Understanding ‘languishing’ on the mental health spectrum

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Mental health is often described in terms of being either good or bad. There are also a range of clinically-specific terminology that we have become familiar with: “I’m feeling depressed”, and “I’m anxious” are examples that we likely all associate with mental health. However, the mental health spectrum is more complex than this.


You can experience mental health struggles without being able to identify a connection with a known mental health condition.

Over the last year or so many have experienced the pandemic and post-pandemic blues. People have reported feeling “in limbo”, “drained” or even just feeling “meh”. While these aren’t what many might typically think of as mental health struggles, they are valid and real challenges that are being faced. The word that has been noted globally as the most fitting to summarise that “blah” feeling is the term ‘languishing’.

The in-between feeling

First coined by sociologist Corey Keyes, languishing can be considered to be the state between illness and wellness. You don’t feel entirely unwell, but you are not flourishing. Languishing might look like this:

  • Feeling like you are going through the motions
  • Difficulty concentrating or staying focused
  • Lack of motivation
  • Feeling as though there’s nothing to look forward to
  • Tired and sluggish
  • A sense of numbness or emptiness

Some might think this sounds a lot like symptoms of depression, and that’s true. There is a lot of overlap between depression and the experience of languishing, but there are differences too. Depression tends to be more intense feelings that are often accompanied by sadness, appetite changes, a sense of feeling worthless or even thoughts of self-harm.

Remember, if you feel like you are struggling with your mental health and need support, there are plenty of people who understand and can help you get through. Check out the links at the bottom of this article.

Why people may be experiencing languishing mental health

Individuals across many groups have felt their mental health affected at varying degrees over the course of the last year throughout the pandemic. This has continued for many, and may even come and go. There are many reasons why the term languishing may feel relevant to your mental health at the moment:

  • Putting life on hold: The plans many had made for holidays, work projects, creative pursuits – you name it, much of it was put on hold or even cancelled.
  • Living with uncertainty: For a while now and to varying degrees depending on where you live or work, we have been forced to go through life without really knowing what will be around the corner.
  • Changes to life circumstances: Job losses or changes in shifts, relationship changes or moving house.
  • Isolation from the world: Many have felt lonely or isolated, especially those living in aged care.

At Royal College, many of our learners and team have felt the pandemic impact, which has led to feelings of languishing.

  • Learners unable to attend practical placement: Many have had their course disrupted by restrictions and have been unable to attend the essential placement component of their course at the ideal time.
  • Learners studying from home: Studying from home might not be something you have been used to, and the adjustment can be tricky as you learn the best ways to stay motivated.
  • Children not going to class: Learners, trainers and staff at Royal College have juggled family commitments including home-schooling while working from home or studying from home.
  • Trainers and support staff working remotely: Getting used to working from home is challenging, creating a good routine and staying focussed.

Tips for coping with and improving mental health

While feeling in limbo or unmotivated is not ideal, there are things you can do to cope and enhance your wellbeing and mental health. Here are a few things you can try as you begin to make your way from languishing to flourishing.

Find happiness in what you enjoy: Instead of trying to do things to make yourself feel happy, take note of the moments when you do feel joy slipping in. Then, do more of that! In the beginning, it might be as simple as a television series that you feel excited to watch or cooking a favourite meal. Build on it from there, looking into the things that you previously found joy in and continuing on with things that fulfil you.

Change it up: Routine is great, but sometimes change is necessary to grow. This could be changing around your home office or study space, switching up your exercise routine or even buying a new outfit.

Give yourself a break: No doubt we’ve all spent a lot of time pushing through the pandemic and all its associated challenges. It’s important to allow yourself a break if you need it too. This could be as simple as making sure you log off at the end of the working day. Or taking some time off work/study entirely. You might even consider planning a little getaway.

Talk about it: Whether it’s to family, friends or a professional, talking about your feelings and where your life is at can be a highly effective way to move forward.

Thriving after a period of languishing

The journey from languishing to flourishing probably won’t happen overnight, but you will get there. To help yourself along the way there are a few things you can try.

While we all continue to work through the upshot of the pandemic and its impact on many areas of life, the Royal College team is here to support you. Sometimes a conversation, whether it’s via phone, email, video call or in person, can make a huge difference. If you need a break or some help, don’t hesitate to contact Royal College and get that support.

If you are in need of mental health support, make sure you reach out. Contact your doctor to organise a mental health plan, or get in touch with these resources:

Lifeline Australia –  Provide access to 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention services.
Telephone: 13 11 14

Beyond Blue – Provides information, and support for depression, anxiety and suicide prevention.
Telephone1300 224 636

Headspace – Provides young people with information and resources on mental health, physical health, work and study support, and alcohol and other drug services.
Telephone: 1800 650 890

Mindspot – Provides free effective internet delivered psychological assessment and treatment for stress, anxiety, worry, depression, low mood, OCD and trauma (PTSD).
Telephone: 1800 614 434

Kids Helpline – Provides private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25.
Telephone: 1800 55 1800


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