the ‘blah’ mental health feeling during COVID lockdowns

In a disconnected pandemic world, many of us are just feeling a bit ‘meh’ about life. Here’s an experts perspective on how to escape that feeling.

It’s safe to say the global pandemic that drew the world to a screeching halt has left us all feeling a little grey.

Even in a mostly COVID safe Australia, the fear of lockdowns, the restrictions on gatherings and socialising have still made their presence known – and continue to pose uncertainty upon our community.

The New York Times recently released an article about this feeling – not happy, not sad, but just a bit ‘blah’ – coined languishing.

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Speaking on Body+Soul’s daily podcast Healthy-ish, Dr Frank Chow, psychiatrist and director of 2OP Health says that ‘languishing’ is the preceding state before burnout.

“A lot of the languishing symptoms and signs that we have been we have been exposed to include cloudy thinking, lack of motivation, some individuals have trouble concentrating, especially sitting in front of computers, have a sense of sluggishness and a lack of energy,” he tells host Felicity Harley on the Healthy-ish episode That “blah” you’re feeling…it’s called languishing. Here’s how to cope.

Dr Chow says this is very different to burnout where you get more physical symptoms such as trouble sleeping and even different to depression which is a lot more of a severe downturn in your mental state.

He explains that languishing is an early symptom of potential mental health disorder, and that if not treated, it can spiral into something much worse, such as depression, anxiety and burn out.

Dr Chow adds that the disconnection between people during the pandemic is partially to blame for why we all feel so ‘blah’.

“We’ve got a heard community where we follow others. We have a leaders on top that we follow, and we look at how each other behave and we copy the behaviour of others,” he says.

“So we’re sitting at home with a sense of; ‘what’s going on in the world?’, ‘am I doing the right thing or am I doing the wrong thing?’, ‘am I alone here?’ and ‘am I still part of a group?’”

“So this sense of uncertainty in the world combined with all this news…talking about a pandemic…you know, that creates a sense of anxiety.”

Without social interaction and so much uncertainty about our futures we’re brought to a kind of stand still where there’s no forward or back. We ‘languish’ in this feeling of ‘blah’ with very little direction.

The anxiety that creeps in about this can be conscious or unconscious, says Dr Chow.

“Very commonly it’s become a subconscious level of anxiety and it creeps into the back of our mind…creating this sense of uncertainty around us. I think that’s the reason why we’re developing this feeling of ‘languishing,” he says.

The opposite of languishing is flourishing – which is a pretty self-explanatory term. Dr Chow says that if we can be self-aware when we go from flourishing to languishing, we can try to learn some tactics on our own to get out of it.

These tactics include:

  • Spending social time with family friends and loved ones rather than home alone
  • Investing in hobbies and crafts that add joy, satisfaction and a sense of connection in our lives
  • Seek clarity on your ‘why’. Make sure that the goals you have still match up to what you want and that they’re not the result of parental influence or peer pressure. Having a goal that really excites you will help keep you motivated
  • Celebrate the small wins and each milestone
  • If you live somewhere where you can get a change of pace, consider taking some annual leave or trying out a new restaurant
  • If you can’t due to the pandemic, try rearranging your home to make it feel fresh and new. It will help you to feel a sense of satisfaction and achievement

If you’re not self-aware of what is happening and how your feelings are changing, or if your tactics aren’t working and you’re still sliding towards languishing, it might be time to seek some professional help.

“I think it’s good to start employing strategies to help you manage some of those feelings (as above). It comes down to when it manifests into feelings that you cannot manage or resolve or if it has become a physical manifestation and symptoms such as sleeping difficulties, or waking up not feeling refreshed,” explains Dr Chow.

There are many versions of extreme physical manifestation, including not getting enough sleep, feeling the urge to sleep all the time, eating too little or binging on comfort food.

“With that kind of behaviour….you should start talking with somebody because the strategy you have…it’s not working anymore. And if you let it keep going, it can snowball into a bigger problems.”

So for all those feeling ‘meh’ out there. Know you’re not alone and there are both strategies and therapists out there who have the resources to help you flourish.

Here’s to that.

In an emergency please call 000.

If you or someone you know needs help, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the 24-hour Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

Mental health professionals are available 24/7 at the beyondblue Support Service – 1300 22 46 36 or via beyondblue.org.au/get-support for online chat (3pm-12am AEST) or email response.