From the Hills: If You Are Languishing, You Are Not Alone

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Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that 4.3 million Americans, or 2.9% of the entire workforce, quit their jobs in August. That was a record-breaking month, piggybacking on previous record months and it hasn’t slowed down. "The Great Resignation" is real.  

Wait a minute. What’s going on? 

Did hundreds of thousands of players just win the lottery? Did a massive number of parents suddenly decide to homeschool their children? Granted, fear of the virus face-to-face probably plays a role, but this historic rise seems to be about more than these possibilities. 

Why are a giant migration of American workers quitting their jobs and staying home? 

We have learned a great deal from remote learning and teleworking. Some of the recently “unemployed” have, in fact, carved out new and challenging careers. But what about those workers who cite discouragement and overwhelm as reasons for leaving? 

Recently. I found a phrase that may describe many of these unemployed-not-looking-for-work people. They are languishing. The idea was coined by Dr. Corey Keyes in his 2002 research “The Mental Continuum: From Languishing to Flourishing in Life.” Basically it is “a lack of positive mental well-being without a diagnosable mental illness.”

In other words, they aren’t necessarily depressed. They just feel “kind of stuck.” 

Languishing has seven common characteristics. If this describes you (or someone you know) read on. 

Isolation: Withdrawal from your support system, particularly if you are extroverted.

Feeling like you’re just going through the motions: You have no goals and no challenges.

Numbness: Not sad. Not happy. Not really caring about anything. Sustained apathy.

Low self-worth: You don’t think you make a difference in the world today.

Struggle with basic life tasks: Those include maintaining your physical hygiene and your home. 

Restlessness: You experience an odd lack of unfocused energy.

Change in work habits: A severe number of missing days from work, or cutting to part-time for no real reason, or quitting altogether.

What can we do if we are languishing, or watching someone we love struggle with these symptoms, or are positioned to minister in this situation? 

I think the journey of healing begins with awareness and self-compassion. Languishing is part of the human condition. Everyone goes through tough times. There’s no reason to judge yourself or others, assign blame, or stomp off mad. You don’t need to figure anything out. Sometimes we all get an acute case of “the blahs.” (My beloved grandmother called it “the vapors.”)

Awareness is enhanced when we surround ourselves with a healthy support system. This might be a mental health practitioner. (You don’t need to be mentally ill to seek therapy.) Appointments are difficult to obtain right now. Why? Because hundreds of thousands of people are also depressed, anxious, or languishing. 

While you are exploring your options, find a friend or family member, clergy, chaplain, or someone who has historically treated you with kindness. Talk to them. Let them know how you’re feeling. Talking always illuminates the cause-effect factors that we cannot find alone. 

Compassion is concerned with the alleviation of suffering. Compassionate people are warm and kind. They promote healing by coming alongside others when life is unexpectedly hard. Self-compassion is turning that inward. Be your own gentle friend.  

Maybe you don’t feel a great deal of self-worth. God is the judge of your worth — not you. If you had no purpose, you wouldn’t still be here. 

If you are languishing, you are not alone. Everyone has a redemption story. Maybe languishing is a chapter in yours. 

Just remember, a chapter isn’t the whole book.  

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Sylvia Peterson is former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and the author of “The Red Door: Where Hurt and Holiness Collide,” which can be purchased at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at sylviap7@comcast.net.

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