, this is a new phenomenon for me, but one I suspected is not just my response alone to the last 3 years of challenge, change, uncertainty and worry.


In fact, researchers in the fields of psychology, linguistics and other fields have compiled quite a bit of research data on how various groups of people under varying restrictions during the pandemic have fared around the world. Early responses to the pandemic included increased reports of anxiety, sadness, fear and worry, especially worries about family, friends, work and the economy. As the vaccines came on the horizon in 2021, things shifted a bit, with more positive emotional responses, such as relaxation and happiness, but findings were very mixed and not always in the positive direction.(1)


Others in the behavioral health field point out the collective trauma that the world has been through with the COVID19 Pandemic, and that varying degrees of loss have been experienced by so many. And there is a form of grief many may encounter that can lead to something called “languishing”- a state in which the joy of life is subdued. A NYT’s article (2) I came across defines languishing as “a sense of stagnation and emptiness”. It’s not depression or anxiety, but it is a sort of emotional limbo. It lives between the extremes, in mental health world, of depression at one end of the spectrum and flourishing at the other. Now, clinicians, being clinicians, have assigned a “diagnosis” to this state, but that is less relevant to this discussion than what may help relieve this languishing feeling. Turns out the first step in addressing any emotion is just naming it. Languishing. And also it is helpful acknowledging that it is common and we are not alone if in feeling it. Another key may be tapping into or looking for more opportunities to experience “flow”, defined as “a state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away.” Yoga could play a role here! What other possibilities are there?


One source (3) recommended a 4-prong approach:

· Better energy management via sleep hygiene, regular exercise, and offering your best at work and home

· Shifting your mental perspectives via reflection on your beliefs around challenge, maintaining social connection, manage emotions on your own or with help from professionals

· Reconnection to purpose via reflection techniques (meditation mentioned!), focusing on the present moment, and tapping into past experiences where you have overcome adversity

· Maintain your basic self-care habits, including time in nature, eating a healthy diet, make time to read positive stories, assess and prioritize your needs and your close community, and practice calming practices (breathwork mentioned!)


Although I feel reassured that I am on the right track in addressing my own sense of languishing, as I do a number of these things already with some frequency, it is clear that there are areas where I can redirect time and effort towards moving through this period of flatness towards more joie de vivre and re-inspiration. Being in nature this past weekend, for example, seems to have lifted my spirits noticeably. If you have been in this languishing boat as of late, I hope this blog will provide you with some opportunities to both recognize what is going on and step onto a path towards reclaiming your own sense of inspiration and joy.


Resources:

1 Linguistic based study: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-02414-9

2 NYT article on languishing https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/19/well/mind/covid-mental-health-languishing.html

3 Article on Avera website: https://www.avera.org/balance/behavioral-health/feeling-off-from-the-pandemic-youre-not-alone/