Dr Maike Neuhaus
Beyond a passing mood: Why languishing puts you at greater risk of mental illness
Do you often feel like you're just going through the motions of life, without any real sense of purpose or joy?
If so, you may be experiencing a state of mental health that psychologists call "languishing." But did you know that languishing is not just a passing mood or feeling, but is actually closely linked to the development of mental illness?
The link between languishing and mental illness
According to a study by researcher Corey L. M. Keyes, people who are languishing are eight times more likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, ten years later, compared to people who are flourishing. This is a worrying statistic, especially given that the prevalence of languishing is on the rise.
But what exactly is languishing, and why does it lead to an increased risk of mental illness?
Languishing is a state of emptiness, stagnation, and loss of interest or enthusiasm for life. It's different from depression or anxiety, but it shares some similar symptoms. People who are languishing may feel bored, unmotivated, and disconnected from others. They may struggle to find meaning or purpose in their lives, and they may lack the energy or enthusiasm to pursue their goals.
The danger of languishing
The problem with languishing is that it can lead to a state of chronic stress, which is a key risk factor for mental illness. When we're languishing, we may feel stuck in our current situation and unable to make positive changes. This can lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair, which can in turn lead to depression and anxiety.
Additionally, when we're languishing, we may be more vulnerable to negative thoughts and emotions. We may be more likely to ruminate on our problems and dwell on our failures, which can further exacerbate feelings of sadness and anxiety.
What causes languishing?
There are many factors that can contribute to languishing, including social isolation, work stress, and relationship problems. Additionally, some people may be more prone to languishing due to their personality traits or life circumstances.
For example, people who are introverted or highly sensitive may be more susceptible to languishing, as they may struggle to find meaning and connection in a world that can often feel overwhelming and noisy. Similarly, people who are going through a major life transition, such as a divorce or job loss, may be at increased risk of languishing.
The importance of addressing languishing
Given the link between languishing and mental illness, it's crucial that we take steps to address this issue. This may involve seeking therapy or positive psychology coaching to learn coping skills and strategies for managing stress and negative emotions. It may also involve making lifestyle changes, such as prioritising self-care and building stronger social connections.
Ultimately, the key to overcoming languishing and reducing the risk of mental illness is to focus on building a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives. This may involve setting goals, pursuing hobbies and interests, or engaging in activities that bring us joy and fulfilment.
Reference: Keyes, C. L. M. (2005). Mental illness and/or mental health? Investigating axioms of the complete state model of health. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73(3), 539–548.