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Languishing, in a psychology context, describes a lack of mental health.

Psychologist Corey Keyes first introduced the concept of languishing in 2002. In an effort to create a more nuanced understanding of mental health besides “good” or “bad,” he divided mental health into four levels:

  • Good mental health is flourishing.
  • Mental health is moderate.
  • Poor mental health is called a “languishing” or ” poor mental health”.
  • Depression.

“Languishing can be a sign of a decline in mental health, but you can still function in your day-to-day life. Maybe you don’t have a mental health crisis or experience overwhelming distress, but your life may not involve much happiness or fulfillment.”

A state of stagnant can leave you with a neutral or flat mindset, one where you have few strong emotions. You simply remain in a state of boredom, instead of feeling joy, anger, or enthusiasm.

Wondering if the existence of languishing might explain why you are unhappy with your life lately. Learn how to recognize and work through the problem.

Languishing is not a psychiatric diagnosis. You can think of it as the absence of emotional, psychological, or social well-being.

Languishing vs. flourishing

You feel like you are thriving in life if you are flourishing.

You might.

  • Feel happy, capable, and loved more often than not.
  • It is possible to follow your interests.
  • Enjoy deep, supportive relationships.

Even when things go wrong, you can bounce back.

Some emotional signs of being stuck.

  • You miss the excitement and passion that you used to have.
  • Your life seems filled with small nuisances and long stretches of boredom.
  • “You don’t care about the future.”
  • “You don’t know what you’re missing, but you feel like you’re missing something.”

Some psychological signs of being stuck.

  • You feel like you have “peaked” in life and no longer have room to grow.
  • You are disappointed in the person you have become.
  • “Problems and life challenges seem to pile up so fast you can’t seem to catch your breath”
  • You are influenced by people who have strong opinions.

Some social signs are not good.

  • You find it difficult to get close to other people.
  • “You don’t feel connected to any cause.”
  • Your job seems pointless in the grand scheme of things.
  • “You believe you can’t rely on anyone else.”

You can experience a low without reaching an extreme low.

Reaching key milestones — graduating from college, forming a romantic commitment, or landing a great job — doesn’t automatically guarantee happiness. So, even if you have a prestigious career, your dream apartment, or a large family, you could still feel like you’re just going through the motions of life.

Languishing may not directly translate to depression, or any other psychiatric diagnosis, but it can still affect your emotional health and well-being.

What’s more, a continued state of languishing can increase your chances of developing Depression.or anxiety down the line.

What’s the difference between languishing and depression?

Like depression, languishing can lead to emotional numbness and listlessness. It can sap your motivation and prompt you to isolate yourself and avoid your loved ones.

Neither state does much good for your mood. But Depression.tends to affect your emotions more severely. While languishing can dampen your joy, engaging in fun hobbies or earning a reward can usually boost your mood. To contrast, many people with Depression.have trouble feeling happiness in any context.

Plus, Depression.usually affects more than your emotions. It can also:

  • disrupt your eating and sleeping habits.
  • It will be more difficult to remember details.
  • cause physical symptoms, including stomach distress and muscle tension or pain

By definition, you can’t experience both languishing and Depression.at the same time. If you’ve had an episode of Depression.in the last year, a low mood may suggest returning depression, rather than languishing.

Can languishing cause mental health symptoms?

“Languishing doesn’t cause mental health conditions. You have a higher chance of experiencing mental health concerns when you are in a rut.”

One 2021 study considered 3,600 participants from early, middle, and late adulthood. People in a languishing state at the start of the study were more likely to develop Depression.or anxiety within 4 years, regardless of their age group.

The baseline was used by the study authors. Using moderate well-being and flourishing as baselines helps show the increase risk more clearly.

People with moderate well-being had a:

  • The risk of developing anxiety is greater.
  • The risk of developing depression is greater.

Compared to flourishing participants, the participants who were stuck had a worse record.

  • The risk of developing anxiety is greater.
  • The risk of developing depression is more than 100 percent.

Languishing can affect your career path, as well as your romantic relationships. It rarely has a single cause.

A combination of factors can lead to a lot of trouble. Potential contributors include:

Denial of basic needs

All humans have basic needs like food, shelter, and safety.

It can be difficult to feel cheerful on an empty stomach, especially if you have had a bout of hanger. If you have to find a new place to sleep each night, you will not feel very connected to your community. When your basic needs go unmet, your mental health can quickly go downhill.

The upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic made it hard for many people to fulfill their basic needs, which had a pretty big impact on mental health. In an international study of over 9,500 people, roughly 10 percent of participants found themselves in a state of languishing during 2020.

Poorer outcomes were more likely for people who had financial troubles or difficulty getting daily necessities, who reported high stress levels, negative emotions, and low overall well-being. The authors found that the results were consistent across the 78 countries.

Stress

When you feel overwhelmed, that stress can bleed out into other parts of your life. For example, burnout at work can make it hard to relax later at home. You may not have the bandwidth to pursue other things that make you feel fulfilled, such as artistic projects or family bonding.

A 2013 study found a strong link between languishing and stress. The authors examined 200 postdoctoral fellows, a group with high levels of work stress compared to the general population. Over half (58 percent) of study participants were languishing. This prevalence was much higher than the 12 percent prevalence found in Keyes’ original study.

The participants with the highest stress scores were the ones who were lagging behind their flourishing peers. The depressed group had more stress than the languishing group.

Social isolation

Most people need some level of social connection for their emotional health. A sense of profound joy can be found in love and friendship.

Social bonds are important for happiness. They can give more purpose in life. If you think about it, this makes sense. If no one laughs at your jokes, how would you know you are funny? Other people can help you with your goals and accomplishments.

People who nurture healthy, positive relationships and engage with their community tend to experience greater well-being. People in a state of languishing, however, might focus most of their attention on themselves. When your daily activities only affect your own small world, you may feel less satisfaction than if your work tangibly benefits others.

Mismatch between values and goals

Values refer to the things you find important in life, like romance or knowledge. Goals include the achievements you work toward, such as getting a fancy car or publishing a best-selling novel. When your goals don’t line up with your values, you may find progress less motivating.

You need to work extra hours in order to get a promotion. If you want to provide a better life for your children, that goal may be in line with your value: family. If you work overtime because everyone else does, you may resent the extra work and dread waking up in the morning.

Some people in a state of disrepair know they are unhappy, but they persist because they think the stress and exhaustion will pay off in the end. It is not sustainable to delay gratification indefinitely. If you do reach the finish line, your success may feel less than you deserved.

If you find yourself in a rut, you may need help to get out. This support could come from a loved one, a life coach, a therapist, or someone you feel could best understand your needs.

How therapy can help

“You don’t have to wait for a crisis to get professional support. A therapist can give guidance.”

According to 2016 research, behavioral interventions can boost your sense of well-being, and the effects can last at least 10 months after treatment.

When to reach out

If you often, it is best to connect with a professional sooner.

  • You are stuck in your daily routine.
  • wish you could feel better
  • feel deeply lonely or isolated
  • Try to not think about where you are in life or where you want to go.

A therapist can help you improve your emotional state. They might help you explore ways to connect with others and take advantage of your strengths.

Therapy approaches that address your concerns in aholistic way can be useful.

If you want to try therapy, you should check out research-supported interventions.

  • Well-being therapy. This approach has you identify what makes you feel happy and fulfilled and practice more of those behaviors.
  • Life-review therapy. This approach can help you find value and meaning in your life to date and create a sense of hope for the future.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy. This therapy helps you accept negative feelings like regret and commit to pursuing your goals — even when you don’t feel completely enthusiastic about them.
  • Positive psychological interventions. This approach can help you create goals that support your values and passions and then use your talents to reach those goals.

Languishing, in a nutshell, serves as a sort of limbo state between average mental health and clinical mental health conditions. You may feel numb or ambivalent, as if life is something happening to you, rather than something you actively participate in.

“You don’t have to be stuck there forever. Therapy and social support can help you reignite your daily routine. It is possible to build a life you feel excited to live.”

Emily Swaim is a freelance health writer and editor who specializes in psychology. She has a BA in English from Kenyon College and an MFA in writing from California College of the Arts. In 2021, she received her Board of Editors in Life Sciences (BELS) certification. You can find more of her work on GoodTherapy, Verywell, Investopedia, Vox, and Insider. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.