Opinion

That blah feeling brought on by the pandemic? Psychologists have a name for it

Don't worry, you're not alone — we're all just languishing, writes Paula Andropoulos

01 August 2021 - 00:00 By Paula Andropoulos
The Covid-19 pandemic has given rise to 'languishing'.
The Covid-19 pandemic has given rise to 'languishing'.
Image: 123RF/fizkes

It might comfort you to know that there's a name for the feeling you haven't been able to shake over the past few weeks or months. You know? That feeling, or lack of feeling, or median state of distress: I'm certain you know precisely what I'm referring to.

It's a charged apathy, or an anxious indifference; a bitter nostalgia. A languid automatism. It's the feeling that precedes the urge to stay in bed and skip a shower, but it's not morbid depression; on the contrary, on some level you'd love nothing more than to scrub and polish yourself and adorn yourself in your finest garb and get going. It's the feeling that occupies that liminal space, that wholly unsatisfying in-between.

It has been over a year since the pandemic irrevocably altered the fabric of our lives as we once knew them, and many of us are registering a strange sensation that tethers us all to the present — the lacklustre, the mundane — even as something concurrent within us urges us to get up, get out, move forward.

According to psychologists, the term for what many of us are experiencing or embodying right now is "languishing": a decidedly Victorian, maudlin diagnosis that somehow manages to evoke both torpor and suffering, pathos and lassitude.

You might have fallen prey to this state of being if you're conscious of experiencing any of the following tell-tale symptoms: an inability to concentrate, anhedonia — indifference in the face of activities and hobbies that you once found stimulating — and pervasive, if mild, pessimism. It's a sensation that resides in the limbo of feeling: not exhaustion or burnout, but similar in texture; not hysteria or despair, but the flavour is familiar.

In sum, at the moment, every day is groundhog day, and, what's worse, the day we keep reliving is not only monotonous, it's traumatic.

Covid-19 and its mutations are still prescribing what we can do, where, and when. Necessity mandates that we keep working, if we are lucky enough to have retained our jobs.

And the pandemic has limited the scope of our collective imagination: at this juncture, as South Africans, we know that we still can't travel abroad as we once did, that our country is still in crisis, and that, to put it somewhat guilelessly, the nightmare is still not over, even if vestiges of normalcy and hope resurface from time to time.

On the plus side, there's no need to feel like a freak. According to a bevy of psychological and psychiatric professionals, our languishing is an appropriate response to the combination of acute stress and trauma, boredom and sameness that we have all been subject to since the novel coronavirus made its global debut. It's a unique form of grief and a unique coping mechanism.

And this, too, shall pass.


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