- Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness.
- Being a parent while experiencing these feelings can be exceptionally difficult.
- Research suggests that most people will recover once the coronavirus pandemic ends.
The sound of my alarm clock is torture. Lately, I’ve ignored it more than I care to admit. Some days I even get back in bed after the kids start school. We’re 15 months into the pandemic and I have no energy, I can’t focus, and I’m unmotivated. I have a serious case of the blahs. And it feels really lonely.
Despite the fact that things are starting to open, a vast majority of my time is still spent at home. With my kids. Feeling blah. Making a couple of PB&J sandwiches feels like a huge project. The sink seems like it’s always filled with dirty dishes, no matter how often I clean them. I’m not sure when I last changed the sheets on the top bunk. And if given the choice, I’ll pick staying home over going out every time. I assumed this is just something I’m going through right now, but I quickly discovered I am not the only one.
I called a friend. “I’m so over this,” she told me.
“Over what?” I asked.
“Everything,” she said. “I’m over everything.”
That sounds about right. Another friend told me that it’s not that he’s feeling sad, it’s just that he doesn’t feel happy. Someone else reported that she’s not excited about anything. Every day feels the same.
It turns out this is all pretty normal. Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School, points out that this experience has a name: languishing. “Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness,” he writes. “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.”
According to Grant, languishing doesn’t just show up one day. The pandemic is the perfect breeding ground for it. “Part of the danger is that when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive,” he says. “You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference. When you can’t see your own suffering, you don’t seek help or even do much to help yourself.”
But nobody is talking about what to do when you are both parenting and languishing. Parents don’t have the luxury to languish. There’s so much to do. We’ve been told ad nauseam the importance of self-care, but when you’re a parent (and a single one at that), time for self-care is hard to come by. Maybe we get five or 10 minutes here and there. Maybe not even. That makes us less patient, more grumpy, and stuck languishing. And if parents can’t find some joy in the little things, life is exponentially more difficult.
So what are we to do? I wish there were three steps to cure languishing, but there aren’t. It feels interminable, just like the pandemic. But at some point, life will get back to normal (for the love of all things good, please let it happen soon). We’ll start to get busy again. There’ll be carpools and play dates, full-time school, and extracurricular activities. And I’m wondering how the heck I’m going to be able to juggle it all again.
Grant does offer some suggestions to break out of languishing, but they don’t sound appealing to me. First, he suggests getting immersed in new challenges. Maybe that could help, but the whole problem is that I am feeling blah. It’s exactly the opposite of what I can actually get up and do. Second, he recommends uninterrupted time. As a parent. Working and schooling from home. Enough said. And last, he says to focus on a small goal, like playing a seven-letter word. I’ve done that on the Scrabble app. The “high” is quite fleeting.
Sometimes I feel resigned to languish forever, flailing around in the fog, ordering food instead of cooking (Postmates is my enabler), and watching a heck of a lot of TV. It doesn’t feel like it’s going to get better. I am terrified that I’m failing as a parent and I won’t be able to recover enough to make it right.
But there is some hope. A recent NPR piece, called "If Your Brain Feels Foggy And You're Tired All The Time, You're Not Alone," suggests that the blahs can turn themselves around. Research on past mass traumas suggests that most people will recover once the pandemic ends. "We know that the majority of people tend to be resilient," says Lynn Bufka, a psychologist with the American Psychological Association. "They may have struggled during the time of the challenges but generally come out OK on the other end."
That sounds promising, but in the meantime, it’s one foot in front of the other—all the way to my phone to order dinner.